Arapoglou views talk of bank mergers as ‘untimely’ National Bank of Greece (NBG) President Takis Arapoglou said yesterday any talk of mergers among major banks was «untimely.» With a growing market and increase in revenues, nobody was considering mergers, he said, adding that when the bank market had matured and growth rates slowed down, then the issue might again arise. He said that as long as stiff labor regulations remained what they are today, bank mergers were out of the question as the staff surplus created by a merger would be unmanageable. Separately, at a press conference yesterday, Arapoglou said NBG, owner of the Astir Palace Vouliagmeni hotel complex, plans to assign its management to an international group in 2005, without the requirement of the acquisition of a stake in the facility. He said the hotel will not be sold but NBG will consider any proposals for the acquisition of a small interest by the management company. To date, the sum of 70 million euros has been invested in the renovation and extension of the complex, including conference facilities, and 30 million more is in the pipeline. The hotel will host the launch of the new BMW model in January. Arapoglou also said NBG subsidiary Ethniki Real Estate is conducting zoning studies for large land plots with a view to selling them. Athens selected to become SE Europe’s energy capital The interministerial conference for the creation of an Energy Community in Southeastern Europe, which began in Athens yesterday, approved the Greek capital as the seat for the Regulatory Council of the organization and of a Forum for the Development of a Power Market in the region. The representatives of 16 countries also approved a draft, legally binding treaty for the development of the Energy Market of Electricity and Natural Gas in Southeastern Europe. The conference was also attended by EU Energy Commissioner Andris Pielbags. Development aid Granting aid to poor countries is not sufficient for the attainment of their development targets and for tackling poverty, Economy Minister Giorgos Alogoskoufis said at the opening of the International Development Association (IDA) meeting in Athens yesterday. A favorable business climate and channeling aid toward high-priority investment plans were also necessary, he added. The international meeting, aimed at garnering funds for IDA, heard the minister yesterday say that development aid is, nevertheless, a powerful means for countering the serious problems that developing countries face. Some, said Alogoskoufis, have reached high economic growth rates but there are still some, particularly in Africa, where people live on less than a dollar a day. Poverty, he added, is an everyday reality for such countries and the total population of those who live in such poverty approaches 2.5 billion. IDA estimates it will disburse some 28.4 billion euros to the poorest countries in the next three years, of which 12.5 billion euros will come from new contributions from 39 donor nations. IDA is part of the World Bank. The meeting ends today. Imports down National Statistics Service data for October show a 15.3 percent reduction in imports compared with October 2003, while exports had a 0.2 percent rise year-on-year. The value of all imports was 3,112.6 million euros and the value of all exports rose to 1,047.6 million euros in October.