The government yesterday sought to reassure small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) over the negative climate and anxiety permeating the backbone of Greece’s economy. «I do not share the fears and anxieties of those who note that, irrespective of the war, the end of growth has arrived because there is a recession in Western Europe. The war will not push us into emergency measures,» Prime Minister Costas Simitis told a special ruling PASOK party congress on SMEs. He said the repercussions of the war could be kept under control. «The upheaval related to the war began several months ago and, to date, market developments have been normal; there is calm and confidence and this must be maintained.» Simitis reiterated that the chief goal of economic policy was the attainment of real convergence with the rest of the EU and that on this it remained on course. «Greece had the highest economic growth rate among the 15 EU member states in 2002, 4.0 percent… SMEs can contribute even more decisively to this course,» he said. Development Minister Akis Tsochadzopoulos acknowledged that SMEs have benefited least from investment subsidies under the EU Community Support Framework (CSF) plans for 2001-2006, which are planned for revision. «Commercial enterprises and activity to date have been unfavorably supported by the current CSF. There has been no efficient way of tapping these programs,» mainly due to shortcomings in their launching and operation. A greater share in the absorption of CSF subsidies has been a standing grievance of commercial firms. Tsochadzopoulos said the problem was largely one of access to the programs and partly blamed the various consultants involved. «If you need a consultant, you have to pay him and this is reasonable. What we must avoid is that this assistance not be dependent on one’s ability to gain access to a program.» He said his ministry plans to launch a new drive to promote entrepreneurship and boost the competitiveness of Greek firms, and intends to hold a briefing this month for commercial enterprises wishing to gain access to CSF, hoping that this will become possible in the second half of the year. Labor and Social Security Minister Dimitris Reppas said the government intended to give «favorable» consideration to a proposal for self-employed artisans, traders and professional drivers, who have now been grouped in the OAEE fund, and for them to retire after 37 years of work, even though they may have worked in other fields in the past and been insured under different funds. A similar measure has already been introduced for salary-earners. Under a draft bill currently being discussed in Parliament, owners of tourism accommodation businesses with more than seven rooms, located in villages with less than 2,000 people, are to be insured with OAEE if their annual income exceeds 11,650 euros.