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Athens News Agency: News in English, 09-11-08
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From: The Athens News Agency at <http://www.ana.gr/>
 The economy a top government priorityThe economy is a top priority for the PASOK government, given its difficult condition amidst the global financial crisis. Economy minister George Papaconstantinou and economy minister Nora Katseli spoke about various aspects of the economy and the government's efforts and policy in interviews appearing in Sunday newspapers, just days after the crucial state budget for 2010 was unveiled to a Cabinet meeting chaired by prime minister George Papandreou, who said the new budget lays the foundations for the country's economic recovery.
At the same time, government spokesman George Petalotis warned that Greece's economy was on the brink of bankruptcy, but added that the government would nevertheless fulfill its commitments, speaking at a gathering on Saturday night in Komotini.
"The state of the Greek economy is on the verge of bankruptcy, much worse that what we had expected, but our commitments will be turned into action," Petalotis said during his address on the theme "Shielding the prosperity of the Greek citizen", and several times reiterated the government's optimism for the country's economic recovery.
"We are optimistic, better days are coming," he said characteristically.
On the government's economic policy, Petalotis noted that all the measures being introduced will benefit the Greek people through the targeted redistribution of the income.
As for the steps taken during PASOK's first days in office, the spokesman said that everything that has been done so far to change the country's economic situation was not enough, but was the first indication of the new government's policy.
He also referred to the draft laws being drawn up by the government, and set out the framework of its efforts aimed at reinforcing and boosting the market through protection of the small and medium size enterprises (SMEs) and reinforcement of the working people, adding that the time has come for those who have profited greatly to contribute as well.
In an interview appearing in the Sunday edition of Ethnos newspaper, economy minister George Papaconstantinou outlined the government's targets for the recovery and tidying up of the economy, calling it a "marathon that has just begun".
He also said he was optimistic that the EU would give Greece an adequate extension of time to reduce the state deficit, given that the updated Stability and Growth Plan that will be submitted to the European Commission "will record, with specific timetables, the plan and the interim targets for the course of the country's finances".
On taxation, he spoke of a modern system of cross-checking and pinpointing all taxable elements, stressing the need for expansion and more efficient implementation of the "source of wealth" procedures through a uniform income tax statement being examined by the ministry.
He said a uniform "source of wealth" procedure was being advanced for everyone, aimed at creating a new system of income tax statements that will record, to the greatest possible degree, both the incomes and property assets of the citizens.
On the new tax scale, Papaconstantinou said it will be uniform for incomes from work and stock dividends, and progressive so that the taxpayers will contribute proportionally with their ability, while it will also be cost of living indexed in order to protect the incomes from inflation. He stressed that the highest tax coefficient will not be raised, while there will also be tax relief for the lower incomes.
With respect to taxation on real estate property, the minister noted that the following year, with the new system that will replace the Uniform Tax on Property (ETAK), the bigger burden will be on large properties, while a regulation will also be included on the real estate holdings of offshore companies. He also said there will be a tax-free ceiling, stressing that the small and medium size property holdings will not be burdened.
As for Church property, Papaconstantinou clarified that the properties that are being commercially exploited will be taxed.
Concerning the major problem of confronting tax evasion, the minister said the current SDOE financial crimes squad will be reorganised and improved, through objectivisation of the audits system with modern electronic cross-checking systems and the introduction of incentives for adherence to tax legislation. As for the smaller, but very many, instances of deliberate or unwitting tax evasion, he said a point system was being advanced "that will give a second chance for conforming, without the imposition of substantial sanctions initially.
Further, the only indirect taxes that will be increased will be those on cigarettes and alcohol "so that important policies for the citizens, such as increased medical staff at the state hospitals, can be financed".
Economy, competitiveness and shipping minister Louka Katseli, in an interview appearing in the Sunday edition of Eleftherotypia newspaper, referring to a campaign pledge by the government that extraordinary contributions would not be imposed, explained that the financing of the support for the incomes of 2.5 million Greek citizens hard hit by the crisis, through the imposition of an extraordinary contribution on the country's 300 biggest enterprises and banks, was not only a just measure of redistributing the income, but had also been announced in parliament when PASOK, as the main opposition party before the elections, had tabled a relevant draft law.
On the ongoing rolling strikes by dockworkers at the port of Piraeus in protest of the concession of the port's container terminal to the Chinese port management giant Cosco (by the preceding New Democracy government), Katseli stressed that cooperation with China was of strategic importance for Greece.
She explained that the agreement with Cosco cannot be abolished, legally, while such a move would give a negative signal to the international markets with respect to the Greek government's and by extension the Greek state's, credibility.
Katseli said that the employees need not worry about the future, since the workers' labor relations are "a given fact" in the contract with Cosco.
She further said that a civil mobilisation of the strikers was not being examined, but stressed that "there are no margins for a new extension" to the deadline for Cosco's installation in the port.
Caption: File photo of prime minister George Papandreou (left) with economy, competitiveness and shipping minister Louka Katseli (center) and finance minister George Papaconstantinou (right). (ANA-MPA/P. Saitas)
 ND Congress extends vote to all membersMain opposition New Democracy (ND) continued its two-day extraordinary Congress on Sunday leading up to the election of a new party president on November 29 by a broadened electorate, following Saturday's vote for changes to the ND Charter to enable the party's registered members to vote for the new leader.
The Extraordinary Congress on Saturday voted in favour of changes to the party's charter so that ordinary party members throughout the country will be able to vote in the election of the new ND president on November 29.
The proposal put to the Congress by the organising committee was passed by a large majority of the delegates attending, with the backing of all three candidates in the leadership race: former foreign minister and past Athens mayor Dora Bakoyannis, former culture minister Antonis Samaras and current Thessaloniki prefect Panagiotis Psomiadis.
Following the changes, the new leader of the party will no longer be elected by its MPs and a small number of representatives of local party organisations, but by everyone who is either a registered member of ND or registers as a member up until the day of the vote. The Congress did not adopt calls to open the election process even further by including 'friends', namely those that did not want to be registered members.
The Congress, held at the Peace and Friendship Stadium in Faliro, continued on Sunday with further speeches by the delegates, following addresses delivered earlier on Saturday by each of the three candidates that remain in the race for the leadership and outgoing president Costas Karamanlis.
Predominating in the messages to the Congress was the call for unity, so that the party would emerge strengthened from the election, regardless of its outcome.
The Congress was also addressed early on by ND Central Committee Secretary Lefteris Zagoritis, who stressed the need to mobilise the party grass roots to participate in the election if the proposed changes were approved. "The larger the number of those that come to vote, the greater the party's strength will be," he underlined.
Appeals for unity dominated the opening speeches to the delegates, including that by outgoing president and former premier Costas Karamanlis, and emphasised the importance of the decisions that had to be made.
The Congress will not elect a new leader directly, but was convened to vote for a change to the party's charter so that the new leader can be elected by the entire party membership and not just a small body of electoral representatives. The proposed changes were decided on by a unanimous vote of ND's Central Committee based on the recommendations of the organising committee for the Congress.
Addressing the gathering, Karamanlis noted that this would be his last speech as party president after 13 years at the helm of ND and appealed to all sides to keep the discussion on a political level and "avoid personal bickering".
"The new president will have the backing and support of all, will be the president of all and the next prime minister of the country," he underlined.
He stressed that the Congress would launch the process for electing a leader by the party's grass roots - the membership and those that wished to become members up until the day of the election - and that this development was an overture to society, participation, solidarity and a new prospect.
"This development is a major conquest for democracy, it boosts two-way communication and builds a new collective force and a collective momentum. Success is the obligation of all," he stressed.
Even more important, however, were fundamental issues concerning the party's behaviour, political arguments, unity and cooperation in acheiving the common goals, Karamanlis underlined.
There followed addresses by the candidates for the party's leadership, starting with that of former foreign minister and one-time Athens Mayor Dora Bakoyannis, followed by Antonis Samaras, Panagiotis Psomiadis and former candidate Dimitris Avramopoulos, who has now backed out of the race.
"We are too big a party to confine ourselves to small visions," former foreign minister and one-time Athens Mayor Dora Bakoyannis stressed in her speech to main opposition New Democracy's extraordinary Congress on Saturday, the first of the candidates for the party's leadership to address the delegates.
"The presence of us all makes the heart of the party beat strongly to the rhythms of the new age that begins on the 29th of the month," she said, referring to the date for the election of the party's new president by the entire membership. "I stand before you fully conscious of the weight of this responsibility."
Bakoyannis, who is favoured by opinion polls, expressed confidence that ND would "find its pace and move forward" after a punishing election defeat.
Referring to ND's history and its founder Constantine Karamanlis, she said that he had made "a sense of duty" its defining political trait and attacked what she called "personal bitterness camouflaged as hyper-patriotism".
"This clear stance against all populism and demagoguery will be the great political legacy of this party. It is this responsible policy that I pledge to follow," she stressed.
Bakoyannis went on to refer to "extreme inequality that created problems in the foundations of a just society" and said that correcting this injustice was the basic motive for doing politics.
"This must be the central element of our policy. Our ideology is social liberalism, which we must defend," she underlined.
Bakoyannis defended the policies followed by ND as a government and said that the priority for the party would be to combat unemployment and that it must suggest strategies and policies to society.
"There is a whole world waiting for ND to express them. PASOK was unready to handle the destiny of the country. Everything that we had said will soon be borne out. The day when PASOK will pay for its populism is coming. It is our duty to be ready. We must not lose even one day. From November 30 we roll up our sleeves," she underlined.
Bakoyannis went on to present proposals for radical changes to the structure and operation of ND, including a fixed term for the president with their election every four years, and emphasised that the first priority was that the party remain united, promising to remain on the front lines whether she was elected leader or not.
Addressing the extraordinary Congress on Saturday, leadership candidate Antonis Samaras staunchly defended neoliberal ideas and said that ND had to stand up for its beliefs and clearly differentiate itself from PASOK, not shift leftward in order to chase after swing voters.
"Great parties win by convincing society, not tricking marginal voters. There is already one PASOK and it is enough. We don't need a second one," he underlined.
Samaras also stressed that he had not come to talk about himself or "the mistakes of the past" but about "tangible hope and specific prospects".
Urging the party "not to hide its ideas," he criticised the previous leadership and said that the election defeat "was not an accident".
"We are sometimes afraid to defend our ideas. The role of the middle class, the love of country. Everywhere, before the crisis began, all the talk was of competitiveness versus a statist logic. It is impossible for neoliberal ideas to be winning over societies and socialists to be in decline while we in Greece suffer the repercussions of a heavy defeat. The defeat can soon be converted into a mere parenthesis," he stressed.
He dismissed ruling PASOK's calls for green development as "socialist waffle that is neither green, nor development" and promised "competitiveness everywhere", a "diffusion of growth" and "opportunities for all".
According to Samaras, ND's task was not just to find the new potential prime minister but the person that would lead Greece to a new change of state.
"Only someone that can win the battle of ideas can win the battle of politics. The state needs fundamental changes," he said, stressing that he wanted a "state that can set the rules".
Referring to the election of ND's leader by the grass-roots, he said this change had been imposed by the grass roots and he asked for a Congress "of positions and principles" by March in order to "reorganise ourselves and give voice to our grass-roots" and raising the bar for personal ethics to avoid a repetition of behaviour that hurt the party and "concern very few".
Ending his speech, he urged delegates to "consider who can express the traditional values, bring back the core of supporters that we lost, who can say 'no' to an Annan plan, as Karamanlis did."
A young foreign minister in the 1990-1993 government of Constantine Mitsotakis, the father of his rival for ND's leadership Dora Bakoyannis, Samaras was dismissed by Mitsotakis over his hardline stance on the name issue with the then nascent Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM). He resigned as an MP and finally triggered the fall of that government by undermining its marginal majority in Parliament when he left ND to form his own Political Spring party, which managed to elect MPs to Parliament only in the 1993 elections and had not participated in any elections this decade. He was brought back to ND recently and appointed culture minister by Costas Karamanlis.
The third candidate in the race for New Democracy's new leader, Thessaloniki Prefect Panagiotis Psomiadis, also addressed the party's extraordinary Congress on Saturday and levelled harsh criticism against the people that had surrounded outgoing president Costas Karamanlis while he was prime minister.
"We came here to criticise, because if we sweep things under the carpet then some people will be making fun of us and we are through," he underlined, striking out at the 'princes of ND' and denied that his candidacy was a "ruse" designed to benefit one of the other candidates.
"I entered this race to represent the simple ND supporter, the simple people of ND. I heard that I was always laughable, that I always used working-class language, straight-shooting and with a Thessaloniki dialect. I speak without rounded edges, I was not the laughable one. Some other people were laughable, incapable and tragic and brought us to this pass," he said.
Psomiadis referred to arrogant attitudes, behaviour and bad communications policy that had cut off contact between ND and its supporters, bringing about a heavy defeat in the elections.
"There is no room today for executives and appointees, who were honoured by Karamanlis and who betrayed the party's trust," he added, making it clear that he was speaking about many people sitting in the front benches of the Congress.
Psomiadis said he was in favour of a more open procedure for electing ND's new leader:
"Even those that voted against us should vote in the election of the leader. If we do not express society, then society will turn its back on us," he stressed, adding that there were "many rotten fruits" within ND that had to be thrown out.
He said it was time for Greece "to talk once again about homeland, family, religion and young people" and was adamant that the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) should not be allowed the name 'Macedonia'.
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