US Media on Greece
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PRESS & COMMUNICATIONS OFFICE
June 2002; Vol. 8 No. 6
(also available in PDF File)
European Rapid Reaction Force, Enlargement, and Immigration Policy Discussed in Seville
GREEK POSITIONS FIND FAVOR AT EU SUMMIT
The Greek government expressed its satisfaction with the results of the European Union summit meeting in Seville, June 21-22, on the European rapid reaction force, the enlargement of the EU and the curbing of illegal immigration in the 15 member-states.
Reporting the conclusions of the summit, Prime Minister Costas Simitis said that Greece succeeded in gaining the support of its EU partners for its objections to the so-called "Ankara Text" which would have allowed Turkey–a NATO but non-EU country–to obstruct independent action by the rapid reaction force, designed to give the European Union its own defense identity.
He added that the 15 leaders, within the framework of the common defense and foreign policy, had agreed on the retraction of the "Ankara Text," on the application of the principles of equality and autonomy between NATO and the EU, the exclusion of third countries from the decision-making procedures, and respect for the sovereign and territorial rights of each member-state.
The details of the text, which Turkey finds unacceptable, were not revealed by Mr. Simitis. However, as he said, none of the major partners–UK, France, or Germany–raised objections to it, so that discussions on the issue will now proceed on a new basis.
If efforts to persuade Turkey to accept the new arrangement fail, Mr. Simitis said, the EU will proceed with its current military plans, including replacement of multinational forces in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia in October.
The developments on this EU-NATO issue were reported in a telephone call by Greece's foreign minister, George Papandreou, to US Secretary of State Colin Powell.
"Greece," Mr. Simitis said, “will continue the negotiations in a constructive fashion, as an equal member of the European family who has been in the vanguard for a truly common defense and security policy. Its stance is also consistent with the position of every state which protects its national interests and the basic principles of its foreign policy within the framework of the European Union."
Greece, Mr. Simitis added, will also, as of July 1st, when it will chair defense-related issues for the EU presidency, be ready to make progress on other aspects of EU defense policies, especially those required for the complete operational capability of the EU rapid reaction force. It will also work to complete the arrangement on EU-NATO relations, to promote the dialogue between the non-member countries of the Mediterranean and the EU, and to prepare Cyprus and other candidate countries for their gradual incorporation within the European defense and security policies. Greece would also seek to further expand the recent decisions taken in Rome for NATO-Russia cooperation.
Enlargement and Illegal Immigration
Mr. Simitis expressed his satisfaction also on the enlargement issue, since the 15 leaders decided that the accession talks with 10 candidate countries, including Cyprus, should be completed by December, so that the Treaty of Accession could be signed in the spring of 2003 (during the Greek Presidency) and these countries can participate in the European Parliament elections in 2004 as full members. On Cyprus, the conclusions of the summit reiterated that the Helsinki summit decisions are the basis of the European Union’s position, as well as the EU’s preference for the accession of a reunited island. It also called for a comprehensive settlement consistent with the relevant UN Security Council resolutions.
Along with other countries, Greece, Mr. Simitis said, has urged the EU to act urgently to tackle the problems of immigration and asylum rights. In Seville, agreement was reached on the need for a common approach to the problem of illegal immigration, protection of external borders, the incorporation of emigration policy in relations between the EU and third countries, and the sharing of the cost among the EU partners, instead of placing the entire burden on the countries which are in the front line of illegal immigration.
The summit discussed the cooperation of member-states on the guarding of borders–especially of sea borders–and cooperation with third countries to arrange for re-admission agreements. Greece, in this context, urged the need for strengthened facilities for policing borders.
Mr. Simitis further urged the need for countries where there are networks engaged in illegal immigrant trafficking to take steps to suppress those activities. He asked for the creation of a fund to spread evenly the burden of financing border protection, reminding his colleagues that, in the past few years, Greece had stopped 250,000 illegal immigrants from entering the country.
For further EU developments at the Seville summit, go to: http://europa.eu.int/comm/seville_council/index_en.html
“The Olympic Games Are Already Here”
THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE ATHENS OLYMPICS
In contributions to the Athens ‘04 magazine, Prime Minister Costas Simitis and main opposition leader Costas Karamanlis reviewed the importance to Greece of the Athens Olympic Games in 2004, not only as a future opportunity to host a landmark international athletic event in its original home, but also as a ”driving force" for the country’s infrastructural and economic development.
“The Olympic Games,” Mr. Simitis wrote in the inaugural issue of the Athens Organizing Committee magazine, “are already here. For our country, an Olympiad means more than just preparing for a few weeks of competition.” Among the economic benefits to be derived from hosting the Olympics, Mr. Simitis noted the opportunity it provides for creating 130,00 jobs, increasing Greece’s GDP every year to 2004, strengthening industry as well as small and medium-sized businesses, and giving new impetus to tourism and the construction sector.
Hosting the Games, Mr. Simitis also noted, will make a good fit with the government’s overall objectives and policies, particularly in the promotion of harmonious regional development, increased employment, and improved quality of life. The challenge of the Olympics, he said further, will also accelerate the process of social modernization, with more efficient work practices and more cooperative habits.
The Olympiad, Mr. Simitis wrote, gives Greece the opportunity to continue the effort it began when it joined the European Economic and Monetary Union in a new era of effective foreign policy and economic stability which “in recent years drew the profile of a powerful Greece. The effort for 2004 completes our modernization effort.”
Turning to the idealistic significance of the Olympics, Mr. Simitis said that they provide a great opportunity to “demonstrate the need for world peace and cooperation with all countries, all peoples, all citizens of our ‘global village’ . . . regardless of gender, race, religion or culture . . . We have a vision for the Games. On the one hand, there are sporting ideals and spiritual pursuits; on the other, reconciliation and peace. We hope to combine both of them.”
Mr. Simitis concluded with these words: “The 2004 effort is a national task. The Games lead us to higher limits; they unite us and show us what we can achieve together. From this point of view, they are both a milestone and a starting point in the lead up to the new Greece of the 21st century.”
Opposition Leader Calls for United Effort
Writing in the subsequent issue of Athens ‘04, Costas Karamanlis, the leader of the main opposition party, New Democracy, called for a united approach to the 2004 Games. ”The magnitude of the effort can succeed only if all Greeks are united in this common aim. The attitude of ‘us’ and ‘you’ does not fit in the Olympic Games."
The choice of Greece by the International Olympic Committee to host the 2004 Games, Mr. Karamanlis wrote, was a “strategic choice,” changing the previous character of the Games to give them a human dimension and reduce their unrestrained commercialization.
The construction projects now in progress for the Games, Mr. Karamanlis urged, should be such as to become part of the heritage of the future generation. He also called for the full and open provision of information to the public as an encouragement to the volunteerism which, as in Sydney and Barcelona, is an important factor of success. Further, Mr. Karamanlis urged, “we should not be content with the Greece of sun, sea and fun, but our aim should be a Greece of development, history and culture.”
“The organization of the Olympic Games,” he concluded, “is everyone’s affair. It demands of all of us to respond to this great challenge.”
In Other Olympics-Related News:
• Former South African President Nelson Mandela was honored for his contribution to the cause of world peace at an Athens ceremony on June 19 when Foreign Minister George Papandreou, who is vice-president of the International Olympic Truce Center, hosted the launch of a drive for signatures from international personalities in support of the Olympic Truce–a revival of the ancient Greek custom of stopping hostilities during the Games. The Olympic Truce idea, endorsed by the UN General Assembly, has already been promoted by the signatures of some 110 senior political, cultural and religious leaders around the world.
• Substantial income-tax concessions and elimination of red tape delays for construction permits are among the provisions of legislation to be introduced in Parliament this summer. The new law provides for the waiving of the 18 percent value added tax (VAT) on purchases made by the Athens 2004 Organizing Committee; tax breaks for local sponsors of the Games; a reduced VAT on Olympics ticket prices; and tax concessions for the owners of accommodations rented to 2004 visitors.
• The “Cultural Olympiad” for the second half of 2002 will present 32 events in 35 cities in Greece and abroad. An emblem for the Cultural Olympiad is to be chosen soon.
• Security planning for the 2004 Games is a top priority for the Greek government which is engaged in close collaboration on the issue with international law enforcement agencies. Public Order Minister Michalis Chrysohoidis stated that some 50,000 people will be involved in the security plan, including more than 24,000 police officers, 1,500 members of the coast guard, 1,500 firemen, 7,000 soldiers, 6,000 security volunteers, and 5,000 from private security companies.
• Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, who has undertaken the renovation of the Athens Olympic Sports Complex, told a PBS interviewer in New York that “with the return of the Olympic Games to Athens in 2004, the time has come to re-think ways for their presentation.” The renovation of the Olympic stadium, he said, will create appealing public spaces in harmony with the environment, the landscape, trees and water. It will also use new construction techniques.
• A “graffiti festival” has been planned for this June and July by the organizers of the Cultural Olympiad which has invited notable graffiti artists, from Greece and abroad, to spray paint on large buildings designated by the municipal authorities of ten Greek cities.
• Improvements along the historic route of the Olympic marathon race were announced.
• For continuing Athens 2004 news, go to: http://www.athens2004.gr
NEW DEMOCRACY LEADER IN WASHINGTON
The importance of fighting terrorism, the Cyprus issue, the safety of the Athens Olympics, stability in the Balkans, and the still-unresolved issue of Turkey’s role in relations between NATO and the planned European rapid reaction force were the main topics discussed by Mr. Costas Karamanlis, leader of Greece’s main opposition party, New Democracy, with US leaders in Washington. Mr. Karamanlis was on a seven-day visit to the US, June 6-12, on the occasion of a summit meeting in the US capital of the International Democrat Union (IDU).
In Washington, Mr. Karamanlis had meetings with Vice-President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Colin Powell, National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, and members of Congress. He also spoke briefly with President George Bush at the White House dinner for the international leaders attending the IDU conference. Mr. Bush inquired about preparations for the Athens Olympics and was invited by Mr. Karamanlis to attend the Games in August 2004.
Other discussions held by Mr. Karamanlis in Washington included those with Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joe Biden, Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, Senators Paul Sarbanes and Olympia Snowe, and Congressman Mike Bilirakis.
Mr. Karamanlis’ busy seven days included meetings also in New York (where he discussed with UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan the prospects for a Cyprus settlement), Chicago, and Toronto.
ECONOMY MOVES STEADILY TO EUROPEAN CONVERGENCE
After a June 13 Cabinet meeting devoted to economic issues, Prime Minister Costas Simitis reported on Greece’s progress towards real economic and social convergence with the European Union. This, he said, is the “central concern” of our policy. “Has our policy produced results? Have prospects improved for the Greek people? Are they better off now than they were before?” The answer to these questions, Mr. Simitis said, is clear: “Yes, there has been improvement. Things are steadily changing for the better.”
Some people, Mr. Simitis said, claim that the improvement can be seen only in the statistics. “That is not true. It can be seen all around us, with new roads being built, with tens of thousands of new homes going up all over Greece, and with activities previously unheard of, such as a Home Help program for the aged.” The prime minister referred also to measures which have progressively eliminated bureaucratic frustrations.
In the past six years, the pace of economic development in Greece is considerably faster than that of the EU as a whole, ranking second in 2001 among the 15 EU partners. Per capita income in Greece, which stood in 1993 at 64 percent of the EU average, now exceeds 70 percent. Further, in the period 1993-2001, Greece achieved the second-highest increase, after Ireland, in productivity which, from 74 percent of the EU average in 1993, increased in 2001 to 84.5 percent.
This development has been accompanied by greater, convergence of incomes. Since 1993, average wages in real terms have registered the second-highest increase in the EU, from 68 percent in 1993 to 80 percent of the EU average. At the same time, the rate of inflation has been reduced from double digits a decade ago to 3.4 percent last year, deficits have become surpluses, and the public debt is being reduced year by year, to 100% of GDP last year and is predicted to drop to 90% of GDP in 2004.
This progress, Mr. Simitis added, has made it possible to strengthen the country’s social services. The latest available EU figures show that Greece in 1999 devoted 25 percent of its GDP to that sector—pensions, health and other social services. That is the highest among the countries of southern Europe, including Italy and Spain.
While building new hospitals, upgrading existing ones, and reducing delays at public offices, Greece is also spending increasing amounts on education and new technologies. More than four out of five Greek businesses are now linked to the Internet.
All this has been achieved while Greece is spending 5% of its GDP on defense, proportionally higher than any of its European partners. Convergence would be even more impressive, he said, if Greece could devote some of that spending to health, education and other social purposes. However, in a sensitive region with unresolved problems, Greece needs to strengthen its defenses.
Mr. Simitis concluded that this progress did not mean there were no problems. Greece is still distant from other European countries and it is currently undergoing a period of social adjustments which give rise to new issues, such as immigration. There are new targets to be achieved and much work to be done to make the administration ready for the task.
GREECE’S NEW AMBASSADOR TO THE US
George V. Savvaides, who has served for the past two years as Secretary-General of the Greek Foreign Ministry, is Greece’s new ambassador to the US, replacing Alexander Philon who, after four years in Washington, has returned to Athens. Mr. Savvaides, 57, joined the Foreign Ministry in 1972. Among his diplomatic posts abroad was as Consul in Boston in the late 70’s.
Making his way through the ranks of the Greek foreign service, Mr. Savvaides served as political advisor (1983-87) and defense advisor (1987-91) at Greece’s Permanent Delegation to NATO, where he was the country’s ambassador from 1996 to 2000. He also served as director of the Foreign Ministry’s departments of Turkey and Cyprus (1991-1996).
Ambassador Savvaides studied law and economics at the University of Athens and earned a Master’s degree from Harvard University’s Law School.
Heading a large delegation of officials and business representatives, Prime Minister Simitis visited the People’s Republic of China where he met with President Jiang Zemin and Premier Zhu Rongii. The visit coincided with the 30th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries. Mr. Simitis reaffirmed China’s good relations with the EU, particularly as Greece, during its presidency in the first half of 2003, will be involved in preparing for the EU-China summit scheduled for September 2003. The agreements signed during the visit included one on the avoidance of double taxation and others on agricultural matters, including forestry and the promotion of Greek olive oil exports to China. Another agreement designates Greece as a “preferred destination” for Chinese tourists. Addressing a seminar on trade relations, Mr. Simitis noted the recent increase in bilateral trade (with China receiving most of the $752 million total in 2001–a 20 percent increase from the previous year); and foresaw that new opportunities for bilateral cooperation will result from the Olympic Games to be held in Athens in 2004 and in Beijing four years later.
Prime Minister Costas Simitis, speaking in Rome at the signing of an accord which creates a 20-member NATO-Russia Council, said that a new era is beginning and “there cannot be peace and stability in Europe without cooperation with Russia.”
A US State Department report which put Greece in the lowest category of countries in the trafficking of women was rejected by the Greek government as unfair, as it did not reflect a broad range of measures already taken to suppress these criminal and deplorable practices, as well as the preparation of new anti-trafficking legislation that provides for harsh penalties for traffickers and various forms of support for the victims.
Joining the US and other European countries in an anti-smoking campaign, Greece, as of January 1st 2003, will outlaw cigarette advertising and require non-smoking areas in restaurants and cafes – except in late-night bars and nightclubs and in traditional Greek “cafeneia” – coffee houses. Strict anti-smoking measures, with violations incurring stiff fines and imprisonment for up to three months, will also be enforced in public places such as bus and train stations and airports, where separate smoking areas will be designated. Other measures include educational anti-smoking campaigns in schools and assistance to outpatient clinics helping smokers abandon the habit. According to a recent study smoking by young people in Greece is higher than elsewhere in Europe.
The EU Commission has proposed geographical protection status for feta cheese, which has been produced in Greece for thousands of years. Other EU countries which produce cheese marketed as “feta” (usually made from cow milk rather than the authentic sheep and goat milk) will have up to five years to stop production or change the name of their product.
After a recent inspection of major European airports, a five-member Congressional delegation headed by John Mica (R-FL) said it was impressed by the security and training systems in operation at the new Athens International Airport.
Source: Press Office of the Embassy of Greece
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