Books on Greece
Update No: 124 - (28/09/07)
In the ancient world fire was seen as a purifying force. One
just has to think of the flaming torch of the Olympics.
Well, Greece has been through horrendous fire recently. It remains to be seen if
it will prove purifying.
Following the devastating fires of August, many will be watching to see if the
Karamanlis administration takes action to close the legal loopholes that have
encouraged arson by would-be developers. In the past, fires have often been the
prelude to new construction. But with unprecedented damage this time around, the
public is in no mood to tolerate business as usual.
Greek Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis called early elections in August, six
months before the end of his government's mandate. His party, New Democracy,
fared better in the September 21st poll than its poor handling of the crisis
It now has a slim majority, with 152 seats in the 300-seat parliament -- a loss
of 13 seats since 2004. In addition one of its distinguished mernbers has been
elected as the President of the parliament, meaning the ND overall majority is
only one, which almost certainly indicates that this parliament will not run its
Karamanlis says he wants immediate results from his reshuffled cabinet, which
includes several new faces. Although Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis and other
key members kept their posts, others have been replaced in a bid to inject new
momentum and win back public support.
''I will be closely watching the work done by every ministry,'' Karamanlis said.
He also warned that deputy ministers now needed direct approval to make public
statements. "Too much television, too many statements, too much public
speaking is seriously harmful. Measure and much caution are necessary," the
prime minister said.
Although his party saw its strength in parliament trimmed, Karamanlis stressed
his determination to push through his agenda. Initiatives aimed at streamlining
bureaucracy and reducing costs have run into opposition from unions and the
left, and Karamanlis had hoped the elections would bring him a strong show of
support from the public at large. Instead, New Democracy received a weaker
mandate from a disenchanted electorate.
Many analysts are sceptical about prospects for change. "The election
campaigns made it clear that the parties are not willing to deal with the
uncertain present," the daily Kathimerini wrote. "Both New Democracy
and the left wing PASOK kept their cards close to their chests when it came to
telling voters what are the clear measures that would increase wages or reduce
the cost of living, while creating a fairer job market for the young, women in
According to Transparency International, fighting corruption is one of the major
areas in which the government will have to demonstrate progress. The prime
minister needs to restore New Democracy's credibility, which was recently
undermined because of a pensions fund scandal. More than 50 people, mostly
officials at state pension funds, banks and brokerages, may face charges of
fraud, money-laundering and tax evasion.
According to Economy Minister George Alogoskoufis, the government's immediate
priority is the drafting of the 2008 budget. Next on the list is passage of a
bill on the use of investment subsidies under the EU's 4th Community Support
The first bill to be tabled in parliament will concern the fight against tax
evasion, Alogoskoufis told reporters. The government also has said it wants to
move forward with abolition of the inheritance tax, as well as taxes on first
Dimitris Sioufas elected new President of Parliament
Dimitris Sioufas of the ruling New Democracy (ND) party was elected president of
the 300-member unicameral Hellenic Parliament on September 27th with 158 votes
for and 141 blank votes, while only one MP was absent. In a statement
immediately after the result was announced, Sioufas pledged to be a
"President of all Parliament, all the wings, all the deputies".
An MP from Karditsa who served as development minister under the previous
government, Sioufas was the candidate nominated by Prime Minister Costas
Karamanlis for the parliament presidency.
Outlining his plans during his term in the third-highest office in Greece after
the President of the Republic and the prime minister, Sioufas said he intended
to introduce changes to Parliament regulations that would allow visiting heads
of state and government and other distinguished foreigners to directly address
the Greek Parliament.
He also outlined plans to further upgrade the annual Youth Parliament and to
begin planning for the creation of a new and modern Parliament building equipped
with necessary infrastructure at another location.
The former minister also emphasised the Parliamentary diplomacy would be among
his priorities and referred to the destruction wrought by the mega-fires that
swept Greece in August, saying that the "Parliament of the Hellenes will be
creatively present" in efforts for the recovery of these areas.
There followed a hand-over ceremony, in which Sioufas took over from his
predecessor Anna Psarouda-Benaki and stressed that, in doing so, he became
"even more aware of the magnitude of my responsibilities and my
The parliament plenary convened again in the afternoon to elect the House's five
parliamentary vice-presidents, which are distributed among the three top
parties, with the first three parliamentary vice-presidential positions going to
the ruling ND party, the fourth position going to main opposition PASOK and the
fifth going to the Communist Party of Greece (KKE).
Dimitris Sioufas, a lawyer, was born in 1944 in Ellinopyrgos, Karditsa
prefecture. He was first elected to parliament in 1981, and served as deputy
minister of Health, Welfare and Social Insurance in the New Democracy government
of Constantine Mitsotakis from August 1991 to October 1993.
In April 2000 he was elected Secretary of the ND Parliamentary Group (up to the
March 2004 general elections), nominated by the then main opposition New
Democracy (ND) party leader Karamanlis.
With ND's assumption of the government after the March 2004 elections, he was
appointed Development minister, serving in the post from March 2004 to September
2007, just ahead of the latest general elections in which ND was re-elected to