Two views of economy

Prime Minister Costas Simitis and opposition leader Costas Karamanlis clashed in Parliament yesterday in a debate on the economy which was one of the first set battles of the coming elections. Simitis defended his government’s achievements and pointed to the period 1990-93, when New Democracy was in power, as a disaster to be avoided. ND leader Karamanlis, on the other hand, described Simitis’s time in office as one of lost opportunities, presented data from a number of international organizations to back this up and proclaimed that when his party comes to power he will ask for a full accounting. Simitis argued that Greece’s growth would continue after the 2004 Olympics. «Development will not slow down, because we have built on strong foundations from the start,» he said. «Investments in Greece are increasing. Until 1995, investments came to 19 percent of GDP. Today they are at 26 percent of GDP each year. And these investments are not only Olympic projects, as ND mistakenly claims. They are mainly private: Private investments are five to six times more than public investments,» Simitis said. He said also that changes in the way public projects were awarded had «reduced cost overruns from 49 percent to 18 percent, a figure which corresponds to 12 billion euros.» He argued that «the positive effects of the Olympics on the economy and society will be felt mainly after they are held successfully, not before.» He said that in the period 1994-2003 wages in Greece increased by 21 percent over inflation, with an EU average of 0.7 percent. «That is why the average gross salary rose from 68 percent of the EU average in 1993 to 81 percent in 2002,» he said. His government, he added, had reduced the fiscal deficit from 13.4 percent of GDP in 1993 to 1.4 percent in 2003 and the public debt from 112 percent of GDP to 102 percent. Growth next year is forecast at 4.2 percent. Karamanlis said, «Legality and the public interest will be restored immediately after the elections, with a detailed investigation into everything.» He claimed his government would save 10 billion euros by stopping waste spending. He accused the government of giving much wealth to a few people while most others lost out. The period of Simitis’s government, Karamanlis said, «turns out to to be a time of lost opportunities for citizens and the economy. This is the end of an era and the start of a new one for society and the economy.»