Minister says above 3.8 pct growth feasible this year

Greece said yesterday it could surpass an ambitious growth target set for this year following an upward revision in third-quarter growth figures by the National Statistics Service. Referring to the 3.6 percent increase in third-quarter gross domestic product, up from an earlier estimate of 3.4 percent, Economy and Finance Minister Nikos Christodoulakis said the new data indicated that economic growth could outstrip the original target. «We are on course for achieving and possibly even surpassing the 3.8 percent objective, depending on developments this month,» he told participants at a conference held by the American-Hellenic Chamber of Commerce. Based on the latest third-quarter figures, growth in the first nine months averaged out at 4 percent. In contrast, the eurozone is expected to expand by an anemic 0.8 percent this year. Christodoulakis also refuted criticism that growth could stagger to a halt after the 2004 Olympic Games and following the end of substantial EU structural funds in 2006. Greece plans to follow in the footsteps of Barcelona, which built on the success of the 1992 Olympic Games, he said. By integrating ongoing infrastructure projects into everyday economic activities and attracting investors to utilize these ventures, the country will be able to develop its potential in future. Christodoulakis reiterated his opposition to any changes in the Stability and Growth Pact, a stand held by smaller countries which have managed to bring, or are on course for bringing, their budget close to balance. The pact has come under strain in recent months as high-deficit countries, among them France, Germany and Italy, called for a looser interpretation of the rules, even redefining the entire accord. Calling the pact an integral fiscal tool, Christodoulakis said attempts to tinker with the rules could lead to a return of the delusions of the 1970s. «The basic tenet of the pact should remain unaltered in order to secure fiscal stability in the eurozone and also better coordination among member states,» he said. «When you have one common currency, sooner or later, you will need an integrated, coordinated monetary policy.» Christodoulakis also called for an integrated tax system across the region, arguing that the different tax systems in the different countries, if left to develop on their own, could result in fierce competition to the detriment of more vulnerable countries. On national flag carrier Olympic Airways, presently undergoing its third privatization attempt, he said negotiations with the preferred bidder, Golden Aviation, led by shipowner Stamatis Restis, are expected to last till January next year. Greece plans to file an appeal and exploit all legal means in the event that the European Commission orders the carrier to return vast sums of money to the Greek State, Transport Minister Christos Verelis told Net state TV channel.

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