NEWS

Dust settling in PASOK

The government will unveil much of the economic policy that it will implement next year, in a series of events that Prime Minister Costas Simitis and his closest aides hope will overturn the climate of defeatism that settled over PASOK when the government was forced to withdraw its proposals for social security reform in the face of overwhelming public discontent. Details of the 2002 state budget will be unveiled tomorrow after a Cabinet meeting. On Friday, at the opening of the annual Thessaloniki International Trade Fair, Simitis will present the keynote speech which, traditionally, sets out economic policy for the following year. Reports say that Simitis may announce a package of measures totaling up to 800 billion drachmas, or even as high as a trillion, up to 2004. This is an effort to regain public support that it lost over the social security reversal, though Simitis leaves no opportunity to say that he will not walk the populist path and endanger any of his government’s achievements. Nothing that we have achieved should be put at risk, he told PASOK’s Central Committee meeting in his closing remarks on Saturday. The 180-member party organ met to approve the platform for the congress that Simitis has called for early next month, six months ahead of schedule. Faced with continual criticism of his policies by dissenters following the social security debacle, Simitis had demanded the early congress saying he wanted to clear the air and settle differences with dissidents. The Central Committee meeting on Friday and Saturday showed that much of the road lost in the spring has been recovered, at least so far as the party itself is concerned. Simitis and his rivals made their positions clear without any raised voices. We are going to a congress of synthesis and unity, to a congress of victorious strategy, Simitis said. He repeated that he had won a clear mandate to govern in the April 2000 elections and stressed, Our rivals are outside this hall. They are the Right. A Right whose only ideology is its anxiety to be in power. But he also fired a barb at rivals, saying, Persistence with personal strategies should come second to the mandate we have from the party and from the Greek people. Defense Minister Akis Tsochadzopoulos, a pole for dissenters, made a low-key speech, again calling for a change of course without making clear what it should be. The Congress is not a field for conflict but for political dialogue, so that we can respond to new factors, he said. Foreign Minister George Papandreou, who has emerged as a favorite to succeed Simitis if and when he leaves the party leadership, called for direct elections for party leader. In an interview with To Vima yesterday, he stressed that he supported Simitis but would seek inside me the most responsible way to deal with such a crucial decision if and when the time came. -Delegation of bishops from the Holy Synod meets with Education and Religion Minister Petros Efthymiou, in their first meeting since the Church made public the number of signatures on its petition for a referendum on the identity card controversy.