The conservative New Democracy party yesterday presented its economic program which, like the ruling PASOK party’s «Convergence Charter,» depends on a strong growth rate to fund tax cuts and increase benefits. This sparked a heated exchange between the two major parties contesting the March 7 elections. «I am especially proud of this work, because in a way that is realistic, thorough and responsible it leads to development, employment and social justice,» ND leader Costas Karamanlis said at the presentation. «The New Economic Policy, which we are ready to apply from March 8, constitutes a basic demand of the new era,» he added. The program foresees an annual growth rate of 5 percent of GDP, with deregulation of markets, privatization, and an increase in investments and incentives for foreign investors. It foresees a reduction in tax rates for companies. Inheritance taxes will apply only after the first 80,000 euros, not the current 20,000, and people will have four years rather than two in which to pay them. The lowest-income group of pensioners will receive an increase in the EKAS subsidy system from 140 euros to 230 euros by 2008 and farmers’ pensions will rise from 200 euros to 330 euros. ND wants to privatize state-controlled banks and the Postal Savings Bank, while retaining state control of the Agricultural Bank. The Hellenic Telecommunications Organization (OTE) will be privatized entirely and a strategic partnership will be sought. ND wants to sell Olympic Airlines to a private airline and wants an international strategic partner for the Athens water and sewage company EYDAP, while allowing the State to keep a controlling stake in the Public Power Corporation. Government spokesman Christos Protopapas said ND’s program showed a «huge paradox.» «Mr Karamanlis’s claim that the Greek economy has been destroyed is not referred to because now he is anxiously trying to hand out benefits, recognizing that our economy has these capabilities and that, therefore, the government has carried out serious work,» he said. The government seized on ND’s commitment to apply the social security reforms it had introduced in 1990-93, accusing the opposition of advocating a return to the social security system of that era. ND said the claim was propaganda aimed at distorting its program.