Gov?t pushes reforms ahead of snap polls

The Development Ministry is tweaking an ambitious piece of legislation aimed at attracting investments and accelerating those that are pending due to bureaucratic hurdles, it emerged on Thursday as a controversial law opening up the taxi drivers? sector to competition was rubberstamped by the Cabinet.

The bill liberalizing the taxi drivers? sector — one of several restricted professions that the government has pledged to open to competition — was approved by all but one member of the Cabinet and is expected to be submitted in Parliament soon. Alternate Defense Minister Yiannis Ragousis, formerly transport minister, complained that the proposed reforms ?protected the narrow interests of a small group.?

The bill does not foresee the issuing of any new licenses in Attica, while elsewhere the number of licenses will be calculated according to population and environmental criteria. It also allows licenses to be issued for vehicles seating five to eight people.

Along with the opening up of closed professions including taxi drivers, lawyers and pharmacists, another key reform the government has pledged to foreign creditors is the simplification of its bureaucracy to encourage the investments that Greece needs to regain growth.

The Development Ministry?s bill aims to take a bold step in this direction by pushing certain stalled investments into a ?fast-track? procedure, involving the quicker issuing of permits, and facilitating the launch of new projects.

According to the bill, investments eligible for ?fast-track? status include those with a budget of more than 100 million euros, those which have a budget of at least 40 million euros but also create a minimum of 120 jobs, and those with a budget of at least 15 million euros that are to be set up on existing industrial estates.

The bill also foresees the reduction of the time needed for a would-be entrepreneur to get a license, to 45 days from the current 60 days.

Export companies will get additional help and advice from a special one-stop shop, sources said.

Another piece of legislation lifting restrictions on non-European Union flagged ships operating in the country?s cruise sector was also submitted to Parliament on Thursday.

Addressing his Cabinet on Thursday, Prime Minister Lucas Papademos said that the government will continue working even after the dissolution of Parliament in the countdown to snap polls as much remains to be done. He said the date for elections, expected at the end of April or early May, would be announced next week.

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