International Media Newsletter, 15-Jan-2010
The PASOK Government’s First Hundred Days
Greek PM George Papandreou made a statement and answered questions from journalists in Athens on January 13th, on completion of his government’s first hundred days in power.
The Prime Minster’s Statement
Mr Papandreou said that, although the country was facing an unprecedented financial crisis, 2010 would be a year of radical change as regards the economy, as well as the workings of both state and government. It was a question of ‘now or never’. The crisis was an opportunity to confront problems that have plagued the country for generations, but it would be necessary for Greeks to show their true character; the Prime Minister was sure they would rise to the challenge.
Greece’s public sector debt and unexpectedly large budget deficit were the symptoms of a deeper problem – the way the country had been governed, with waste, corruption and illegality to the fore. Other symptoms were a lack of competitiveness and productivity in areas ranging from agriculture to tourism. This had led to a widespread loss of confidence, as well as to Greece being unfairly criticised abroad.
However, the government had already made significant progress in every ministry and was building the foundations of a more efficient and user-friendly state. The government was keeping promises made in its election manifesto: to reform the economy, invigorate the markets, support the needy with extra allowances, and redistribute wealth.
The budget for 2010 was also in line with the government’s commitments, with increased spending on education and public sector investment, funding for necessary civil service jobs and for the health service, VAT rebates for farmers, and funding for young people’s employment schemes. At the same time, waste in the public sector would be eliminated and procedures for starting new businesses streamlined.
Consultation over a new taxation system would be complete by the end of the month, the aims being to reduce tax evasion significantly and to bring about a fairer and more transparent regime. Similar reforms would be introduced in the national insurance system.
Mr Papandreou said that the political system in Greece would also be overhauled. A new electoral law would combine single parliamentary seats with regional lists, making the representation of citizens more direct and cutting off the illicit flow of funds to political parties. Secondly, a new and simplified system of local government would reduce costs and bring the citizen closer to the decision-making process.
Another significant step would be the integration of economic immigrants, allowing
them to acquire Greek nationality, with concomitant benefits for the country’s
economy and its general cultural development.
Although there would be many difficult decisions to be made in the coming months, Mr Papandreou said that his government would not shy away from them. It was undeniable that the people wanted to see changes that benefited the many rather than the few, and to ensure that their hard-earned money was not going to waste. Everyone’s voice should be heard in order for a broad consensus to be obtained.
The Prime Minister also referred to the three-year Stability and Growth Programme, which was approved by the Cabinet on January 14th and sent to the European Commission on January 15th. (Click on the link for the text.)
Question and Answer Session
Asked where the government would find the funds to carry out its policies, Mr Papandreou insisted that money was available – the question was, where had that money gone under previous governments? He gave examples from the Education Ministry, where large sums had been wasted in the past because of bad management and favouritism. Such payments had now been stopped across the board.
To the question whether Greece might be forced to leave the European Monetary Union or apply to the International Monetary Fund, the Prime Minister replied that there was no possibility of either happening. The government’s role was to regain the country’s credibility, initially among its own citizens, and to bring about radical change in the Greek state mechanism. The economic problems – waste, corruption, the client-based political system – may have been made worse by the international financial crisis, but they were the products of Greece’s own failed model of governance.
Regarding immigrants, Mr Papandreou was asked if offering Greek nationality was desirable. He replied that the right to Greek nationality already existed. His government had undertaken to patrol the borders as effectively as possible to reduce illegal immigration, and to give nationality to those who had the appropriate credentials, especially the children of immigrants. In the future, they would contribute to the country in many ways, and Greece’s respect for human rights would be visible to all.
The Prime Minister was asked about Greek-Turkish relations and, in particular, whether he intended to reply to the Turkish premier’s letter requesting a meeting. He replied that he was indeed willing to meet the Turkish premier and would reply soon. He stressed that, whatever Mr Erdogan’s priorities, the Greek side would have no hesitation in putting forward its own positions on Cyprus, the Aegean, and Turkey’s accession to the EU.
Mr Papandreou was asked whether his support for the accession of Balkan countries to the EU might adversely effect Greek businesses in the region. He replied that Greece needed to concentrate on being more competitive, on improving productivity, and on being more innovative in order to secure business opportunities abroad, whether in the EU or further afield.
Ahead of his trip to Washington to meet President Obama, Mr Papandreou was asked if the Greek community abroad had a part to play in his policies. He said that, as a child of the Diaspora himself, he had great faith in its abilities – not only in lobbying foreign governments, but in the provision of knowledge and support of all kinds to the home nation. The Internet made global communication easier and the various government agencies were committed to bringing people of Greek heritage closer.