NEWS

‘Great summer’ is basis for future of Greek development

Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis announced significant policies to aid regional development during his speech at the opening of the Thessaloniki International Fair (TIF) yesterday and is due to reveal more of the government’s plans during his keynote economic address today. Karamanlis’s first major policy address as prime minister tonight has been eagerly anticipated since he was elected to power in March, especially as the hosting of the Olympic Games had been the priority until now. However, his speech at the inauguration of the 69th TIF yesterday was littered with significant policy pledges. «We are in the post-Olympic era,» said Karamanlis, officially declaring an end to a period in Greek life and politics that had dominated the agenda for at least the last seven years, since Athens won the right to host the Games in 1997. «We must invest in the added value of the Games. We must attract investment and visitors. We must prove that the great Greek summer of 2004 is not just a parenthesis in our course,» said Karamanlis, aware that the success of the Olympics could prove a burden on his government if Greece does not build upon it. The prime minister announced that he was making northern Greece the central focus for faster development and a better quality of life through the implementation of a program called the National Strategy for Regional Development. «During the last few years, a two-speed Greece has developed. We cannot talk about a better life for citizens when the Greek regions are left behind. This stops here,» said Karamanlis. Main elements of this strategy include the re-organization of the Macedonia-Thrace Ministry, improving road links, supporting small and medium-sized businesses, and introducing a new, aggressive agricultural policy. During his speech, the prime minister recognized that citizens in northern Greece and Thessaloniki in particular had heard similar promises before. «We won’t be part of the perpetuation of untrustworthiness,» added Karamanlis. He announced that work on the Thessaloniki metro would begin next summer, that contracts for the enlargement and modernization of the city’s international airport would be handed out by next March and that work on underwater road tunnel and the Egnatia highway would be completed by 2008. Karamanlis also announced plans to transform northern Greece into a channel for the transfer of energy sources between East and West by building an oil pipeline from the Bulgarian port of Burgas to Alexandroupolis, upgrading Greece’s position on the electricity grids of southeastern Europe and laying emphasis on the construction of a natural gas pipeline that would connect Greece with Italy and Turkey, and then with Austria. Karamanlis also emphasized Greece’s support for Turkey’s entry into the EU. «We Greeks want a European Turkey. We are seeking to improve our bilateral co-operation and the full restoration of Greek-Turkish relations,» said Karamanlis. Around 6,000 policemen are guarding the exhibition hall yesterday over the weekend, checking visitors and guarding against any possible demonstrations. Opposition spokesman Haris Kastanidis attacked Karamanlis’s speech yesterday. «It’s a monument of unclear declarations, contradictions, inaccuracies,» said Kastanidis. Earlier, PASOK leader, George Papandreou criticized the government’s management of the economy. «I listened to experienced economists, who gave me a picture of our country’s economy that is not pleasant, thanks to the government’s handling, which doesn’t use the [country’s] great advantages and the Olympic Games,» said Papandreou.