Books on Greece
Update No: 122 - (26/07/07)
British PM addresses letter to Karamanlis
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has been quick to respond to a Greek
overture. He addressed a letter to Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis thanking him
for his good wishes on the occasion of his taking over as Britain's premier.
The British New Labourite is no enemy of conservatives. Indeed, like Tony Blair
before him, he revels in their company, whether Sarkozy in France or Merkel in
Germany. He has of course run a pretty conservative economic policy for ten
years. Karamanlis is exactly his sort of interlocutor, moreover at a time when
the UK is falling out with Russia in a serious way.
The British PM referred to the close bilateral ties and cooperation on a number
of international and European issues. Brown expressed satisfaction for the
attention given by Prime Minister Karamanlis to the effects of climate change
and stressed that he is looking forward to cooperation between the two countries
on environmental issues. He also referred to the recent disasters that hit the
two countries; wildfires in Greece and extensive floods in Britain.
Wealthy Greeks are eying London as a good place to have a northern home, given
the perils of over warming in Greece itself. British firms have long been
welcome there, participating in the construction boom, for instance, in the
build-up to the 2004 Olympics. Greek firms will be most welcome in London in the
build-up to its own Olympic games in 2012.
Political imbroglio after forest fires in Greece
Climate change is coming home to Greece with a vengeance. It has long been prone
to very hot summers. But it has already had a devastating heat wave this summer
that has provoked massive forest fires.
Greece's political parties are pointing fingers at each other after the
government bungled its response to forest fires that destroyed the last sizeable
green space in Attica. Greece did not access over 24 million euros in EU aid.
The usual governmental promises of reforestation and partisan bickering over
blame followed the catastrophic fires in the Parnitha National Park, the last
green haven for Attica's 5 million citizens, and in Pelion, where about half of
the forest burned down.
President Karolos Papoulias tried to set the tone for the response to the
ecological disaster, calling for the environment to become a top national
priority, and for a cross-party initiative to protect the forests. But that aim
quickly degenerated into a blame game in parliament, when a debate on the family
economy called by Pasok (Greek Socialist Party) leader George Papandreou turned
into a war, with all party leaders pointing the finger over the destruction of
The dispute hardly came as a surprise, as the government's proposal to revise
article 24 of the constitution to allow the development of tracts designated as
forests before 1975 was roundly condemned by opposition parties. Indeed, the
affirmative vote of ruling-party New Democracy parliamentary representative
Apostolos Stavrou in the competent committee, of which he was not a member, led
Pasok to charge fraud and walk out on the entire constitutional amendment
"What was forest will again be forest," Prime Minister Karamanlis
declared in the July 2nd parliament debate. "There are no votes to be
gained from natural disasters and human suffering. Those who seek votes there
only expose themselves," he said, alluding to Pasok.
PM's pledges doubted
But the PM's promise was met with disbelief from both opposition parties and
the press, as successive past governments have failed to honour pledges of
reforestation after major fires.
Karamanlis attributed the extent of destruction to a heat wave that was
unprecedented in duration and intensity, as well as climate change, but the
opposition replied that the heat wave had been predicted and preventive measures
to save the forests were not taken.
Pasok leader George Papandreou on June 29 cut short a meeting in Switzerland of
the Socialist International to visit the burned forests of Parnitha and Pelion,
signalling that he will make the destruction a major opposition issue. In
parliament, Papandreou blasted the government over its lack of planning and
coordination in handling the fires, declaring that the outcome made a mockery of
the government's March announcement that it had put in place fire prevention
plans earlier than any previous year, due to the protracted drought.
Papandreou also jumped on the initial June 28 statement of Public Order Minister
Vyron Polydoras, who oversees the fire service, that "we mucked it
up". The next day, after a 6.30am meeting chaired by the PM, Polydoras
said, "We waged stiff battles with success."
In a combative speech in which he repeatedly accused the PM of having "no
shame", Papandreou depicted the Parnitha disaster more as an act of New
Democracy and listed the ruling party's sins of omission: "4,000 fire
brigade positions unfilled, one in three fire trucks without drivers, lack of
anti-fire zones in Parnitha, fewer than half of fire planes operationally ready,
and for two years the government has been dragging its feet on offers to renew
'Dereliction of duty'
Former Pasok public order minister Michalis Chrysohoidis charged on July 3rd
that a 700-page plan to protect forests, which he helped draft with then fire
department chief Panagiotis Fourlas (now civil protection chief), was not
implemented. One part refers to prevention, including the opening of roads, and
the other provides for inter-departmental conferences, which never took place,
according to Chrysohoidis. "That plan was not updated for 2007 and was
shelved," he said.
The plan also provides for bulldozers and cleaning machines to clear the area
around Public Power Corporation (PPC) electricity pylons. "There is a clear
case of dereliction of duty," he said.
Karamanlis blasted Pasok's reforestation record, charging that after the
extensive 1995 and 1998 fires in Penteli, of the 140,000 stremmas (14,000
hectares) of forest that burned, only 75,000 were reforested, and 15,000
stremmas were exempted from reforestation by presidential decree. "With
such policies, you filled the forests with illegal homes, not of poor people but
of villas of the rich," he said. Communist Party general-secretary Aleka
Papariga also marshalled damning agriculture ministry statistics on Greece's
reforestation record since the early 1990s, casting doubt on the prime
minister's pledge to reforest Parnitha, Pelion and other burned forests. She
said that since 1991, only one-eleventh of burned forests were reforested in
Attica and one-ninth in Greece.
Left Coalition leader Alekos Alavanos cited evidence that since 2000 both Pasok
and New Democracy have failed to use any of the 24 million euros in EU cohesion
funds available to Greece for forest fire prevention programmes. That was what
European Commissioner Danuta Hubner said in response to a question from Left
Coalition European Parliament member Dimitris Papadimoulis.
Papandreou's key aide forced to resign
The parliamentary debate was also marked by bitter recriminations over the
bond scandal, in which the PM attempted to turn the tables after months of Pasok
attacks. The PM declared that the "system of snatching funds' capital with
the sale of overpriced bonds" began under Pasok, which he said since 1999
worked with North Asset Management managing director George Papamarkis, and
Akropolis brokerage director Priniotakis, who were involved in the recent
controversial bond sales. Karamanlis also dropped bombshell allegations that
Pasok party general director Yannis Papakonstantinou was involved in financial
mismanagement during his tenure as head of the National Road Construction Fund (TEO),
which manages tolls' incomes. He said that the fund lost nearly a million euros
in commissions for bond purchases and sales in 2003-4, using the Artion
Late on July 5th, media reports announced that Papakonstantinou had submitted
his resignation to party secretary Nikos Athanasakis.
We've launched an era of changes and reforms, Karamanlis stresses
Prime Minister Karamanlis on July opened his speech at the first session of
the ruling New Democracy party's newly elected Central Committee by referring to
the self-sacrifice shown by the men and women of the Fire Brigade, as attested
by the recent tragic deaths of three firemen on Crete.
The prime minister stressed that all Greeks are thankful to them and are on
their side, adding that the battle they give is a battle to ensure quality of
life for all. Karamanlis stated that "we suffer the consequences of climate
change", adding that weather phenomena favour the outbreak of fires. The
fight is tough but there is no other choice available but to continue fighting,
Referring to the 7th ND party congress, he said that party positions were
confirmed, while at the same time it also served as a starting point for a new
dynamic course. The prime minister expressed determination to move forward with
reforms and changes and continue the effort aimed at dealing with the problems
of society, stressing that in March 2004 the people opted for political change
and the country entered an era of changes and reforms.
Karamanlis lashed out at main opposition party, Pasok, without naming it,
stressing that the people reject polarization practices while adding that it
promises today what it was unable to do in the past, without offering an apology
either for the deficits handed over to the current government or the stock
He stressed that the changes and reforms launched will continue with greater
determination in the government's next four-year term, pointing out that the
sweeping education sector reform will continue ensuring equal access
opportunities for the young. The education reform will continue in the next
four-year term, he stated, underlining that the revision of article 16 of the
Constitution is imperative while adding that it was proposed by the main
opposition as well.
Referring to the public sector, Karamanlis stated that the State is the great
patient that was inherited, adding that solutions were found to lingering
problems, the local government was reinforced, procedures were simplified,
red-tape was tackled, while problems are not being swept under the carpet but on
the contrary they are spotted and dealt with. "We are in the middle of an
uphill course and we are preparing the major reform in the administrative
structure", he stressed. On the issues of transparency in public sector
transactions, he said that corruption will be combated, stressing that there
will be no discounts in the effort.
Karamanlis also referred to the economic policy implemented by his government,
stressing that the country has exited the excessive deficit procedure (EDP) and
the growth rate achieved is among the highest in Eurozone. The absorption rate
of community funds was increased while energy agreements of major national
importance were signed turning Greece into an energy hub, he stressed.
The results of the policy followed are beginning to show and are acknowledged
both by the European Union and international organizations, while a rise is
recorded in tourist flow. Exports have increased, inflation is at its lowest
point and foreign investors were becoming reacquainted with Greece, said
Karamanlis. He stressed that in 2006 investments recorded a 70 percent rise
compared to 2003 while unemployment dropped under 9 percent and employment rate
rose to 61 percent.
The foundations for a strong economy were laid during the past 3.5 years, said
the prime minister, to ensure a strong social state focusing on the individual,
stressing that the social insurance problem will also be solved.
Karamanlis stressed that the vision of ecumenical Hellenism is a top priority
adding that the draft law on the voting rights of overseas Greeks will be
introduced to parliament in October, characterizing the move as national duty
constituting a major step for the participation of the Greeks living abroad in
domestic political developments.
In conclusion, he emphasized that the government will continue on the path of
changes and reforms, stressing that there is no turning back for Greece.
Athens, Baku to ink energy deal
Azerbaijan attaches great importance to the signing of a quadrilateral agreement
with Greece, Turkey and Italy and a bilateral agreement with Greece in the
energy field, Azerbaijan's Economic Development Minister Heyder Babayev told
reporters after meeting with Greek Development Minister Dimitris Sioufas in
Athens. Babayev said he hopes the bilateral agreement may be discussed and
signed during Sioufas visit to Baku, the Hellenic News Agency reported.
Babayev praised Greece's constructive attitude in energy cooperation.
"Greece is a gate to Europe," he said. "We want to reach the
European markets and we appreciate Greece's help."
The Greek minister suggested earlier the signing of the bilateral agreement with
Azerbaijan to cover bilateral cooperation on oil and natural gas and he handed
over to his Azeri counterpart a draft deal. Sioufas also recommended the signing
of the quadrilateral agreement with Turkey and Italy clearing all details over
the supply and distribution of natural gas through a Turkey-Greece-Italy natural
The Greek-Turkish pipeline is expected to be inaugurated in the next few weeks,
while the Greek-Italian end of the pipeline will enter construction in 2008.
Sioufas noted that also pending is the signing of a Turkey-Greece-Italy
agreement. The Greek minister noted that the government's energy policy was
moving within the framework of a European policy to diversify sources, routes
and forms of energy and noted that supplies of natural gas from Azerbaijan was a
priority for the Greek-Italian pipeline.
Sioufas informed Greek Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis on July 5 about
cooperation with Azerbaijan as well as developments on the planned South Stream
natural gas pipeline.
Azerbaijan has rich oil and gas reserves and its energy resources are seen as an
alternative to Europe's increasing reliance on Russia.
Greece to adhere to EU budget agreement
An EU decision to present balanced budgets is a political decision and Greece
will seek to adhere strictly to this agreement, Greek Economy and Finance
Minister, George Alogoskoufis, said on July 11th, New Europe reported.
Speaking to reporters, the Greek minister added that the government needed to
remain alert to execute this year's budget and announced further measures to cut
spending this year.
Alogoskoufis hailed a Eurogroup and ECOFIN decisions to accept Cyprus and Malta
in the Eurozone, saying it was a very significant development since Eurozone was
expanding in the Mediterranean region.
He noted that the ECOFIN council agreed that in the best economic case scenario
member-states' fiscal deficits should be cut by more than 0.5 per cent annually
and said that EU member-states reaffirmed their commitment to present balanced
budgets by 2010. The Greek minister also referred to the significant progress
made by Greece in reducing its fiscal deficit, adding that the country still had
a very big public debt with interest payment totalling 10 billion Euro annually.
"It is a very big problem and a top priority for the government," he
Alogoskoufis noted that social transfers, as a percentage of GDP, reached 18 per
cent in Greece, from 16.2 per cent in the Eurozone, and that they expected to
reach 18.4 per cent in 2008. "We have the highest rate of social transfers
but very low efficiency," he added.
Commenting on the placement of a 20 per cent equity stake in Postal Savings
Bank, Alogoskoufis said it was successful. "It is a significant step for
privatisations, with the offering price reaching 18.10 euros per share, at the
top range, while the placement was three times oversubscribed and the state will
raise more than 500 million euros," he said.
The Greek minister stressed that the government's privatisation program
envisaged proceeds totalling 1.7 billion Euro and noted that the program so far
has fetched 1.632 billion Euro.
Private placement for 10.7% of OTE
The Greek government announced on June 28th that it will sell a 10.7 per cent
equity stake in the Hellenic Telecommunications Organisation (OTE) telephony
utility as part of an ongoing and high-profile government policy to further
privatise the large state-run telecoms provider, ANA reported.
An OTE statement noted that the Greek state will launch a private placement of
52,446,092 common shares, or 10.7 per cent of the utility's equity capital,
towards domestic and foreign investors through an accelerated book-building