COMMENT

Heavy price to be paid

The trademark steel-and-glass roof for the main Olympic stadium slid into place last week, fueling hopes that Athens will eventually fulfill the commitments made in its bid for the Games. However, there remains a crucial aspect on which Greece has departed from its earlier promises - save that this aspect is of no interest to the International Olympic Committee (IOC), the foreign teams, and the visitors who will flock into the capital: The cost of the Summer Games is expected to verify the most ominous forecasts and hover at 8.8 billion euros (3 trillion drachmas) - by far exceeding the official projections of 4.7 billion euros) 1.6 trillion drachmas. The government's decision to resort to emergency borrowing worth 5.75 billion euros (regardless of questions about the way in which these were contracted) is a sign of the mammoth-sized economic burden that Greek taxpayers will have to shoulder because of the Games. The Olympic legacy could prove even more painful if we are to believe the projections of experts who say that the sports event will be followed by an economic slowdown and a 3 percent drop in economic growth in 2005. Everyone who has been holding reservations over Greece's bid to host the Olympics hopes that these will be successfully organized at all levels. However, no one can shut his or her eyes to the fact that after the curtain has fallen, the glory of the Games will give way to the need to pay the price - what is more (as National Economy and Finance Minister Giorgos Alogoskoufis has suggested), at a time of fiscal strictness that will tie the government's hands. The fiscal woes leave no room for delays and the administration cannot afford to gloss up the picture - even if it wanted to. Before Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis announces the government's economic policy in September, and since there eventually will be a clear picture of the Games' economic fallout, conservative officials will have to carry out a complete re-evaluation of its main economic parameters. Expenditure, revenue, space for tax cuts, investment incentives, social benefits - these elements must all be placed under the microscope. The government must make sure that the unbearable economic burden bequeathed by the Games will not undermine the development prospects of the economy or intensify the strain on low-income social groups. The presentation of the government's economic policy at the Thessaloniki International Trade Fair could mark the beginning of a new era: an era of sincerity and social solidarity but, at the same time, an era of realism and political courage.

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