US Media on Greece
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PRESS & COMMUNICATIONS OFFICE
January 2007; Vol. 13 No. 1
(also available in PDF )
1. PM KARAMANLIS ADDRESSES COUNCIL OF EUROPE
2. STATE BUDGET FOR 2007 REFLECTS ECONOMIC PROGRESS
3. GREEK AMBASSADOR SPEAKS ON BALKAN ISSUES
4. MINISTER MEETS WITH ECUMENICAL PATRIARCH
Urging Its “Crucial Role” in Southeast Europe
PM KARAMANLIS ADDRESSES COUNCIL OF EUROPE
The importance of resolving the final status of the Kosovo province of Serbia was underlined by Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis in his address on January 24 to the parliamentary assembly of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg. It is, he said, a political problem that affects the stability and security of the whole southeast European region. The Council of Europe, Mr. Karamanlis said, has a “crucial role” in the region where “much remains to be achieved.”
On the Kosovo issue, Mr. Karamanlis said that both sides should continue negotiations productively to reach an agreement which should respect international law and the multi-ethnic and multi-cultural character of Kosovo. There should also be support for Serbia’s European and Euro-Atlantic future, and respect for the Orthodox Christian heritage of Kosovo. Proposals on the issue by the UN envoy Martii Ahtisaari are awaited, he said, with great anticipation.
Regarding relations with neighboring Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), Mr. Karamanlis voiced conditional support for its future EU membership. An important condition, which reflects the EU’s membership requirement of goodneighbor relations, is the resolution of the long-standing issue of the country’s official name. Greece maintains good relations with FYROM, especially in trade and investment activity and is by far the largest foreign investor in FYROM. “I myself,” Mr. Karamanlis said, “am a Macedonian, along with 2.5 million other Greeks . . . Greece, and my government especially, has made serious efforts to find a compromise on the issue,” one which has not been helped by the recent decision of the Skopje government to rename its airport, in violation of an interim agreement signed in 1995, the “Alexander the Great” airport.
Earlier in the month the special mediator of the UN on FYROM’s name, Matthew Nimetz, was in Athens for consultations when Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis affirmed Greece’s acceptance of proposals made by Mr. Nimetz in 2005 as a basis for negotiation. “We consider,” said the foreign ministry spokesman, “that the responsibility lies with the other side, which even now should follow the example of Bulgaria and Romania, as well as other nations in the Balkans which are marching ahead with their vision fixed on a common European future and not taking steps backward by insisting on falsifying the past.” Mr. Nimetz said he would convey Greece’s “absolutely clear” position on the issue to the Skopje government.
Greece’s Regional Role
The “multi-faceted and productive presence of Greece” was described by the prime minister as aiming to safeguard peace and stability throughout the region. Greece’s standing policy, he said, is to pursue bilateral cooperation with its neighbors and support their Euro-Atlantic aspirations. Greek investment in the region has exceeded $18 billion in the past 15 years; and 3,000 Greece-based companies have created 200,000 jobs. There are now more than a thousand branches of Greek-owned banks in the region, and bilateral trade in the area, including Turkey, now exceeds $6 billion.
Other topics to which Mr. Karamanlis referred included his advocacy of the institution at the Council of Europe of a human rights commissioner and the need for coordinated action to combat international terrorism. He referred also to the Cyprus issue—“a long-standing problem and a priority in Greek foreign policy . . . The transformation of our continent will remain incomplete as long as the last wall that divides Europe is left standing on Cyprus.”
At a press conference later that day, Mr. Karamanlis was joined by Parliamentary Assembly President Rene van der Linden, who praised Greece as “a stable, democratic state in Europe, with an ever-increasing voice in international affairs . . . Whether it is about the future enlargement of the EU, the accession of Turkey to the EU, the importance of streamlining cooperation between the EU and the Council of Europe . . . or an international effort to find a sustainable solution to the Cyprus issue, Greece is a strategic partner of the Council of Europe in the region.”
Topics raised at the press conference included the future of a European Constitution, with Mr. Karamanlis urging support for the efforts of German Chancellor Angela Merkel to revive the issue. “We are a large family,” Mr. Karamanlis said. “We share basic goals, but this does not mean that we will agree on all issues . . . We all understand that a family of 27, or more in the coming years, cannot function only with full consensus.”
Regarding illegal immigration, Mr. Karamanlis said in answer to a question that Greece would be willing to host a Council of Europe observatory. “Greece, which is at the extreme south-eastern border of the EU,” he said, “faces the awesome challenge of huge waves of migration.”
Asked about Turkey’s prospects for EU membership, Mr. Karamanlis affirmed Greece’s support for its “full accession,” on condition of its full compliance with the EU’s criteria. “We consider that the decision of the European Council last December (which) made it absolutely clear to Turkey that the EU is not satisfied with its progress with respect to promoting the reforms and respecting the conditions which it has itself accepted.”
Earlier, in mid-January, Mr. Karamanlis had visited Croatia and Serbia so as to encourage their European Union aspirations, as well as Slovenia, to praise it for joining the eurozone.
STATE BUDGET FOR 2007 REFLECTS ECONOMIC PROGRESS
Approved by Parliament at the end of 2006, the state budget for 2007, in the words of Prime Minister Karamanlis, reflects the government’s achievement of “difficult targets for the reduction of the deficit, the slowing of the public debt, growth aimed to benefit the individual, and an economy of opportunities.” The budget, he said, is geared to gentle fiscal adjustment and a new momentum for development. As the growth rate of the economy reached 4.4 percent and the fiscal deficit was reduced below 3 percent of GDP, investments have begun to return to Greece, as noted in a recent EU Commission report.
Spurred chiefly by investments, the growth rate of the economy is forecast in the budget at 3.8 percent of GDP. Exports of goods and services are expected to grow by 6.5 percent at the same time as imports climb by 7 percent. Taxation reforms will chiefly benefit individuals, exempting some three million people from paying income tax. The gradual reduction of taxes on corporate profits will also continue.
Total net revenues are forecast to increase by 6.2 percent over 2006, while the central government deficit is reduced to 4.3 percent of GDP. Direct taxes are expected to involve a 4.8 percent increase over last year and an 8.8 percent increase will raise the total receipts from indirect taxes.
Strong economic activity is expected to contain the rate of unemployment at 8.2 percent, a significant improvement since the government took over in 2004.
The generally favorable review of the economy revealed in these figures was strongly reaffirmed in a report issued on January 11 by Moody’s Investors Service which upgraded Greek state bond issues from a credit rating of “stable” to “positive.” Forecasting a GDP growth around 3.9 percent, the international credit rating agency expected continuing strong growth in the context of increased investment and productivity, and the reduction of the fiscal debt as spending is being controlled and tax proceeds increase. Greece’s per capita purchasing power, the report finds, can be expected to reach 80 percent of the EU average in 2008, compared with 77.2 percent in 2005 and 64.3 percent in 1998.
IMF Report Praises Greece
According to a recently-released report on Greece by the IMF, real GDP grew an estimated 4.1 percent in 2006 and is projected to slow down only slightly in 2007. At the same time the fiscal deficit has fallen sharply, to under 3 percent of GDP.
Other Economic News of Note
*Foreign investment in Greece, which totaled over $4.8 billion in the first nine months of 2006, was ten times higher than in those months of 2005.
*Trade between Greece and the countries of southeast Europe more than doubled between 1996 and 2005, with exports increasing by 116 percent. The trend continued in the most recently reported period, the first nine months of 2006, when exports to Romania nearly doubled and to Bulgaria increased by 31 percent. Overall, Greek exports during that nine-month period showed a 19 percent increase over the same period of 2005. There was a 20 percent increase in that period of exports to the EU countries, with Germany and Italy as the main customers. Exports to the Far East increased significantly, by 66 percent to China and by 61 percent to Japan.
*The new phase of privatizations of publicly-owned Greek enterprises will include the Hellenic Telecommunications Organization, the Postal Savings Bank, and the Mont Parnes Casino of Athens. Announcing this in his review of economic priorities for 2007, economy minister George Alogoskoufis spoke also of legislation for the sale of state-owned real estate assets and the promotion of joint projects between the public and private sectors.
*Eighty percent of the biggest projects program ever implemented in Greece will be spent in regions outside the capital area in the period 2007-2013.
*"Explore Your Senses in Greece" is the main slogan of the 2007 publicity campaign launched by the Greek tourism ministry. It is targeted, said tourism minister Fanny Palli Petralia, directly or indirectly, to reach one billion people around the world. Budgeted at over $50 million, the campaign seeks to improve on the record of last year, when a 10 percent increase brought almost 16 million visitors to Greece. Foreign exchange from tourism was also up by some 10 percent over 2005, exceeding $15.6 billion.
GREEK AMBASSADOR SPEAKS ON BALKAN ISSUES
The future of southeast Europe and Greece’s leading role in that region were discussed by Ambassador Alexandros Mallias at the Hudson Institute on January 22 and during a briefing on Capitol Hill of senior Congressional staff, executive branch officials, and key opinion leaders on January 25. Ambassador Mallias has served as chairman of the coordinating committee for the Greek EU presidency’s program for the Balkans and director of the Balkan Affairs section of the Greek foreign ministry before coming to Washington and having previously served as ambassador to Tirana and Skopje.
Speaking at Hudson a day after parliamentary elections in Serbia, Mr. Mallias stressed that there should be no humiliation or triumph in connection with Kosovo’s final status, an issue that must be settled, as it affects stability in Europe which cannot afford a “black hole” in any part of the continent. EU consensus, strategic cooperation between the EU and the US in the Balkans, and the engagement of Russia are three fundamental preconditions for regional stability. Consistently supported by Greece, the European prospects of Balkan countries–highlighted by recent Bulgarian and Romanian accession to the EU–are the strongest motive and soft-power mechanism in securing peace, stability, and prosperity in that region, Ambassador Mallias stressed. That Europe represents the future was precisely the message sent to multiple recipients by Prime Minister Karamanlis in his recent visits to Balkan capitals. Kosovo sets no precedent and neither annexation nor partition is conceivable.
At the Capitol Hill briefing, the first event related to southeast Europe during the 110th Congress, Mr. Mallias presented Greek policies in the Balkans, in the context of close cooperation between the European Union and the United States, and highlighted Greece’s leading role in the energy and other sectors and, more generally, regarding regional economic and political integration. He also referred extensively to the provocative and hostile propaganda of the Government of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, in a power point presentation of expansionist maps used in schools and by FYROM’s military academy, as well as of television interviews which demonstrate that the use of the name of Alexander the Great for Skopje’s airport is part of irredentist and political propaganda.
Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Senator Jack Reed (D-RI), and Congressman John Sarbanes (D-MD) made remarks at the meeting, sponsored by The National Coordinated Effort of Hellenes (CEH) and chaired by Andy Manatos. The Greek ambassador’s briefing on the Balkans was attended by senior Senate and House staff with jurisdiction over or interest in these issues, key executive branch officials from the National Security Council and the State Department, top Balkan experts at Washington think tanks and other institutions such as the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the International Monetary Fund, the International Strategic Studies Association, the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, and the World Bank, as well as Washington media that cover southeast Europe.
Undersecretary Burns Visits Embassy Exhibit
“HIDDEN CHILDREN IN OCCUPIED GREECE”
US Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns, a former ambassador to Greece, spoke of “the heroism of Greece” during its occupation by Germany in World War II and of Greek “valor and bravery” in efforts to protect as many Greek Jews as possible from the Nazi holocaust.
Mr. Burns spoke at the Greek embassy in Washington on January 11, the last day of an exhibition mounted by the Jewish Museum of Athens under the title “Hidden Children in Occupied Greece.” Congratulating Ambassador Alexandros Mallias for his initiative in bringing the exhibit to Washington, DC, Mr. Burns came, he said, to “pay tribute to those Greeks who saved Jews and to the Jews who survived and rebuilt the Jewish community in Greece.”
In response, Mr. Mallias said “we can forgive but we do not forget . . . what the undersecretary just said about the extermination of the Jews of Thessaloniki, Macedonia, also indicates why history is so important to learn and acknowledge.”
MINISTER MEETS WITH ECUMENICAL PATRIARCH
Culture Minister George Voulgarakis met with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew on January 12 on the occasion of his visit to Istanbul, together with Defense Minister Evangelos Meimarakis, to attend a concert by the Athens State Orchestra in the hall of the Istanbul Central Opera. Both ministers, who were guests at a dinner hosted by Turkey’s defense minister, spoke of the power of cultural connections to create a climate of confidence between nations. Another concert, by the orchestra of the Istanbul State Opera, is to be given at the Athens Concert Hall.
The European Court of Human Rights has issued a ruling which requires the Turkish state to return property seized in 1974 from the Great School of the Nation in Istanbul, a public benefit foundation of Turkey’s Greek Christian minorities. The ruling of the European Court was welcomed by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew who hoped for a “similar happy outcome in the case brought before this court by the Ecumenical Patriarchate regarding ownership of the Prinkipi orphanage that they have tried in a blatantly unjust manner to remove from us.” Visiting Strasbourg on January 22 at the invitation of the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly, the Ecumenical Patriarch referred in his address to the dissatisfaction of the Greek Orthodox minority in Turkey with its denial of their full rights, as evidenced, inter alia, by Turkey’s refusal to recognize a legal status for the Ecumenical Patriarchate, its prohibition on the operation of the Halki Theological School, and numerous problems on property issues.
BRIEFLY . . .
A missile, which struck the facade of the US embassy building, was launched from a nearby street in the very early hours of January 13, causing no injuries and only minor damage. An unknown fringe group, calling itself the “Revolutionary Struggle,” claimed responsibility. US Ambassador Charles Ries expressed appreciation for the “quick and professional response of Greek law enforcement agencies” and affirmed that “Greek-American relations are excellent and will remain so.” The State Department spokesman also stressed the “particularly positive and supportive reaction received from the Greek government and the Greek security authorities.”
Ambassador Alexandros Malias was honored on January 14 with the Martin Luther King Legacy Award at the 16th annual remembrance ceremony. Mr. Mallias received the award for his contribution to peace in the Balkans, to Greek-American relations, and to his representation of Greece's efforts to suppress human trafficking. Ambassador Mallias spoke of Dr. King's struggles against discrimination and of the search for justice that also inspired the plays of the ancient Greek poets Aeschylus and Sophocles. He referred to Dr. King as an inspiration for democratic progress worldwide, including resistance against military rule in Greece some forty years ago. (For the full text go to www.greekembassy.org)
An effort initiated by Greece, and supported by France, to direct public attention to the dangers faced by journalists in war zones was rewarded by the unanimous adoption in late December of UN Security Council resolution 1738 which looks forward to sensitizing international opinion to those dangers.
The year 2007 has been designated “Maria Callas Year,” commemorating the 30th anniversary of the great diva's death at the age of 54 in 1977. The program of events includes a contest for the “best Violetta”—Callas's memorable role in Verdi's La Traviata. The winner will sing the role at the Herod Atticus Theatre in Athens next September.
Continental Airlines will begin direct New York-Athens flights, in both directions, on June 8, using 174-seat Boeing 767 aircraft, making Greece the 16th overseas country served by Continental.
World-renowned singer Nana Mouskouri was among the nine distinguished Greek expatriates to be honored by President Karolos Papoulias. Also among those honored was
Dr. George Hatsopoulos, thermodynamics expert and entrepreneur whose invention of a new kind of artificial heart is expected to bring radical change to cardiac surgery.
In archeological news: seven sculptures on the Parthenon temple will be replaced by replicas to protect them from further atmospheric damage. The originals will be on view at the new Acropolis Museum. And Culture Minister George Voulgarakis sought the removal from a Christie's auction in London of items belonging to George 1st, King of the Hellenes in the early 20th century. Lawyers for the Greek ministry wrote to Christie's: “Our clients have the strong conviction that items from those to be auctioned tomorrow might belong to the ownership of the Hellenic state and/or have been exported illegally from Greece.”
Recently appointed director of the Greek embassy's press and communications office in Washington, Yiorgos Chouliaras spoke on January 26 at an event sponsored by the Prometheas organization on the “Significance of Modern Greek Studies in the United States.” The author of six volumes of poetry and numerous essays, translations, and other writings, Mr. Chouliaras has previously served in New York, Ottawa, Boston, and in Athens during the 2004 Olympic Games.
Source: Press Office of the Embassy of Greece