25 April, 2005
Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis categorically dismissed the option of proceeding with a government reshuffle in the near future, while he also ruled out additional tax hikes to slash the budget deficit his government inherited.
Karamanlis' statements came in an interview published in the Sunday edition of the Athens daily "Kathimerini".
"I believe that the ministers comprising a government must have adequate time to be informed, to plan and to implement the government's work. We have now entered the phase in which major reforms are beginning to be implemented," he said.
Moreover, the prime minister rejected criticism that the government lost time in promoting its policy, saying "I do not accept this", as he explained that there is a process for decisions to mature and that a great deal of time is required for results to become apparent.
"I do not feel that there are delays," the prime minister stressed and noted that many months of preparation are required for each issue.
Karamanlis further underlined that new tax measures will not be imposed and, replying to the question on why measures were not taken earlier, he said a complete assessment of the country's fiscal situation had to be made.
"When it became apparent that the deficit is almost five times of what had been estimated when the 2004 budget was approved, we were obliged to take measures. And I say we were obliged because they were unavoidable," he added.
Karamanlis cited a new incentive package for businesses, more flexible shop hours, reforms focusing on state utilities and enterprises, pension reform in the banking sector and privatizations, naming the profitable football betting pools and lottery organization, OPAP, as first on the list. He also said the privatization of debt-ridden Olympic Airways (OA) is also a priority.
"Some have criticized us because we did not solve all the problems (the country faces) in one year. Everything cannot be done from one day to the next," he said in characterizing the opposition's stance, while adding that his government has requested specific proposals.
Referring to relations with neighboring Turkey, Karamanlis said Greece is pursuing a full normalization of relations. However, he said Athens wants to protect its rights and interests, while he noted that support of Turkey's European prospects is a correct policy.
"Certain behaviors do not change from one day to the other. A society with specific characteristics cannot become European on all levels from one day to the other, it is a long process. Turkey's, and its leaders' behavior is judged and evaluated on a daily basis," the Greek prime minister said, while declining to comment on relations between the civilian and military leaderships in Turkey.
"I do consider, however, that the Greek prime minister must always have an open channel of communication with the Turkish prime minister as well as the most sincere relationship as possible," he said.
As far as the long-standing Cyprus issue, Karamanlis cited both the significance of the island republic's accession to the European Union as well as the Greek Cypriot community's right to reject a solution it did not desire.
"The primary target remains a solution to the Cyprus problem based on the Annan peace plan ... There are, of course, issues that must be revised. The most important part is to proceed carefully," he said.
Additionally, Karamanlis said he doesn't forecast any new initiative prior to the Oct. 3 date that Turkey has received for beginning EU negotiations.
Regarding the FYROM 'name issue', Karamanlis reiterated that although the recently presented Nimetz proposal does not fully satisfy Athens, it does offer a prospect that is "worthy of discussion".
"The side that will not agree to sit down and talk will bear, after 15 years, the weight of this intransigence," the Greek premier said.
In commenting on one of the more crucial fronts his government is facing, namely, the campaign to fight corruption and curb the influence of vested interests, Karamanlis appeared unwavering, saying it would be unthinkable to change his stance now.
"I am doing this not because I bear ill feelings towards anyone; nor is this a witch hunt, but I deeply believe that the struggle for transparency is linked with the quality of our democracy and economic development. There is no free economy when the game is partially rigged or rigged in certain sectors," he emphasized.
In an even more telling statement, Karamanlis referred to a "vile" attack against the government by some quarters, as well as an effort to cover-up anything positive done by the government and, conversely, to magnify the negative or even to create issues. "I know very well why all of these things are occurring and what the motives are," he noted.
Finally, the Greek prime minister referred to a "lawless" media environment that leads to mind-boggling competition. "When I refer to phenomena of disinformation, to a large extent I am referring to this situation. This should concern us as a society," he added.
Source: Athens News Agency