NEWS

Conservative party stresses social state

Parliament was expected to give Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis’s conservative government a vote of confidence early today after a three-day debate on its policy declaration. The vote, which began at midnight, was a formality as New Democracy won 165 seats in the 300-seat Parliament in the March 7 elections. In his policy statement on Saturday, Karamanlis said that his priorities were to improve the daily lives of citizens, to crush corruption and to apply a new economic policy. Although leader of the conservative party, he also stressed his desire to strengthen the social state. This was the message that his ministers drove home during the debate. National Economy and Finance Minister Giorgos Alogoskoufis, speaking yesterday, presented the foundations of this policy, saying the money would be found by cracking down on waste, which he said comes to 0.8-1 percent of GDP annually. He said also that a crackdown on tax evasion and non-payment of social security contributions would contribute 1.3-1.5 percent of GDP annually. Over four years, this would come to 6.5-7.5 billion euros, Alogoskoufis said. He also announced tax reform. «We are setting up a special committee for tax reform, whose proposals will be the subject of a dialogue and the government will institutionalize the tax reform and development law in the autumn. We will abide by the commitments in our program,» Alogoskoufis told Parliament. He charged that the former PASOK government had not presented the true picture of the economy, saying that an examination of state finances was underway. «The general government deficit for 2003 is about double that projected in the budget last December. It is close to 2.7 percent of GDP, as opposed to 1.7 percent which was the last estimate before the elections,» he said. «This creates especially big problems for the 2004 budget, which begins on a more difficult basis.» PASOK members denied this, saying New Democracy was trying to inflate the deficit in order to avoid carrying out pre-electoral pledges. Former Prime Minister Costas Simitis warned that this could lead to the EU taking measures against Greece.