Softly-softly approach to reforms

The reforms which the government has pursued to date and those it will attempt in future take into account the tolerance of Greek society, which is «conservative» with regard to big changes, Economy Minister Giorgos Alogoskoufis said yesterday. «We do not make harsh changes but we make necessary ones. We wish to move in parallel with society,» he said in response to questions after a speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. Alogoskoufis did not rule out further reform of the social insurance system, following changes introduced in March this year. «The only thing certain in life is death and taxes,» he responded when asked whether the changes to the pension system were the final ones. Alogoskoufis also said that the government was still looking for a legal loophole in the Constitution that would make possible the creation of private universities. «The government has not abandoned the goal of private higher education. We shall see whether there is some legal loophole in the Constitution that would allow charitable foundations or wealthy individuals to set up private universities,» he said. Alogoskoufis admitted he was concerned about Greece’s ballooning current account deficit, recognizing that to some extent it reflected the country’s declining competitiveness. He argued however that it mainly reflected imports of assets for the realization of private investments. «It is something we have to keep a close eye on but as long as it is due to investment there is no problem. The problem will arise when investment falls,» he said. Alogoskoufis acknowledged that Greece’s adoption of the euro had a negative impact on prices, but said that this was due to the inadequate functioning of competition mechanisms and the inability of independent authorities to ensure the smooth functioning of markets. «In Greece we have a long way to go toward acquiring efficient authorities which will strictly apply the rules of competition,» he said.