Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou said yesterday that the government would continue to "unswervingly" implement its economic stabilisation policy, stressing that it was the only policy which could lead the country to recovery.
Addressing a Cabinet meeting, Mr. Papandreou said that no further wage increases would be given and tight controls would remain on public sector hiring. "Any concessions would be tantamount to undermining the country's future," he said.
The premier said that economic indicators showed a "positive picture", describing as "a significant achievement" the drop in inflation to single figures for the first time in 22 years. He added, however, that these achievements were not enough to solve the major long-term problems facing the economy but were a first, important step among many which must be taken.
The government, he said, had a responsibility to ensure the steadfast implementation of its policy choices without being afraid of the political cost for the ruling party. "The policy of stabilisation remains firmly linked to investments, development and rehabilitation," Mr. Papandreou said.
The premier stressed the importance of the major infrastructure works being performed or scheduled, describing the proposed new international airport at Spata as "perhaps the biggest investment in the European Union". He said he would continue his contacts with ministers in an effort to increase Gross Domestic Product, adding that a number of ministries would have to take specific action in co-operation with social organisations to ease unemployment.
In this respect, he announced the setting up of a body of non-party-aligned experts, which will operate as part of Mr. Papandreou's economic team and report to the premier himself. Mr. Papandreou said that development depended on further falls in interest rates and urged banks to display "flexibility in practice".
Concluding, the premier said that the government was not able and would not promise to solve all the accumulated problems of the Greek economy but pledged to continue pursuing its target of rehabilitating the public sector, reforming society, serving the citizen and safeguarding the future. "We are winning battles daily and we shall win the war," Mr. Papandreou said.
Main opposition New Democracy party Vice-President Ioannis Varvitsiotis criticised Mr. Papandreou yesterday, stressing that his speech at the cabinet committee attempted to mislead the Greek people on the course of the economy. "ND has indicated that only a development policy can provide solutions to the economic deadlock. The PASOK government has caused great social unrest and has led the professional classes to desperation," he added.
Mr. Varvitsiotis said the prime minister and the government should follow the development policy necessary for the country instead of mocking working people by "baptising" the policy of austerity, recession and unemployment as a policy of social justice.
In a similar statement, Political Spring party leader Antonis Samaras accused the prime minister of hypocritical rejoicing. "The prime minister's rejoicing is hypocritical and lies outside reality, particularly when Greece has the lowest development rate and the highest unemployment rate in the European Union," he added.
Mr. Samaras reiterated that unless interest rates were reduced and the question of local production competitiveness was tackled there could be no recovery of the national economy.
European Commissioner for regional development Monika Wulf-Mathies urged Greece to step up efforts for the construction of major infrastructure works in the country. The visiting German commissioner made the statement after talks with Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou.
"We agreed on the need for additional steps to materialise agreed (infrastructure) plans," Ms. Wulf-Mathies said. She said she received commitments by Mr. Papandreou to form a "mechanism" to oversee and assist in the execution of the Greek regional development programme. She did not elaborate.
"We have an obligation to speed up our pace in all fields. We have to overcome some bureaucratic obstacles and institutionalise necessary mechanisms that will ensure the realisation of our goals as quickly as possible," Mr. Papandreou said.
Ms. Wulf-Mathies earlier paid a courtesy call on National Economy Minister Yiannos Papantoniou. During the meeting, and in subsequent talks with Alternate National Economy Minister George Romaios and other ministry officials, views were exchanged on the situation of the Greek economy, as well as the rate of absorption and the administration of European Union funds.
Speaking to reporters after the meeting with Mr. Papantoniou, Ms. Wulf-Mathies said that the European Commission and the Greek government would work together to secure the best possible use of amounts allocated from the structural funds.
Speaking to reporters, Mr. Romaios said that the issue of the more rapid absorption of Community funds by Greece was not raised. "I am fairly satisfied with the meeting. Besides, the problems are known. Together with the European Commission we have set up a committee which will prepare a new institutional framework, with quality and greater efficiency. "We also discussed certain weaknesses such as in industry and small- and medium-size enterprises, where there have been delays," Mr. Romaios said.
Ms. Wulf-Mathies also met with Environment, Town Planning and Public Works Minister Costas Laliotis, Alternate Minister Costas Geitonas and Industry Energy and Technology Minister Costas Simitis.
Mr. Laliotis and Mr. Geitonas briefed Ms. Wulf-Mathies on the course of the Athens Metro, the Spata airport and other major projects.
During the meeting held with Mr. Simitis, Ms. Wulf-Mathies was briefed on the progress of the operational plans for industry, energy, research and technology. "We put forth the progress and the difficulties which exist because there is no experience, nor (any) legal or judicial provisions," Mr. Simitis said after the meeting, adding that "we ought to speed things up because we want and should make investments."
US President Bill Clinton's special envoy on the issue of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) Matthew Nimetz and UN mediator Cyrus Vance yesterday met with main opposition New Democracy party leader Miltiades Evert.
"Mr Vance and I briefed President Evert on talks we are having with FYROM. We had a good and interesting discussion on the entire situation," Mr. Nimetz said, after a luncheon offered by Greek permanent representative to the UN Christos Zaharakis in honour of Mr. Evert, currently on a US tour.
"I had a useful and constructive discussion with Mr. Vance and Mr. Nimetz. I was briefed on the course of negotiations on the Skopje (FYROM) issue and on general issues concerning the Balkans. I cannot say there is either optimism or pessimism. What is certain is that tough negotiations are taking place. We at the New Democracy party always believe in the necessity of dialogue. Problems are only resolved in this manner, and of course relying always on our national interests," Mr. Evert said.
Replying to a questioner on whether he made any proposals of his own, Mr. Evert said: "No. I was briefed. I made proposals on the general resolution of problems in the Balkans."
Before the luncheon, Mr. Vance told reporters "we came to talk a little among ourselves." Replying to a questioner on whether some progress over the FYROM issue was close, he said "yes we hope so", adding that "some things delay more than others."
Earlier, Mr. Evert also met Archbishop of North and South America Iakovos at the Archdiocese, who said he welcomed him "as a national and not merely a political leader." Mr. Evert said "his beatitude's role has always been very great concerning both our religion, Orthodoxy, and the safeguarding of our national interests."
Foreign Ministry spokesman Costas Bikas said yesterday there were no indications FYROM President Kiro Gligorov's intransigence was easing. Mr. Bikas was replying to questioners on what the course of efforts in New York would be in the event of dialogue between Athens and FYROM.
"The efforts of the international organisation's special envoy on the Skopje (FYROM) issue Cyrus Vance are continuing at UN headquarters without there being any indication of change on the part of Skopje," Mr. Bikas said.
Foreign Minister Karolos Papoulias will meet Monday with UN special envoy on the Cyprus problem Joe Clark and the UN Secretary-General's resident representative in the island republic Gustave Feissel, a foreign ministry spokesman said yesterday.
The two UN officials are conducting a fresh round of contacts with the governments of Athens, Ankara and Nicosia as well as with the leadership of the Turkish-Cypriot community in an effort to attain progress for a settlement of the Cyprus problem.
Spokesman Costas Bikas added that Mr. Papoulias would meet with NATO Secretary-General Willy Claes when he arrives on May 17.
Meanwhile, Mr. Papoulias had talks yesterday with the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia's Ambassador to Greece, Milan Milutinovic. According to informed sources, Mr. Papoulias and Mr. Milutinovic discussed the situation in the Balkans ahead of the Yugoslav envoy's visit to Belgrade today.
Mr. Papoulias recently visited Belgrade to brief Serb President Slobodan Milosevic on the tripartite meeting in Tehran between the foreign ministers of Greece, Bosnia and Iran within the framework of efforts to extend a cease-fire in Bosnia and assist the peace initiative of the Contact Group.
Council of Europe foreign ministers yesterday discussed ways of enforcing respect for commitments undertaken by member states, and the CoE Parliamentary Assembly's recommendation asking Turkey to respect such commitments and international law.
Speaking on the need to establish a new mechanism of enforcement, Greek European Affairs Minister George Mangakis said the activation of such effective and impartial mechanisms towards all member countries, old and new, was of vital importance to the organisation. This, he added, was an "indispensable precondition for the attainment of common positions and practices on issues of democracy, legal rules, human and minority rights by the member states".
"I need not provide a reminder," said Mr. Mangakis, "that the military invasion and occupation of Cyprus, already into its 21st year, is continuing, despite repeated United Nations resolutions calling for the withdrawal of Turkish occupation troops from the island. "We see similar behaviour being repeated in the case of the invasion of Iraq, which does not contribute to a political and peaceful resolution of the Kurdish problem, as the recommendation of the Parliamentary Assembly mentions".
The Turkish permanent representative tried to counter the Greek minister's positions by repeating allegations that Greece was training Kurdish terrorists. Mr. Mangakis replied that, as in the past, Turkey was trying to attribute its internal problems to Greece. "I would suggest to our Turkish neighbours to show self-restraint and channel their efforts into the handling of their social problems and to securing equitable treatment to all citizens, irrespective of origin, nationality, political persuasion and ethnic background". The Turkish representative walked out of the debate.
Speaking to ANA after his meeting with Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Vartholomeos yesterday, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat expressed the conviction that the Israeli-Palestinian peace process had not yet reached its end.
Referring to the UN Security Council session, due to discuss the future status of Jerusalem and the Israeli compulsory expropriation plan last night, Mr. Arafat said, "I hope it will confirm what the entire world is expecting".
Patriarch Vartholomeos assured the Palestinian leader of the solidarity of Orthodox Christianity, adding that the recognition of the drama of the Jews during World War II gave us the right to expect a similar recognition of the drama of the Palestinian people.
The two men exchanged gifts and the luncheon hosted by Mr. Arafat for the Patriarch took place in an especially warm atmosphere. The luncheon was also attended by Patriarch of Jerusalem Diodoros, and the consuls of Britain, France, Greece and Spain.
Greek and Japanese seismologists will present their joint study on the recent earthquake in Kobe at a one-day conference on May 15 at the Evgenidion Foundation. The conference will look at ways for Greece to ensure quake protection. The event is organised by the Environment, Town Planning and Public Works Ministry in co-operation with the Antiseismic Protection Organisation.
Leading Greek and foreign scholars will meet in Thessaloniki, northern Greece on Sunday to address an international conference on racism, according to an announcement yesterday. The event is organised by the universities of northern Greece in light of the 50th anniversary of the foundation of the United Nations and will be held under the auspices of European Union Commissioner for social affairs Padraig Flynn.
"Fifty years after the founding of the United Nation, humanity continues to face racial conflicts and violence," a press release said. "The goal of the conference is to stimulate public opinion on the revival of racism and the dangers in entails," it said.
Greece's foreign exchange reserves stood at 16.61 billion dollars in January this year, considerably up on the corresponding figure of 9.55 billion dollars in the same month of 1994, according to figures released yesterday by the Bank of Greece.
In addition, the country's foreign borrowing was less than the corresponding debt repayments in January, resulting in negative net borrowing for the month (-80 million dollars), compared with a corresponding negative figure of 251.6 million dollars in January 1994.
According to the central bank, the principal capital movements in January this year compared with the same month of 1994 were as follows: - Imports 1.795 billion dollars (28.4 per cent increase) - Exports 477 million dollars (22.9 per cent increase) - Trade deficit 1.318 billion dollars (30.6 per cent increase) - Tourist exchange 164 million dollars (19.4 per cent increase) - Shipping exchange 168 million dollars (42 per cent increase) - Emigrants' remittances 216 million dollars (17.6 per cent increase) - EU inflows 1,504 billion dollars (26.1 per cent increase) - Current accounts surplus 237 million dollars (26.9 per cent increase) - Venture capital inflows 381 million dollars (143 per cent increase) - Inflows of capital from overseas Greeks for the purchase of real estate 79 million dollars (19.5 per cent increase).
Public sector debt servicing totalled 358 million dollars in January this year, compared with 286.4 million dollars in the same month of 1994. In January, the balance of current accounts showed a surplus of 1.184 billion dollars, compared with a surplus of 863 million dollars in the same month last year.
According to the central bank, this result was determined chiefly by two factors: The first was the devaluation of the dollar against most currencies, including the drachma; and the second, the relative increase in net inflows from the EU which are gene rally at much higher levels in the first month of the year.
Olympic Airways has introduced a new seat booking system, named Hermes II, which is estimated to increase revenues by 5 to 8 per cent. The new system will enable passengers to foreign destinations to be supplied with re-embarkation cards for all transit stops, thus saving time and facilitating the more rational organisation of connections.
It will also enable the national carrier to provide cheaper fares when there is unused capacity, and thus compete more effectively. The cost of installing the new system, with the help of experts from Swissair, was two billion drachmas, and it is calculated it will be recovered in about one year's time.