THESSALONIKI – The State at its best. Smiling people welcome the public at the entrance. Modern spaces with high-tech equipment keep the eyes of the visitor busy. Then a young and enthusiastic person comes to you and asks politely: Can I help you? Do you have any questions I can help you with? For most people in the Western world, this scene could easily be a replica of their daily lives. Not for Greeks though, especially when this scene takes place at a ministry or state agency. Used to the scene of a snail-paced bureaucracy where the public stand in line while a state worker behind the booth talks on the phone with a relative, it is no surprise that visitors of the e-Expo: Contemporary and Advanced Services for the Citizen pavilion at the 66th Thessaloniki International Trade Fair (TIF) found themselves faced with a new experience. Considered by TIF organizers as the exhibit’s main novelty, this State-sponsored pavilion presents the latest products and services that the Greek State has to offer to its citizens. In an effort to reform ministries and state agencies to become more citizen-friendly, the State went to great lengths to put this new self on display. Several ministries, including those of Finance, National Economy, Interior, Health, Development, and Agriculture, as well as banks, are showcasing their latest e-products and e-services here at the fair, and hope that they will be embraced by the public. The Health Ministry at its booth demonstrates some of the latest programs and equipment that the field of tele-medicine has to offer, while informing the public of several of its own tele-medicine programs that it runs in the country. One of them is called the Epirus-Net, a wireless network used for the transfer of data that extends deep into the periphery of the mainland, linking as many as seven state and university hospitals in the region. At a nearby booth, run by the Bureau on Citizen’s Quality of Life that is dependent on the prime minister’s office, state employees were informing the public of a number of services that are now offered over the Internet, including sites where they can file their taxes, access customs services and even download official forms needed for his dealings with several ministries. Computers and the Internet have only scratched the surface of state bureaucracy in Greece, but the pace of penetration is expected to pick up in the coming years. According to a program by the Ministry of National Economy, titled Information Society, the State is expected to spend as much as 2,839 million euros by 2006 in areas of education, culture, citizen services, and communications. Specifically, the money, gathered from the EU, state and private funds, will be allocated as follows: development and employment in digital economy, 901.7 million euros (31.8 percent); citizen services and improvement of quality of life, 879.4 million (31 percent); communications, 569.2 million (20 percent); education and culture, 421 million (14.8 percent); and technical support, 67.7 million (2.4 percent). The impact of computers was also visible at the booths operated by banks, where employees where displaying the latest e-banking and e-shopping services they offer to their customers. According to a bank official from Eurobank, the public has shown an increased interest in e-shopping services. The bank has already operated such a website since April, linking consumers with a network of retailers and allowing them to buy these products with a direct transaction with the bank. Visitors also can visit booths operated by the Bureau of Citizen’s Services, as well as the General Secretariat of Informatics Systems – an arm of the Ministry of Finance. With just 111 days to go, Thessaloniki fair offers visitors chance to get to know the euro THESSALONIKI – With 111 days left before the common European currency, known as the euro, enters into our daily transactions, Greeks and visitors have a unique chance to familiarize themselves with their future currency here in Greece’s second city. An exhibit, carrying the title: Euro – A Currency for Europe opened its gates at the Tellogleio Foundation of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki last Sunday, inaugurated by Prime Minister Costas Simitis. The exhibit, running parallel to the 66th Thessaloniki International Trade Fair (TIF), is organized by the TIF, the ministries of National Economy, Culture and Macedonia-Thrace, as well as the European Commission and the Bank of Greece. Housed at the two-story building mainly used for art exhibits, and only a few minutes’ walk from the main TIF grounds, the euro exhibit may be the finest way for Greeks to get to know the coins and bank notes of the common European currency that will soon be filling their pockets and wallets. The exhibit is divided into three sections, allowing visitors to walk through the world history of money from its birth, along with Greece’s political history and its currency through its many eras, all the way to the birth of the euro. This dazzling journey of knowledge beautifully blends a lecture on world, Greek and European history, while providing the visitor with details on the currencies and form of money used during each of the different periods. Anywhere from the primitive forms of money, when man used harvested goods in his daily exchanges some 3,500 years ago, to the birth of the coin in the form of coins in fifth century BC found in China, Greece and India, the birth of bank notes in 1374 in China, to the beginning of plastic money – credit cards – in more recent times. All of the ancient coins displayed at the exhibit are replicas provided by the Numismatic Museum of Athens. The sections on the world history of money and the birth of the drachma are only in Greek, but foreign visitors can access the same information by using one of the several user-friendly computers positioned on the ground floor, and navigate through the exhibit’s CD-ROM. The program features a sensitive world map, enabling users to choose a desired region and era to retrieve the information they are seeking. A crash course in Greek history and its currency, the drachma, can easily be taken, cost-free, by walking into the second section of the exhibit. Starting as far back as the period of Ottoman rule, the exhibit takes the visitor through the founding of the Greek State, the founding of the National Bank in 1841, World War II, and the postwar era. The euro Earlier in the summer a poll conducted by the European Union showed that Greeks, along with other Europeans, had little if any understanding of Europe’s common currency. With little over three months before its circulation, the exhibit steps in to fill this vacuum of knowledge. The public visiting the Euro exhibit, showcased on the second floor of the Tellogleio Foundation, can see up close the back notes and coins of the new currency, while at the same time refresh their history knowledge of Europe. Starting as early as AD 490, the exhibit takes visitors to the early era when the idea of the common currency was first born in the world, and culminating with its evolution into the euro. Replicas of coins from Byzantium and the Roman Empire are also on display, marking two important eras in the evolution of common currencies in the world. A few paces away is a display box featuring the coins and bank notes of all nominal values of the euro, alongside an historic account of its birth. This takes visitors from the formation of the European European Community, the birth of the European Currency Unit (ECU) in 1979, to the Maastricht decision on Feb. 7, 1992 to alter the name of the European body to the European Union, and the birth of the euro on March 15 & 16, 1995, in Madrid. On December 17 all bank accounts in drachmas will be converted into euros, while on January 1 next year the euro will start circulating in the 12-nation bloc that has adopted it. The drachma will still be used along with the euro until February 22, 2002, while a few days later on March 1, it will cease to exist as a valid currency. The third and final section of the exhibit showcases the line of production of money, namely drachmas, both of bank notes and coins. Tools used to design and color the bank notes, as well as machinery and raw material used in the cutting and producing of coins are on display on the ground floor. The exhibit runs through October 31, and is open to the public daily from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., on Saturday from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m., and on Sunday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Competition heats up in pavilions THESSALONIKI – The seal of the president of the United States alongside a recent color photograph of US President George W. Bush welcome visitors in the building’s lobby. No, it’s not the lobby of the US Consulate in Thessaloniki – although it could be – but rather the ground-floor entrance of the US Pavilion at the 66th Thessaloniki International Trade Fair. The American presentation, organized by the American Hellenic Chamber of Commerce and the US mission in Greece, is viewed by organizers as being consistently among the most well-attended national pavilions in the trade fair. An ideal showcase for American products and services, the American pavilion hosts some 20 companies and institutions, allowing visitors to see firsthand the latest trends in electronics, electrical appliances and household items, as well as gather information on educational institutions. US companies participating in the American Pavilion reflect the latest advances in a broad range of products, equipment services and technology. Their presence continues the tradition of an American pavilion begun in the 1950s, reads a statement by Michael Cleverly, charge d’affaires at the US Embassy in Athens. The pavilion, situated next to those of other nations, showcases the latest models in Jeep vehicles, computers and computer accessories, water purification systems, wind-power generation systems and electrical appliances. Along with these business booths are those of the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation Greek Affiliate, one of the largest national cancer support organizations in the United States; the Greek office of Manpower Inc., one of the largest US staffing and employment agencies based in Milwaukee; and the booths of the American Community Schools of Athens and the Fulbright Association. But the American Pavilion is not alone in being impressive, as the competition in the modernization of the national pavilions at the trade fair this year has been taken to new heights. Turkey surfaced this year as a principal national competitor with an exhibit equal, if not even greater, to that of the Americans. With exhibition booths extending into two buildings, the Turks have organized what may be their most impressive presentation at any recent TIF in what could be described as an effort to create a bridge of business across the Aegean with entrepreneurs and local businessmen. Economic and commercial transactions across the Aegean have risen in recent years, following an improvement in Greek-Turkish relations, but still has not penetrated down to the lower layers of business structure. With miniature Turkish flags decorating their booths, Turkish exhibitors display clothing items – both traditional and modern – industrial products, furniture, leather products, electric machinery, carpets and souvenirs. Scores of Turkish businessmen have seized this opportunity to display their products before a Greek audience, as well as to the numerous tourists who are in the northern port. Visitors can get firsthand information on business trends in Turkey by walking into the booth of the Izmir Chamber of Commerce, and further knowledge of the business ties between Athens and Ankara by visiting the booth of the Greek-Turkish Chamber of Commerce. Daily TIF events Numerous cultural events and services run parallel to the 66th Thessaloniki International Trade Fair (TIF) throughout the week. The main novelty of this year’s TIF is the e-Expo: Contemporary and Advanced Services for the Citizen, showcased in Pavilion 10 with the presentation of products and services by institutions in the field of high-tech applications. Visitors have the opportunity to see e-banking procedures, as well as presentations on the latest trends in electronic forms of commerce and services. Among them are: – EUROPOLIS, organized by the Ministry of Finance; – The Information Society, organized by the Ministry of National Economy; – The Bureau of Citizen’s Quality of Life, organized by the Prime Minister’s Office – The Bureau of Citizen’s Service, organized by the Ministry of the Interior – Services in tele-medicine, organized by the Ministry of Health – The General Secretariat of Informatics Systems, organized by the Ministry of Finance; – AGROCERT, organized by the Ministry of Agriculture. A second exhibition running concurrently with the international trade fair is Euro: A Currency for Europe, organized by the TIF in cooperation with the Numismatic Museum of Athens. The exhibit is housed at the Tellogleio Foundation and it is sponsored by the ministries of National Economy, Culture, Macedonia-Thrace, as well as by the European Commission and the Bank of Greece. In addition, organizers have planned a series of events to celebrate the cultural life of the northern city. Among other sights, people from Thessaloniki and visitors to the 66th TIF will have a chance to see: – A concert featuring Greek singers Katerina Kouka and Antonis Zikas in front of the Palais des Sports stadium, on Friday; – Street theater performed from tomorrow to Saturday at the TIF grounds; – Traditional music and dances from Indonesia; – Expo-Fest, on the TIF grounds to Thursday at 9:30 p.m. (Free entrance); – The 35th Rally TIF on Saturday on the TIF grounds; – A photography exhibition by the Greek branch of Doctors Without Borders, titled Ten Years Behind the Camera; – A Communications’s Radio exhibition of antique radio sets and of radio and telephone documents, in Pavilion 8.