NEWS

Stability the priority

In separate meetings with representatives of labor and employers yesterday, Prime Minister Costas Simitis made clear that his government’s economic policy would remain based on stability and development in order to provide social spending. Today the Cabinet will discuss the details of the 2002 state budget and the social policy that will be implemented over the next three years. Simitis told the board of the General Confederation of Greek Labor (GSEE), which represents workers in the private and broader public sector, that social benefits will be within reasonable bounds, will help support the weaker segments of society, but will not turn into a series of general handouts which once led Greece to the brink of fiscal collapse. The steady approach to the average standard of living of EU countries is made possible only by implementing a steady fiscal policy which will contribute decisively to reduction of the public debt, Simitis told GSEE. Only then will funds be freed for the implementation of social policy and the achievement of our target of real convergence. Speaking both to GSEE and the board of the Federation of Greek Industries (SEV), Simitis stressed that economic policy would remain based on stability (including tax reform aimed at a more just distribution of the tax burden and a boost for entrepreneurship), development with social cohesion, further development and greater productivity. SEV President Lefteris Antonakopoulos said afterwards that the federation would be in continual contact with the prime minister on the issue of real convergence. Regarding GSEE’s call for a 35-hour work week without a corresponding cut in wages, Simitis said that the subject needed serious discussion. After today’s Cabinet meeting, the government is expected to announce measures such as a 5,000-drachma monthly increase to retired farmers and low-income pensioners, and there might be a 10-percent rise in unemployment benefits. There may also be a one-off million-drachma boost for the birth of a third child and a monthly bonus for single-parent families. The Cabinet is also expected to decide on taxes and other measures aimed at encouraging mergers and the formation of new companies, while the general overhaul of the tax system will be postponed to 2003. Social benefits in 2002 are expected to cost about 300 billion drachmas, with a limit of one trillion drachmas over three years. Satanist free. An Athens court yesterday granted a conditional release to 25-year-old Dimitra Margeti, who has served eight years of a 17-year sentence for her part in the Satanic ritual slayings of two young women outside Athens. Margeti, whose two earlier appeals for early release were rejected on the grounds that the good behavior she had displayed in prison had been a pretense and not indicative of true remorse, was convicted in 1993. Margeti must register a permanent address, report to the nearest police station twice a month and stay in the country.