Gov’t hopes to skip worst effects of downturn, expects tourism to rebound Greece remains «prudent» in the present difficult economic juncture and will «adopt neither austerity policies nor emergency measures that would augment the uncertainty of investors and working people,» Prime Minister Costas Simitis told the annual meeting of the Association of Greek Tourism Enterprises (SETE) yesterday. He said Greek tourism has been adversely affected by the strong euro, the universal economic slowdown and the Iraq war and that he favored SETE becoming the government’s social partner and interlocutor, along with unions and employers in thrashing out policy. Separately, Economy Minister Nikos Christodoulakis said this year’s unfavorable outlook for Greek tourism was reversible and that the target of a 3.8 percent growth rate was attainable. Balkan nations agree to consider natural gas pipeline to Austria Representatives of Balkan energy companies yesterday signed in Thessaloniki a protocol of cooperation in the construction of a natural gas pipeline from Greece to Austria. The meeting, which took place behind closed doors at the Macedonia Palace Hotel, was attended by representatives of Greece’s Public Gas Corporation (DEPA), Turkey’s BOTAS, BH-Gas (Bosnia-Herzegovina), Mak Petrol (the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia), NIS-Gas (Serbia) and by Albania’s Industry and Energy Ministry. Notes of agreement were sent by Croatia’s Plin Acro and Slovenia’s Geoplin. A question mark was raised regarding Austria’s OMV, which had been expected to attend and sign. The meeting was a joint initiative by DEPA and BOTAS, which have already agreed to cooperate in a pipeline that will bring natural gas from the Caspian region. The protocol envisages an initial feasibility study. ELPE Greece’s biggest refiner, state-run Hellenic Petroleum (ELPE), is expected to complete negotiations for the procurement of equipment and building of a 390-megawatt power station in Thessaloniki with Austria’s Vatech Hydro, which has been declared the provisional winner of a tender, after the withdrawal from an initial contract by the consortium Tractebel-AEGEK. ELPE has approved a financial scheme for the project with Vatech Finance, covering 80 percent of the investment, chiefly through a 14-year syndicated loan. ASE Foreign investors owned 29.4 percent of the total capitalization of the Athens Stock Exchange (ASE) on March 31, up by more than one-third since May 31, 2001 when the bourse was upgraded to mature status by Morgan Stanley International, and 2.7 percent higher than on December 31, 2002. Foreign ownership of blue chips was 37.4 percent on March 31. EQUAL Twenty-four non-profit organizations, including Unicef, Doctors without Borders, the Athens Labor Center, the Greek Network of Enterprises for Social Cohesion and Athens Municipality’s Employment and Entrepreneurship Center, are to participate in a three-year application of the European Union EQUAL program, presented yesterday and aimed at the smooth integration of immigrants and refugees into the labor market. The program, which is coordinated by the Athens News Agency, includes the setting up of reception bureaus, distribution of material against xenophobia in schools and an electronic website (www.migrantsingreece.org).