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Key Economic Data 
 
  2003 2002 2001 Ranking(2003)
GDP
Millions of US $ 173,000 132,834 117,200 27
         
GNI per capita
 US $ 13,720 11,660 11,430 45
Ranking is given out of 208 nations - (data from the World Bank)

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Update No: 118 - (29/03/07)

New Democracy consolidates its pole position
It is three years since the present Greek government was elected in March 2004. All in all, it has done pretty well. It admittedly had the good fortune to come in at the right time, when Athens hosted the 2004 Olympic Games, a historic event for the Greeks of course. They enjoyed basking in the world's attention and tourism has received a permanent boost.

In the latest opinion poll to be published in March, ruling New Democracy (ND) held a 3.2-percentage point lead over rival main opposition PASOK party, 36.3 per cent to 33.1 per cent. The poll, conducted by the firm MRB for a private Athens television station, was held between February 26th and February 28th on a nationwide sample of 1,000 respondents via telephone interview.

The Communist Party of Greece (KKE), which has a long history in Greece, almost coming to power in a civil war in the 1940s, was preferred by 7.7 per cent of respondents, followed by the out-of-Parliament Popular Orthodox Rally (LA.OS) with 3.7 per cent and the Coalition of the Left (Synaspismos), with 3.1 per cent. The level of undecided voters reached 14.8 per cent, a large figure, as new elections approach. 

However, Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis leads PASOK leader George Papandreou by 18.4 points on the question of who is more capable to hold the premier's post, 47.9 per cent for the former to Papandreou's 29.5 per cent. This is especially significant in a polity increasingly 'presidential' in style, a common trait of democratic politics everywhere.

Profile of the New Democracy leader
Karamanlis comes of a distinguished dynasty, being a nephew of the former President of the Hellenic Republic, Constantine Karamanlis. Politics is in his blood. He is also highly educated. He studied at University of Athens's Law School and at the private Deree College, continuing with postgraduate studies in the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University in the United States, where he gained a master's degree and a doctorate in political sciences, international relations and diplomatic history.

Karamanlis is the youngest ever Greek Prime Minister, and the first born after World War II, in 1956. 

Helped by the unpopularity of the PASOK government (a party that had been in power between 1981-1989 and from 1993 to 2004), led by Costas Simitis, ND defeated the Socialists' George Andreas Papandreou in the March 2004 elections. Karamanlis stated that the priorities were education, economic policy, agricultural policy, lowering the large level of unemployment (standing at 11.2%) and a more transparent and effective state administration. Economic policy cantered on tax cuts, investment incentives and market deregulation. While early problems included a large public debt (about 112% of GDP) and a budget deficit (5.3% of the GDP) in excess of Eurozone stability rules, Karamanlis's government had halved the budget deficit to 2.6% by 2006.

Papandreou unveils new PASOK policy platform
PASOK leader George Papandreou is, nevertheless, fighting back. He addressed a mass rally of PASOK supporters and top cadres in early March, capping off a week of high-profile activities by the party that included a presentation of its voluminous policy platform statement, the means to fund proposed spending hikes and a convening of PASOK's national council. 

Papandreou repeated his heated criticism of the government and appeared confident of election victory in the next poll, while at the same time warning of "major interests" attempting to manipulate and control the party, interests he said want PASOK to "compromise." In fact, Papandreou's address swayed back-and-forth from detailing PASOK's positions on a variety of issues to airing charges against the government.

He echoed other top PASOK officials' accusations over the past week over the government's culpability in the mismanagement of pension funds' assets, while referring to "shadowy games" between riot police and masked self-styled anarchists that often infiltrate protests through central Athens before engaging in vandalism and clashes with authorities. "You cannot identify the younger generation with masked troublemakers, slackers and the apathetic," he said in reference to the government, noting that education issues should not be handled by the public order ministry, an indirect rebuke over the role of police during protests.

In turning to one of the three "axes" of PASOK's programme, as he said, Papandreou touched on the "green" aspect of economic development, while at the same time charging that the government is only interested in selling-off forestlands and coastal areas, as seen from its intent to revise Article 24 of the Constitution.

Regarding foreign policy, he said the government is falling back on mere "public relations tours," accusing it of being absent from international developments. In playing up the party's social agenda, Papandreou said the government has proceeded with an "unrestrained redistribution of wealth," saying the maxim is now to "catch the little guy and be lenient to the powerful." On the social front, he said PASOK will promote a "new contract for employment," boost the number of preschools, all-day elementary schools, improve hospitals and institute at at-home support programmes. "Eradicating poverty is, for PASOK, a political choice. We must end with poverty in our country," he said.

He promised that if elected to government PASOK will institute a fairer tax system, one able to restore social justice "with a redistribution of wealth in favour of the weak via taxation." Moreover, he promised the hiring of 3,000 staff every year in the health care system, which he said the ND government has abandoned. 

Papandreou also launched into an attack on recent opinion polls, saying the issue is one of quality of democracy, objectivity and transparent financial dealings of the firms involved. "We will not back down from our principles and will govern without dependence on anyone, with our head high, expressing the true will of the Greek people." 

Three Nations Finalize Oil Pipeline Deal
Meanwhile the business of government goes on. Bulgaria, Greece and Russia have signed an agreement finalizing the details for the construction of a long-awaited oil pipeline that will funnel Russian oil directly to southeastern Europe - bypassing Turkey's busy Bosphorus Straits.

No immediate details were announced about the cost of the privately funded project, in which a 175-mile pipeline will be built, but experts had estimated it at between US$1 billion and US$1.3 billion.

The pipeline will bring Russian oil from Bulgaria's Black Sea port of Burgas to Alexandroupolis in northeastern Greece, bypassing the environmentally vulnerable Bosphorus Straits. Russia is expected to have a 51 per cent share in the deal, with Bulgaria and Greece splitting the remaining 49 per cent.

In discussion since the early 1990s, the venture received new interest because of high oil prices.

The Burgas-Alexandroupolis pipeline, tentatively scheduled for completion by 2010, would initially carry 700,000 barrels of oil a day port through a 36-inch pipeline, with capacity set to eventually rise to more than 1 million barrels a day.

Russia's Gazprom-Neft and Rosneft are to participate in the venture, along with Russian-British venture TNK-BP, Bulgargaz and Terminal Universal Burgas from Bulgaria, and Greek companies Hellenic Petroleum and Thraki.

Last September, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Greek Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis and Bulgarian President Georgi Parvanov met in Athens to pledge political support for the project. Putin last week again urged faster progress.

It remained unclear whether the agreement would resolve a dispute between Sofia and Moscow over ownership of the Burgas oil terminal. Opposition lawmakers in Bulgaria argue the deal should be scrapped if Russian companies are granted control.

Burgas-Alexandroupolis could compete with another planned pipeline venture.

Macedonia, Albania and Bulgaria have agreed to build an east-west pipeline from Burgas to the Albanian port of Vlore. The 556-mile pipeline is also due to be completed in 2010, costing an estimated US$1.2 billion.

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ENERGY

New energy horizons for Europe

The European Commission welcomed an intergovernmental agreement to construct a Trans-Balkan pipeline that will be built on EU territory, bypassing the crowded Bosporus Straits. "It is going to alleviate the pressure on a very environmentally-sensitive area and it is going to increase the security of supply by providing an alternative route for the transit of oil. So, however you look at it, it's positive," Ferran Tarradellas Espuny, spokesman for Energy Commissioner, Andris Piebalgs, New Europe reported.
A day earlier, at the Presidential Mansion in Athens, Russia, Greece, and Bulgaria in excellent ambience signed an agreement on the construction and operation of the Bourgas-Alexandroupolis pipeline. Russian President Vladimir Putin, Greek Prime Minister, Costas Karamanlis, and Bulgarian Prime Minister, Sergei Stanishev, attended the signing ceremony, marking a new era for the transport of Russian and Caspian crude to Europe.
Signing the agreement on behalf of the three countries were Greek Development Minister, Dimitris Sioufas, Russia's Industry and Energy Minister, Viktor Khristenko, and Bulgarian Regional Development Minister, Asen Gagaouzov.
The Greek premier, in full command of the signing ceremonies, told a well-attended press conference this "historic day" is the result of intensive preparation leading to the implementation of this strategic project. "This has been a pending issue for 14 years and it is now being managed in the best possible way for the benefit of all," said Karamanlis, who helped overcome last minute obstacles in negotiations.
He pledged that Greece will continue to work on the pipeline at the same intense pace in order to make up for lost ground and complete the work as quickly as possible.
Karamanlis said this project will place Greece and Bulgaria on the energy map. "Apart from individual benefits for individual countries this is a wider issue and a wider project that will be beneficial for the global energy market since it facilitates access to oil and products that are important products."
Putin defined the project's significance for energy security, noting that the Trans-Balkan pipeline will provide an opportunity to think about expanding supplies from the Caspian region through Russian territory.
"We are all equally interested in making this project happen. Bulgaria, Greece and Russia are equally interested in the construction of this pipeline, but, of course, as my colleague - the prime minister of Greece - said this is a project that is interesting for all the energy markets globally because the implementation of this project also provides a scope for further considerations on how oil will be brought further from the Caspian Sea," Putin said in response to questions. "It will be very interesting for US companies, Azeri companies or Kazak companies. This will also increase energy supplies for the global market."
In turn, Stanishev said the pipeline is of geo-strategic significance and will play an important role in strengthening energy security. "This is a new beginning of an era to come which should lead to great infrastructure works and projects which should play a very important role not only in Greece but rather in Europe."
It's notable that the Russian president stressed that the pipeline will be filled with new volumes of oil, which will be transported through Russia among others.
Assessing the Russian president's statements, the EU energy spokesman welcomed the possibility of using Kazak and Azeri oil for the pipeline. "That's perfect. That's reasonable because from a commercial point of view the more people you have using the pipeline, the more money you are going to get. So it will be risky to say they cannot use Kazak or Azeri oil, if they don't have enough oil to fill it," Tarradellas Espuny told New Europe.
The agreement to build the Bourgas-Alexandroupolis pipeline could also have a positive effect for another project, the Chevron-led Caspian Pipeline Consortium (CPC) -- operating the pipeline running from the Chevron-led Tengiz field in Kazakhstan to the Black Sea.
The CPC partners - Kazakstan and Chevron - have been asking for Russia's permission to double the size of CPC capacity. "Russia has blocked that pipeline's capacity expansion until the Bosporus pipeline is agreed because otherwise that oil from the Caspian would be competing with Russian oil trying to get out of the Bosporus," Chris Weafer, chief strategist at Moscow's Alfa Bank told New Europe. Speaking telephonically from Washington DC, he said, "Russia has been telling Chevron: 'If you want permission for the doubling of the pipeline you have to lean on the US State Department to put pressure on Greece and Bulgaria to agree on the pipeline.'"
Washington, which backed a competing Trans-Balkan pipeline -- the Burgas-Vlore oil pipeline project - has eased its reservations about Bourgas-Alexandroupolis, realising that a bypass of the crowded Bosporus Straits, where tankers sometimes have to wait inline for 10 days, was long overdue.
Just a few days before Russia, Greece and Bulgaria signed the agreement for the construction of the Bourgas-Alexandroupolis pipeline, US Deputy Secretary of State Matt Bryza, who visited Turkey and Greece, said Greece and Bulgaria are US' allies in NATO and American companies are interested in the pipeline, so Washington does not oppose the pipeline.
Asked if American companies would participate in constructing the Bulgarian portion of the pipeline, the Bulgarian development minister told journalists in Athens it would be decided by the time construction is set to begin. He noted, however, that transit fees would be collected by Bulgaria.
Meanwhile, Bryza has urged diversity and multiple means of transport of hydrocarbons. The US opposes Russia's proposal to participate in the Turkish-Greek-Italian pipeline deal, which will transport natural gas from the Caspian region and the Middle East to Europe. Putin's visit to Greece followed his trip to Italy where Russian gas giant Gazprom and Italy's ENI finalised the details of a major gas deal.
Politicians, company executives and analysts alike believe the Bourgas-Alexandroupolis pipeline is ready to move forward. Transneft CEO Semyon Vainshtok told journalists in Athens that Russia, Greece and Bulgaria will form an international company and register its head office. According to the intergovernmental agreement, the international company will be registered in a European Union member state. A tender will then be held to conduct a survey and a feasibility study, and construction will start after it has been completed. This will all be done "within a very short time, in less than a year or two," Vainshtok said. Asked if everything will go well, Vainshtok said he is certain since Russian oil will be flowing through the pipeline.
Commenting on the agreement, Alfa Bank's Weafer said: "Everybody believes it's a done deal. In terms of the political decision to do it, I don't see any further obstacles. It looks like all parties have finally agreed ... Even the US now wants it done."

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FOREIGN COOPERATION

Greece to expand cooperation with Bulgaria

Greek Parliament Speaker Anna Benaki-Psarouda recently said that Greece will boost its comprehensive cooperation with Bulgaria, after meeting with her Bulgarian counterpart Georgi Pirinski in Bulgaria, Sofia News Agency reported. 
She added that cooperation would focus on safeguarding regional peace and stability, boosting trade and promoting personnel exchanges. She hoped that Greece, Bulgaria and Romania would form a regional axis to implement the policy of the EU and spread their experience to their neighbouring countries.

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TELECOMMUNICATIONS

OTE launches another exit programme

Hellenic Telecommunications Organisation, the Greek full-service telecommunications provider, recently announced that it has reached an agreement with the unions regarding an employee exit program, under which employees who have one to five remaining years of service, but have nevertheless completed the minimum requirements for retirement, will get exit bonuses that range from 5,000 to 36,000 Euro in order to depart during 2007, New Europe reported.
Approximately 450 OTE employees are eligible for this employee exit program. According to a press release OTE said it will ask eligible employees to tender irrevocable applications during a submission period that will run through March 2007. Departures will start on April 18th, 2007 and all employees participating in the program will leave the company at the end of 2007. Details regarding the cost of the programme will be available within the second quarter 2007. It should be noted that OTE has been implementing similar employee exit programs with financial incentives since 1996. 

A 12.5% stake in AMC may be sold to Cosmote

Greek mobile operator Cosmote's 82.4 per cent-owned subsidiary in Albania is interested in buying 12.5 per cent stake in AMC, Greek mobile operator at a reasonable price, AENews reported. Cosmote would buy this stake at a reasonable price, as Cosmote also owns 97 per cent of Cosmo-Holding Albania, which in turn controls 85 per cent of AMC. In 2006, AMC had a customer base of about one million and recorded sales of 151 million Euro. 

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TOURISM

Tourism-related actions, programmes

Greek Tourism Development Minister Fani Palli-Petralia held a meeting with Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis on March 1, during which she briefed him on the ministry's activities in preparation for the 2007 tourist season that is due to begin in a few days time, ANA reported.
In statements to reporters afterwards, Petralia said the signs for the current year in tourism appeared to be good.
"At the tourism development ministry we have presented the "tourism charter" on a regional basis, because we consider that it is the goal and purpose of every region, every prefecture and every municipality, since it is an element of economic growth in every area," Petralia underlined.
During the meeting with Karamanlis, the minister also outlined the progress of an initiative to create 35 kilometres of cycle paths and promenades along the Athens coast, from the Peace and Friendship Stadium in Faliro up to the seaside resort of Varkiza, that is gradually beginning.
"Athens, the Attic basin must reach out to the sea and must breathe. This is an ambitious project that we are planning and in the coming period I will meet with the mayors of those areas, so that we can have a final study and go ahead with implementation," she said.
Petralia underlined that her own ministry also had a lot of work ahead in order to achieve its goal of extending the tourist season, which would be its programme for the current summer, autumn and upcoming winter seasons.

Promoting Athens as tourist destination

Greek Tourist Development Minister, Fani Palli Petralia, and Athens Mayor, Nikitas Kaklamanis, held talks on March 5th, focusing on the promotion of Athens as a self-sufficient tourist destination so that it will not merely be a stopover for visitors en route to another destination in the country, ANA reported. 
To this end, the minister announced a programming contract agreement between the ministry and the municipality of Athens aimed at city tourism and the highlighting of Athens as an international tourist destination. In this framework, the conference on City Breaks will be hosted at the Tae Kwon Do facility in Faliro between June 11-13. Referring to the programme for reshaping the coastal zone with the creation of a bicycle and pedestrians road, Petralia said that this plan is proceeding normally, stressing that with the unified sea front, the city will be transformed into a coastal one.

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