NEWS

‘High-risk four years’

Inaugurating the 68th annual International Trade Fair (TIF) in Thessaloniki, which coincides with the start of a long pre-election period, PM Costas Simitis yesterday spelled out his government’s priorities in the next «four years of high risk.» Summing up PASOK’s achievements, he said, «The greatest change we achieved was the gaining of national self-confidence.» Simitis set out five issues that he will focus on in the runup to next spring’s elections. These are real convergence with the EU through «the triangle of development, employment and social cohesion» and the «Convergence Charter» which he will present on Wednesday; the successful organization of the Athens Olympics; solving the Cyprus issue and delineating the Aegean continental shelf; negotiating a new European Constitution; and modernizing the political system by changing the electoral law. «The next four years will be four years of high risk, which will determine our national issues, our position in Europe, the development and future of our society and economy. The year 2004 signals Greece’s potential for a leap into tomorrow,» Simitis said. He said that what set his PASOK apart from the conservative New Democracy party was «our belief that only a strong social safety net sets free people’s creativity.» Simitis listed his government’s achievements as the country’s entry into the eurozone and the maintenance of high growth rates, the real increase in incomes, Cyprus’s impending EU accession, the progressive change in Greek-Turkish relations, social reforms and the defeat of terrorism. Simitis stressed that he will continue to maintain fiscal discipline, saying that the package of «social measures» he announced on Tuesday, «is in accordance with the 2004 budget and our program for the next four years… It is an integral part of our economic policy and the social dividend that we announce each year on the occasion of the TIF.» ND leader Costas Karamanlis called for immediate elections and claimed the government was placing its own interests above the public good. «The government has failed to formulate policy and is now trying to create an impression,» he said in a speech in Halkidiki. Olympic Airways employees, police officers seeking benefits, unions and anti-globalization activists staged protests to coincide with Simitis’s visit, which ends tomorrow.