Consortium delays response over bid for Hellenic Petroleum The Lukoil/Petrola consortium negotiating the acquisition of a 23 percent stake in state-controlled Hellenic Petroleum has asked for a week’s time to respond to the government’s final proposals so that the consortium partners complete their own talks on sharing responsibilities, sources said. There is optimism that the outcome will be positive, and that Lukoil’s stand will not be affected by recent adverse developments abroad, the latest being the cancellation by Iraq of a $3.7 billion contract to develop an oil field. Greek, Turkish travel agents want closer cooperation Greece’s Association of Travel and Tourism Agents (HATTA) and its Turkish counterpart (TURSAB) have decided to set up four committees to promote cooperation. Respectively, these concern institutional issues, including opportunities to tap EU funding programs, joint packages to attract tourists from third countries such as the USA and China, the issue of declining commission income from airline tickets, and issues of personnel training. During a recent meeting in Istanbul, TURSAB also showed interest in a proposal for jointly boosting pilgrimage tourism, and said it will mediate for funding the repair of three Greek Orthodox churches in the city. Discussion also dealt with the Turkish demand to make the issuing of Greek visas simpler. CERN The Committee of European Securities Regulators (CERN) yesterday approved during an Athens summit a directive for the implementation of measures against abusive stock market practices. The meeting, called in view of Greece’s assumption of the EU presidency in January, also dealt with the issue of establishing uniform clearing regulations with the aim of promoting security in transactions in the single market, and with the incorporation into CERN of the overseeing authorities of the 10 new EU members. CERN Chairman Arthur van Leeuwen and other officials also discussed issues with Economy Minister Nikos Christodoulakis. Savings The Bank Employees Union (OTOE) called for the abolition of the 15 percent tax on interest from deposit accounts, and the issuing of short-term State securities in order to counterbalance the effect of the recent further cuts in interest rates. OTOE said the cuts further eroded ordinary savers’ return on their money already affected by the much higher inflation rate, while repo deposits required a minimum capital of at least 30,000 euros, the secondary bond market was for long-term investors and relatively risky, and other forms of investment, such as mutual funds, offered no security and were subject to commission charges. OTOE also noted that lending rates had not come down by as much as deposit rates. Balkans Greek enterprises have invested about $4.4 billion in Balkan neighboring countries and expect a stable economic and political environment and legal reforms to expand their activities, the Northern Greek Industries Association (SBBE) told a meeting of the Balkan Stability Pact officials in Thessaloniki. SBBE Chairman Vassilis Takas presented the plan for a Telecommunications and Information Technology Institute of SE Europe.