ECONOMY

Simitis unveils 4-year action plan

The government yesterday published an action program for the years 2001-2004, pledging to carry out all its provisions by the time of the next elections, in April or May 2004. The scale and ambition of this program make it certain that Prime Minister Costas Simitis will not call early elections but will end his four-year term and ask for a renewed mandate on the eve of the 2004 Athens Olympics. The program, elaborated by Simitis’s Strategy Design Office and his economic adviser, Professor Ghikas Hardouvelis, with contributions by all ministries, lays special emphasis on state services to the citizen, economic reform, including reform of the tax system, defense, and health. Specifically, the Interior Ministry pledges to create a thousand offices where citizens will be able to acquire information and carry out their business with the authorities quickly and efficiently. A first pilot office has already opened at Syntagma Square in Athens, and five more are on the way. The Interior Ministry will also abolish 600 of the 1,400 certificates that are required of citizens today. The Defense Ministry pledges to reduce military service gradually to 12 months, keep defense spending below 4 percent of the country’s GDP, and, at the same time, reinforce the deterrent power of the armed forces. The Foreign Ministry’s main goal is a successful Greek presidency of the European Union in the first half of 2003, including a decision on Cyprus’s entry into the EU. Greece would like to see the EU develop as a federation, that is, with the power of the member-states diminished and the role of the European Commission and the European Parliament strengthened. The Foreign Ministry aims at resolving the Cyprus issue by 2004 while sticking to its policy of good relations with Turkey. The national economy and finance ministries pledge to privatize, or find strategic partners for, a host of public enterprises. Up for privatization are the Hellenic Industrial Development Bank (ETBA), Hellenic Shipyards, Olympic Airways, Hellenic Petroleum and the Parnitha Casino. Marinas around Attica and state betting and lottery organization OPAP will be turned over to private management. Strategic partners will be sought for the Agricultural Bank, OTE telecom, the Athens Water Company (EYDAP), Hellenic Stock Exchanges, the natural gas company DEPA, the Postal Savings Bank, Hellenic Tourism Real Estate, the Athens and Thessaloniki central markets and the state saltworks company. The Finance Ministry will implement a tax reform whose main goals are promoting social justice, strengthening competitiveness, and the radical simplification of the tax system through the use of new technologies. The economic and finance ministries forecast that public debt will fall from 99 percent to 85 percent of the country’s gross domestic product. Greece’s income will rise to 80 percent of the EU average by 2006, from around 70 percent at present. The Development Ministry will, among other things, deregulate the electricity, fuel and natural gas industries, promote investments in tourism and renewable energy sources and boost research and development. The Environment and Public Works Ministry will complete all necessary works connected with the 2004 Olympics, but apparently not the Attiki Odos ring road, initially scheduled to be completed by 2003. Now, the ministry says, at least 52 of the 65 kilometers will be completed. The Egnatia Highway in northern Greece will be close to completion as will a number of major overhauls of ports. The Labor Ministry includes social security reform among its goals, giving the lie to those who claimed that the government would prefer to pass on this controversial issue to its successor. Finally, the Health Ministry promises a radical overhaul of the National Health System and equal treatment for all, irrespective of which social security fund they belong.