NEWS

Electoral gifts worth 1.3 bln euros

Despite its vow to maintain fiscal discipline, the government is preparing handouts worth 1.3 billion euros in view of the coming elections. It is expected to announce its plans next Tuesday, ahead of Thessaloniki’s International Trade Fair in early September, which is traditionally the setting for the unveiling of the following year’s economic policy. Business groups, meanwhile, are worried by the extent of the impending benefits and have called on the government to show self-restraint. Premier Costas Simitis yesterday held a long meeting with National Economy Minister Nikos Christodoulakis and PASOK’s general secretary, Michalis Chrysochoidis, to work out the benefits to be provided to large parts of the electorate, such as pensioners, farmers, the disabled and the long-term unemployed. They also worked out new measures which the government is keeping as an electoral surprise. Although handouts appear to be dominant, Christodoulakis is trying to project the image of a balanced economic policy, so as to try to limit the demands traditionally made by many social groups in pre-election periods. «We must have an organized, balanced plan which will give advantages to the Greek economy but will at the same time ensure, at every step, in every action, a social dividend. A dividend of employment, a dividend of greater solidarity and support,» Christodoulakis said. He was speaking after a meeting in the prime minister’s office with the board of the Federation of Greek Industries (SEV), which expressed its concern at the planned handouts. «Under no circumstances will any social benefits, the program of social cohesion, be outside fiscal planning,» Christodoulakis said. «On the other hand, the support of society, and social solidarity, must reflect the progress of the whole of the economy and society. Because we believe that these must always go hand-in-hand: development and competitiveness along with solidarity.» Christodoulakis said the government was in a continuous dialogue with SEV, workers and representatives of other groups.