Structural reforms carry on

Newly appointed Economy and Finance Minister Nikos Christodoulakis yesterday stressed his determination to continue with the ministry’s structural reforms, and to promote policies that would bring about real convergence with the eurozone. Speaking at the change-of-guard ceremony at the ministry yesterday, Christodoulakis said he would build on the foundations laid by his predecessor Yiannos Papantoniou, who took over the defense portfolio as part of Prime Minister Costas Simitis’s Cabinet reshuffle on Tuesday. The accomplishments that we have achieved to date [namely the stability and growth prospects derived from European Monetary Union membership] will serve as the basis for the future, he said. The minister also gave a brief outline of his economic strategy, part of which includes completing the task begun by Papantoniou. We will push for and continue with structural reforms which will equip the Greek economy with the flexibility to counter global uncertainty and at the same time exploit opportunities, he said. The minister will have his hands full tackling a swath of problems. Following Greece’s entry into the eurozone at the beginning of the year, critics said the government’s economic strategy appeared to have lost both momentum and direction. The privatization program has fallen behind schedule, due as much to government inertia as to the global slowdown. Plans to reform the tax system, simplify bureaucratic processes and open up markets have also faced lengthy delays. Christodoulakis, who made his name as a thrifty paymaster at the Finance Ministry between 1996 to 2000 and showed his pro-market bias at the Development Ministry during an 18-month tenure, also stressed the need for more action. We must do more to ensure real convergence is achieved, he said. These include setting up watchdogs to ensure that markets function properly, encouraging new companies, attracting foreign investments and creating more jobs. While Christodoulakis has been warmly received by both the markets and economists, the appointment of former Defense Minister Akis Tsochadzopoulos to the development post, which is responsible for the crucial trade, energy and tourism sectors, is something of an enigma. Pointing to his lack of economic experience, Tsochadzopoulos said this should be viewed as an asset as I have the advantage of doing my best without the burden of previous failures. Tsochadzopoulos’s comments came as he took over the development post from outgoing minister Nikos Christodoulakis yesterday. His new job will in part dovetail with that of the Economy and Finance Ministry, in particular fully deregulating the energy market and enhancing Greek competitiveness. One of the most crucial tasks facing the new minister will be to help the tourism industry deal with the current crisis brought on by the September 11 events.

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