After the handouts, convergence

Following up on last week’s pledges for a 2.6-billion-euro benefits package for low-wage earners, Prime Minister Costas Simitis is set today to announce plans to push general living standards in Greece up in the direction of European Union norms. After a meeting with President Costis Stephanopoulos yesterday, Simitis described convergence and greater prosperity as «a national target for which we will have to fight.» Over recent years, an overall increase in the cost of living in Greece has not been followed by a corresponding rise in salaries, which remain among the lowest in the European Union. «For us, the main issue over the coming years is convergence, which will ensure greater prosperity in Greece,» Simitis told journalists. «The prerequisite for convergence is stability, and the means of convergence is growth.» «We must all contribute to this effort,» he added, in what is seen as a message to unions and interest groups which – as the spring parliamentary elections draw ever closer – are pressing the government to dig deep into the public coffers for salary increases and more benefits. Simitis also conferred with Economy Minister Nikos Christodoulakis, who told journalists the prime minister would announce today «the basic targets and priorities for the next four years.» «We want to make the Greek economy and Greek society draw even closer to the standards of growth, social policy and security enjoyed by the more developed economies in the European Union,» Christodoulakis said. «Despite any omissions, mistakes or problems that may have cropped up in the course of growth and convergence, it is obvious that, over the past few years, Greece has taken great strides forward.»

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