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‘I am about to begin the necessary procedures to elect a new president of PASOK,’ Simitis says

Prime Minister Costas Simitis, whose eight consecutive years in office are a record for Greece, announced yesterday that he would resign as chairman of the PASOK party and will remain prime minister until the elections, which will be held on March 7. He became prime minister on Jan. 18, 1996. After meeting with President Costis Stephanopoulos, Prime Minister Costas Simitis chaired a joint session of the Cabinet and the PASOK party’s Executive Bureau to decide on the process for his succession by Foreign Minister George Papandreou (whom Simitis did not name yesterday). Below is the entire text of Simitis’s statement, summing up the achievements of the last eight years and explaining the reasons for the coming changes at the helm of PASOK. In a few days’ time, it will be eight years since I assumed the post of prime minister. Since 1996, my guiding policy has been the modernization of Greece and of our society. What did – and does – modernization mean? It meant – and still means – a stable economy, an economy with high growth rates, an economy with greater social justice. It meant – and still means – Greece’s continual upgrading within the European Union, the Balkans and its international environment, the resolution of our national issues. All these years, we have been trying to build a society with greater security, with greater possibilities and opportunities for its citizens. We concentrated our vision, which we have had all these years, in the phrase: «Strong Greece, strong society, citizens first.» During these last eight years: – Greece became a member of the Economic and Monetary Union, it acquired one of the most stable currencies in the world and now is part of the core of the European Union. It has achieved a stable economy and one of the highest growth rates in the European Union. – We have brought about a steady improvement in Greeks’ incomes, we have made purposeful interventions and strengthened the weaker members of our society. We have expanded the social welfare state and gradually increased spending in this sector. Public works, both small and large, have been undertaken on an unprecedented scale. We have dealt with the problem of terrorism that had plagued the country since 1974. The question of the former royal property is now closed. Greece is to hold the Olympic Games and preparations are being successfully completed. – Greece has increased its diplomatic influence in the region. Cyprus has joined the European Union and conditions are now in place for a resolution of both the Cyprus issue and the Aegean continental shelf. – Greece has made a spectacular change for the better. It has been a creative period like no other in our country’s history. It has taken much effort and persistence to achieve everything that we now consider self-evident, that we consider given. There were no conditions of consensus. Our policies have met with opposition, often strong opposition, as does any policy that affects vested interests and which cannot count the political cost. The opposition has taken extremely negative positions even regarding major goals, such as accession to the European Economic and Monetary Union, even regarding major issues such as Greek-Turkish relations and the Cyprus issue. These negative positions, however, were triumphantly contradicted by the ensuing developments. Our goals have always been clear. We have always chosen the means to the ends with care. Moderation and an awareness of the complexity of the problems have always been a decisive factor in the way our policies have been implemented. Our plan has always included a place for the necessary social consensus, for social debate, but was based on determination and the need to break with the past where and when it was necessary. We introduced new concepts in many sectors of social life. We contributed to a change in mentality, a change of perceptions in Greece, a change in the concept of what the country was, its potential and what we Greeks can achieve. The changes over the past eight years have shown that, despite the difficulties we have encountered, particularly because we are living in an uncertain and insecure international environment, despite the issues which we have not yet resolved, we have managed to move ahead with determination and confidence. We have irrevocably entered a new age. Greece is stronger. Our society is stronger. Our citizens have more options and more expectations, as they should in a society which is developing and has hope. Everyone feels it, even if they do not say so. They feel part of a country that is no longer afraid, but which is moving ahead with renewed self-confidence as a nation. What we have achieved, we have achieved together. Therefore, we have a duty to continue in the same direction. Elections will take place in the spring of 2004. The next four years will be decisive for many issues. On the agenda will be the Cyprus issue, the Aegean continental shelf, the Olympic Games, the distribution of funds from the Third Community Support Framework, what funds we will get from the European Union in order to continue in the Fourth Community Support Framework. Our convergence with the European Union will be judged, above all, on further progress in health, education, and the living standards of all Greeks. All of us Greek citizens will decide upon the direction we should take in the resolution of all these issues. Whether we will build upon that which we have achieved so far or whether we allow our efforts to remain incomplete. We will decide with our vote. Modernization and reform should follow, and strongly. The country needs an even more productive economy, a more effective administration, a better organized social welfare state, more resources for education and health. The people, particularly young people, need more opportunities, a society more open, more just. But that means that everything must continue as it has been. However, if we believe that everything will more or less proceed as normal no matter who is governing, no matter what their political views are; if we are drawn in by the view that the European Union makes all the decisions for us or if we believe that there is an «automatic pilot,» then the country will stagnate or slide backward. I have been prime minister for eight years. I have an obligation to avert the risks inherent in such perceptions, the risk of the country’s progress being delayed or halted. For it was I that set out the plan, it was I who directed the effort and I believe in the vision of a strong Greece, because our work must have continuity and I have a duty to ensure that continuity. Initiatives Last July, after our country’s obligations as head of the European Union’s rotating presidency were over, I undertook a series of initiatives to prepare for the transition to a new period that was and is beginning. These initiatives began, first of all, in the party. I observed that the demands of the new period called for a change of personalities. The PASOK of the new era calls on the younger generation to assume increased responsibilities. It was a process that brought about drastic changes within the party leadership, the Executive Bureau and of the secretary of the Central Committee. In September, the time came to distribute their share of a cautious, long-term economic policy to social groups to whom we had a particular obligation, the weaker sections of society. In a new age and with the stable economy we have achieved, social justice can be strengthened and expanded. The new package of social measures indicated PASOK’s social conscience, that we believe in equal opportunities, but in the differentiation of our means in order to help less advantaged citizens. The Convergence Charter, first for the country and then for all the regions, sets measurable, specific goals for the next four years. It sets out in specific detail what we have to achieve. Then our party renewed an unprecedented percentage – nearly 50 percent – of our electoral lists with new faces. The PASOK that emerges from election day will have a new image, a new political face. The last step in the course set last July was the vote on the 2004 budget, as it ensured conditions to continue the policy of modernization and reform. Now, at the beginning of the new year, the time has come for me to take the next step toward renewal. A party and a government have to be renewed. Both the leader of the government and of the party should represent that renewal. A party wins with the renewal of forces, its dynamic, ideas and abilities. A party of reform must try harder than any other to renew itself. And, above all, it must practice what it preaches with regard to renewal. It should not be distracted by the hundred and one reasons that are always raised by those who want to monopolize positions in perpetuity. The selfishness of permanency is a deeply conservative form of behavior. A party is dynamic and has continuity when new faces emerge to assume initiatives. They use new associates, and mobilize new cadres when evolution creates the hope of new approaches, new policies, new directions. It has been my deepest belief, since the moment I took office, that as prime minister I had the duty not only to govern the country but to establish models for the country’s progress. If we take a look at the developed countries, we will see that as a rule leaders change on a regular basis. The prevailing view in Greece, that unlimited tenure is the rule, is not compatible with the current reality of continuous social change. And Greece needs to change its leaders. A leader has to have the courage to create new conditions in order to promote the policies he believes in, to provide answers to those who view politics only in terms of personal motivation, of personal interests. PASOK has leading cadres with knowledge, experience and ability – leading cadres capable of rising to the challenges of the new age, of handling difficult situations. They have already handled difficult situations and have shown that they can do so very well, winning the recognition of our society as well as that of the international public, as was evident during the Greek presidency of the European Union. PASOK has leading cadres who belong to the younger generations, those who take an active part in the productive process, who know the new ways because they deal with them every day in their working lives. PASOK has leading cadres who can express and carry out Greeks’ demands for high growth rates, economic stability, social solidarity, social cohesion, and who can bring about the demand for peace and stability in the region. – I am about to begin the necessary procedures to elect a new president of PASOK. – I will remain as prime minister until the day after the elections. – The new PASOK president will lead the next PASOK government right after the elections. – PASOK’s Central Committee will meet on Thursday (January 8) to decide on the procedure for electing a new president. The elections will take place on Sunday, March 7. The country’s government has an obligation to handle the important developments in the Cyprus issue and, therefore, it needs a fresh mandate from the people. It needs to be able to deal with the moves that are to take place within the next few days, in view of the fact that on May 1, 2004, the Cypriot Republic will formally join the European Union. I hope that today’s decisions, which I have just announced, will contribute to a political system that seeks and accepts changes in mentalities and positions. Such a political system is a prerequisite for the country’s progress. I hope that the decisions will create political spheres that are sensitive to the need for new leaders who are open to the challenges of the new age because the country can only deal effectively with problems when its leaders are sensitive, when they are open to what is happening in the world, when the political parties and political spheres are receptive to the new age. I believe that my decisions will promote that which is in the interest of Greece and its people.