ECONOMY

Greek presidency seeks to boost economic stability

Greece plans to use its turn at the rotating, six-month presidency of the European Union in the new year to strengthen the region’s economy and to reinforce Europeans’ trust in the EU’s growth prospects as part of a strategy to counter growing political and economic uncertainties, Economy and Finance Minister Nikos Christodoulakis said yesterday. Greece is set to take over the EU presidency tomorrow, nine years after its last turn, with an entirely new political outlook and program. Under Prime Minister Costas Simitis, the maverick has been gradually transformed into a cooperative ally of the big powers and a regional political broker. The Greek presidency comes amid political and economic uncertainties, stemming primarily from the prospects of US-led military action against Iraq. Speculation grew over the weekend that the US would attack after UN weapons inspectors issue their report in late January. The tension sent the price of oil soaring to a 15-month high yesterday. Concern is also mounting that North Korea might build an atomic bomb after it announced its decision to expel UN nuclear plant inspectors. On the economic front, the EU is expected to remain in a slump next year, projected to grow by only 1.8 percent in 2003, better than this year’s 0.8 percent but lower than an estimate of 2.6 percent for the US. Greece’s agenda in the next six months will aim at «ensuring a stable economic environment and boosting Europeans’ trust in the EU’s economic potential,» Christodoulakis said. Measures toward this end include reinforcing the stability and growth pact, which has come under challenge this year as the major eurozone economies report budget deficits above the 3-percent deficit/GDP ceiling. Greece will push for the adoption of single markets in financial services and taxation – topics that have been stalled by disagreements between the member states up until now – and launch discussions on a directive for takeover bids, Christodoulakis said. He said the Greek presidency will also seek to carry out the spirit and letter of the Lisbon Declaration, the goal of which is to make the EU the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world in the next 10 years. This includes promoting a single market in energy, transportation and energy. Greece aims to lay the groundwork for the integration of 10 new members into the EU in 2004 by initiating talks next year on their real convergence with the 15 current members. Setting out a framework for takeovers, simplifying the regulatory structure, removing barriers to cross-border financial services transactions, and promoting corporate governance are also on the agenda. Reforming the Common Agricultural Policy is a key priority, Christodoulakis said.