NEWS

Union requires single voice, while Greece needs investment in minds

Today the Greek EU presidency has called an extraordinary summit on Iraq. Isn’t this an extremely dangerous initiative, given the differences among the partners on this subject? The scene in the EU is explosive, with governments going against each other and some against the will of their people. The European voice and presence are being dangerously weakened, as is the role of Europe at a global level. The Greek EU presidency is doing the obvious thing, making an effort to find common ground to save the «rocking boat» of European domestic policy. USA and Europe A broader clash is emerging between the USA and Europe on the Iraq crisis. What does this mean for Europe, and what approach should Athens take, given the international dominance of Washington? There are broader problems of cooperation, for example, in the field of trade, transportation and international organizations, which we must not underestimate. With Iraq, however, the clash is being transmitted to the people. In Europe, intense anti-Americanism is on the rise again, as is anti-European feeling in America. The USA is manifesting «Protestant fundamentalism» and the only principle is their shortsighted interest. Europeans are trying to support the overall principles of the global community, but they are not acting with a single voice. Europe is the only hope for a somewhat humane model of globalization. Its leaders have a responsibility toward history and the future of the planet. Athens is not just the center of Greek diplomacy at the moment; it represents European positions and interests, which it is trying to specify and present. There are increasing numbers of reports that there is a danger of losing funds from the Third Community Support Framework (CSFIII) in certain sectors, and of money from CSFII being returned because the European Commission deems it was not used correctly. How realistic are these dangers? The CSFII projects were implemented 110 percent, and now the final payment is expected. The danger of losing funds may materialize only if inspections show serious budgets overruns, irregularities or fraud, which cannot be ruled out 100 percent, but which in any case would not involve large sums. We’ll know the outcome soon, within a few months. I emphasize that according to the overall details we have for the EU, Greece had far fewer problems absorbing the funds than most countries. As for CSFIII, I would say the same applies. Greece has far fewer problems than the other member states, because it planned much more conservatively. But all countries have problems due to the new management methods, and for that reason, Europe is holding discussions with all the countries about how we can simplify the existing procedures. It is also said that EU bureaucracy employs meaningless pretexts to create obstacles to absorption of CSFIII funds, and this at a time when the European economy is showing distinct signs of recession. Why is Greece receiving this treatment? Let’s not persist with this syndrome of the lonesome, poor but honest cowboy. Greece can lodge a complaint and reverse any attempt at unfavorable treatment. The European administration certainly is very demanding at times, for two reasons: First, in relative terms, we get more money than any other country; and second, Greek public administration has demonstrated failings, delays and problems for years. New Democracy and some in PASOK predict that the Greek economy will face major difficulties in 2006 when the Olympic Games and CSFIII are finished. Is there any chance that the structural programs for Greece might continue, and how ready is this country to use them in sectors other than major projects? Development and infrastructure have no expiry date. After the Olympic Games, Greece will have a plan, objectives and European funding. Success will be judged by Greece’s ability to invest effectively in its people. With difficulty and after quite a long period of adjustment, we are trying to comply with European rules and regulations on investment in concrete (roads, bridges, airports and tunnels). Now there is a greater challenge – how to invest effectively in «Greek minds» (in the information society, innovation and research). Only in this way can we make the most of the infrastructure we have been successfully investing in – despite the problems – for so many years. The view is gaining ground in the EU that from now on, the Stability Pact must place special emphasis on public debt, where Greece is known to be facing a serious problem. What does this development mean for Greece, when on the domestic front, even within the government, there is growing pressure to beef up social policy? Reduction of the public debt is the only guarantee of social policy. Now the «interest rate ministry» has a larger budget (9.5 trillion euros) than the combined budget of the defense and education ministries. When social policy is implemented on borrowed money, it only performs in the short term; in the long term, it becomes a burden on the poorer members of society. Real social policy is implemented through redistribution, and redistribution calls for intense dialogue, where everybody is willing not only to secure profits and benefits but also to make a contribution to the weakest (the unemployed) and society in general. Discussion has begun in the EU about substantive changes to the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). How realistic is the approach of the Greek government, which basically wants continuation of the existing model of subsidies to small and medium-sized farmers? The Greek government rightly wants a continuation of subsidies to small and medium-sized farmers. That is also the EU’s proposal. But the Commission also proposes other points which I believe are positive for the future of Greek agriculture. It proposes reducing part of the direct payments at the expense of the large farmers, and their redistributing them for development of the countryside, using cohesion criteria. It also proposes detaching subsidies from production and linking them to producers and their land, and to environmentally friendly crops. I believe that in general, the proposed reform ensures support for agriculture and farm incomes until 2013, and is in the interest of Greek farmers and Greek agriculture. I recognize that there will be problems of adjustment and other difficulties. But I do believe that detaching subsidies from amounts produced will save us from the problems of inspections and fraud, which cost us tens of millions of euros every year. In short, the farmers of the future must both be protected because of the special nature of their work, and develop a business mentality. Given your experience in the EU, what position do you think the Greek government should take on the Franco-German proposal for the creation of permanent president of the European council parallel to the Commission president? I can tell you my view. This proposal will cause problems and won’t solve any. We’ll have a dual leadership at an institutional level (in a multi-leader context); it will require a new bureaucracy; and the Council president will be like a prime minister who has to render a political account to Parliament. I believe that moving away from the achieved model of the EU method will boost the directorates and will undermine European cohesion to breaking point.