Books on Greece
Update No: 117 - (22/02/07)
New man at the helm
In the March 2004 parliamentary election, Kostas Karamanlis led the New
Democrats to victory, securing 165 seats in the Greek Parliament. PASOK had
administered the government since January 1996. Current PASOK leader George
Papandreou served as foreign minister under Kostas Simitis.
Karamanlis benefited from the holding of the Olympic Games in Athens in 2004
just after assuming office. But he and his government have been doing a
competent job so far.
New Democrats Still Tops in Greece
This explains why the governing New Democracy (ND) is still the most popular
political party in Greece, according to a poll by VPRC released by SKAI Radio in
February. 43 per cent of respondents would vote for the ND in the next election,
exactly the same number as in January.
The Pan-Hellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK) is second with 39.5 per cent,
followed by the Communist Party of Greece (KKE) with 7.5 per cent, the Coalition
of the Left and Progress (SIN) with four per cent, and the People's Orthodox
Alarm (LAOS) with 3.5 per cent.
On February 12th the Greek Parliament rejected a no-confidence motion against
the government put forward by PASOK. After the three-day long debate, Karamanlis
discussed PASOK's motivation, saying, "I do not place personal and party
interest above the interests of the country. Elections will take place at their
This year, 2007, is the last year before the government needs to call elections;
but the country has already entered a pre-election mood.
Little scope seen for changes
The majority of Greek voters do not believe the government has any organized
programme of reforms and doubts that it will be able to make significant changes
to Greece's economic, social security and education systems before its term is
up, according to an opinion poll carried out for Kathimerini.
The survey, conducted by VPRC, suggests that 51 per cent of the electorate think
the ruling conservatives "probably do not" have a comprehensive plan
for reforms. This is the first time that the figure has passed the 50 per cent
mark since New Democracy came to power in March 2004 on the back of promises of
an ambitious agenda of reforms.
Almost half of the respondents (47 per cent) also said they do not think that
the government's proposed reforms will materialize. Some 40 per cent of almost
1,000 people questioned believe that ND will be able to make the changes it
These statistics are likely to worry Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis and his
government as it enters its last year of power before having to call elections.
Karamanlis in private has urged his ministers to dispel talk of early elections
and asked for ND's party conference to be held in July in the hope of sending a
clear message to the electorate that he will not go to the polls early.
It appears that Karamanlis wants to see through several more reforms projects,
such as shaping the future of tertiary education, before putting his party's
popularity to the test in general elections.
He will likely be encouraged by the fact that the VPRC poll indicated that 47
per cent of voters agree that private universities should be allowed to operate
in Greece, compared to 43 per cent who think that all universities should be
Equally, almost six in 10 respondents think that the Constitution probably needs
to be reviewed - another of ND's projects - compared to only 20 per cent who do
not think this reform necessary.
Greece tackles problem of minorities; Turkey next
With the visit by Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis to Western Thrace in
early February, Greece has taken a major step in minority rights. Ankara should
not lag behind in Athens' view.
When the draft law to improve the property rights of non-Muslim religious
minorities was discussed in the Turkish Parliament, one of the main objections
of the opponents of the law, including the Republican people's Party (CHP), was
based on the principle of reciprocity. What they were saying was roughly this:
"If the Greeks are not moving on with tackling the problems of Western
Thrace Turks, why should Turkey move ahead with improving the rights of its own
minorities, the Greek minority among them?" In fact the principal of
reciprocity was one of the justifications President Ahmet Necdet Sezer used when
he vetoed the foundations law last November.
Greece wants Turkey to relinquish its hold on properties once owned by the Greek
community that lived in Turkey until the 1960s, while Turkey criticizes Greece's
treatment of its Turkish minority, accusing Athens of violating their rights. In
this context one would have expected the goodwill gestures of the Greek
government towards the Turkish minority to make headlines in the Turkish press.
However few noted the announcement in the last week of January by the government
of Prime Minister Karamanlis that it was scrapping all back taxes owed by the
Turkish minority on its religious property. This came only a few days after the
unveiling of Greek plans to hire 240 imams, or Muslim clerics - a long-standing
Landmark visit from Bakoyannis
Greece's new campaign found its place in the Turkish media only when Greek
Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis paid a landmark visit to Western Thrace in
early February, a smart move indeed to attract international attention to her
government's new policy. Greeks still refrain from calling the minority
"Turkish," instead preferring the term "Muslim."
Nevertheless the measures announced by the government go beyond rhetoric. In
addition to the goodwill gestures made public in January, during her three-day
tour of Western Thrace Bakoyannis also announced further measures, designed to
improve the minority's access to a university education and jobs in the civil
"Now I am very curious as to what the reactions of the defendants of the
reciprocity principal will be to these recent developments. Honestly I do not
expect them to rejoice and say, 'this is what we have been waiting for. How can
we lag behind the Greek government? We should immediately reciprocate.' "
Obviously some among them may assert that Turkey's reciprocity-based policy has
paid off. Has the Greek government really come up with these gestures in the
hope that Turkey will do the same? Although Greek officials deny any link, it
would be naïve to think that Greece launched its campaign independent of
expectations vis-à-vis the Greek minority in Turkey. While announcing some of
the measures, Greek Interior Minister Prokopis Pavlopoulos could not refrain
from drawing some parallels with Turkey. Agence France-Presse quoted him as
saying, "We are gradually addressing the omissions of the past and we are
giving the best example to neighbouring Turkey… to do the same."
Not just reciprocity:
However, it would be wrong to assume that reciprocity is the only factor
behind Greece's recent change of policy. According to experts Greece began the
process in the mid-1990s.
Those who follow closely developments in Greece agree that the main driving
force has been the change in mentality that came with European Union membership.
The Greek state and public opinion in the country has become more sensitive to
fierce criticism voiced by prestigious human rights nongovernmental
organizations and international organizations such as the Council of Europe. In
addition, cases filed at the European Court of Human Rights are nearing
decisions, and the expectation is that the court will rule against Greece.
Moreover, Ahmet Ilhan, the only deputy in the Parliament representing the
minority, is in the ranks of the incumbent party, New Democracy. His friend from
childhood, Evripis Stilyanidis, is deputy foreign minister. And New Democracy is
after minority votes. These count as additional factors behind Greece's latest
'Reciprocity should be positive':
The owner of the Voice of Thrace newspaper, Abdulhalim Dede, also agrees
that the latest explanations by the government do more than just pay lip service
to the minority. "Bakoyannis is from Crete. Cretans do not talk in vain. It
has been a year since she became a minister. If she wanted she would have made
these statements a year ago, but she has been working on this issue since then.
She has met with Ahmet Ilhan a number of times."
According to Dede, the reciprocity principle is only one of the reasons that
moved Greece toward political change. He does not deny that Turkey's support for
the Turks of the Western Thrace is essential for pressure to be put on Athens.
However, he opposes the employment of reciprocity principle in the case of
minority policies with the following reasoning: "Reciprocity should be used
in a positive manner. If one offers 10 to the minority, the other should offer
20. However, it has been used in a negative manner by both countries."
The Turkish foreign ministry released a written statement in mid-February and
declared that even though the steps taken were or course very welcome, they have
fallen short of sufficiency.
At the end of the day, the problems of the Turks of Western Thrace will not be
resolved in the near future. However, it is obvious that the Greek government is
determined to solve them. Fortunately Greece says that this is a matter of its
internal affairs and that it does not want to discuss the issue with Turkey.
Otherwise, when Bakoyannis meets with her counterpart Abdullah Gül in the
future, she might have said, "we have done this, now it is your turn."
Greece is smart - it has passed the issue over to the EU.
Possibility to realise wind energy potential
Greece is particularly interested in sources of renewable energy and especially
wind energy, Greece's Member of Parliament, Manolis Mavrommatis, said on January
16th in Strasbourg, New Europe reported.
EU Energy Commissioner, Andris Piebalgs, said, responding to a question by
Mavrommatis: "About one-quarter of the Member States say the support of
wind energy generation is incredibly low and does not allow for its practical
use. About another quarter of the Member States say this support is adequate but
there are mediocre results. That can be explained because of network and
management obstacles. These issues continue to obstruct the wide use of wind
energy in Europe," Piebalgs said.
Specifically the Greek MEP had asked to be informed "if the Commission was
planning to adopt additional measures to boost units of wind energy generation.
Also, if the Commission considers it essential to provide economic support to
countries that can take advantage of wind energy, like Greece, Cyprus, Malta,
Italy and Spain, at a very sensitive time for the environment."
In his response, the energy commissioner said that "regarding financial
support, demonstrative wind energy projects have been financed since 1983, when
the corresponding technology had just been launched. This is also going to be
supported in the Seventh Framework Programmes in research and technological
development initiatives for the period 2007-2013. Moreover, the Commission will
continue to provide financial support in the development of renewable energy,
including wind energy."
Particularly in Greece, there is an increased interest to invest in sources of
renewable energy and especially wind energy. Investments of 2.5 billion Euro are
expected up to 2010. Greece is at the eighth place in use of wind energy among
the 25 Member States of the EU. Germany has the number one spot, followed by
Spain, Denmark, Italy, the Netherlands, Austria and Portugal. Today, the
percentage of wind power, around five per cent, is considered relatively low,
given that 58 per cent comes from thermo-electric plants, 19 from nuclear power
plants and 18 per cent from hydro-electric plants.
"The Commission plans to produce a progress report in 2007, evaluating the
progress in Member States regarding their support of electric power generation
from renewable sources. The need for further advancement of wind power is also
going to be addressed, among others, in the upcoming renewables road map that is
expected to be published in 2007," Piebalgs said in his response.
Rise in Greek exports anticipated
The value of Greek exports is expected to reach 9.8 percentage points of GDP
this year, national economy and finance minister, George Alogoskoufis, said
recently, opening the 10th conference of the National Exports Council.
Alogoskoufis said despite the increase, "we must not be complacent,"
explaining that the increase in exports' contribution to GDP anticipated in 2007
to 9.8 percentage points against 8.8 percentage points in 2006 was nevertheless
smaller than the proportion recorded in 2000, ANA reported.
According to figures released during the conference, covering the 10-month
period January-October 2006, Greek exports to Russia rose by 20.6 per cent, to
Turkey by 24.7 per cent, to Bulgaria by 31.6 per cent, and to Romania by 46.8
per cent, while they jumped by 60.8 per cent to Japan and 65.0 per cent to
China. Alogoskoufis further said that an increase in exports to the US,
Australia and India would also be sought. The minister explained that consumers,
at an international level, demanded diverse and quality products, adding that
more efforts needed to be made in that direction "because we have a
relative lack of Greek brand name products." Speaking more generally,
Alogoskoufis said that, in addition to exports, tourism was also going well and
foreign investors were returning to Greece, while the public finances were also
Karamanlis receives visiting Chinese dignitary, US senators
Greek Prime Minister, Costas Karamanlis, on January 30th received China's State
Councillor and Secretary General of the State Council, Hua Jianmin, New Europe
A day earlier, Karamanlis had received a high-ranking delegation of US senators,
as talks touched on the Cyprus issue, Afghanistan and bilateral trade ties.
Senator Gordon Smith (R-Oregon) later told reporters that "all democracies
feel at home in Greece, and when our embassy was attacked, we felt as if Greece
itself had been attacked ... we greatly appreciate your government's reaction to
the recent incident against our embassy." He also referred to the millions
of Greek Americans in the US and the role they played.