National Bank still striving for bulk The National Bank of Greece (NBG), the country’s largest, has not abandoned the idea of a merger with another bank based in Greece or abroad with a view to attaining bigger size. «The failure of the merger with Alpha (attempted late last year) does not mean this strategy is not correct,» said NBG Chairman Theodoros Karatzas. «Efforts are being made for growth at all levels, including international activities and expansion to other areas. NBG is currently promoting a host of initiatives and activities which will bear fruit in a short space of time,» he added. Karatzas, who is on a roadshow for NBG’s lending facilities to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in northern Greece, spoke to a gathering of 500 businessmen in Thessaloniki yesterday and is due for a similar event in Drama today. NBG launched a Professional Credit Facilities Department three months ago, with a view to doubling its lending to this category of firms which number 500,000 in Greece – proportionately the largest in the EU. NBG Deputy Chairman Apostolos Tamvakakis said the bank was in negotiations for the acquisition of a bank in Albania and a deal should be expected in about a month; it is also in talks with firms of Greek interests in Romania and Bulgaria about their listing on the emerging markets facility of Thessaloniki’s Stock Market Center. EU energy ministers extend plans for gas pipelines The EU energy ministers’ council is expected to propose the construction of a new natural gas pipeline connecting Greece with the central European network through Bosnia and Croatia, Development Minister Akis Tsochadzopoulos said after a session of the council in Luxembourg yesterday. The project is part of broader plans for transporting energy resources from Iran and the Caspian region to Europe through Turkey and Greece. The council also decided to double subsidies for studies and construction of energy transportation networks to 20 and 50 percent respectively. Further, it was decided to promote the protection of special categories of consumers for geographical or special social reasons. ING-Piraeus Piraeus Bank shareholders yesterday approved the acquisition of a 5-percent stake in the firm by Internationale Nederlanden Groep (ING). The bank’s share capital was increased by 70 million euros. The strategic alliance between the two groups envisages the launching of joint ventures in bancassurance, money market management and group insurance in September. ING’s insurance subsidiary Nationale Nederlanden is already retailing Piraeus Bank products through its Greek network. The bank yesterday announced a 0.25-percent reduction in rates for low sums in deposit accounts and a 1-percent reduction in rates for business loans as of today. Bank strike The Bank Workers’ Union (OTOE) yesterday announced a nationwide strike tomorrow, accusing the government of failing to respond to its proposals for corrective measures in labor regulations. OTOE’s general council is meeting again today to consider calling consecutive 24-hour strikes «until the government accepts its proposals.» The NSS’s statistics also drew attention to the competitiveness problem faced by Greek products, with the rate of growth in imports surpassing exports for the first time in four years. While imports increased by 6 percent year-on-year based on provisional data, exports went up by just 5.4 percent.