NEWS

Government gets busy

The next few months may prove crucial for the government, believes Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis, who expects they will be critical in demonstrating its control of the political scene for the next few years. His colleagues say the premier was not surprised by the intensity or extent of problems that have arisen recently, whether in relation to the real potential of the economy, the public’s dissatisfaction with failures to deal with chronic problems or dissension within the government and ruling party, prompted by unavoidable but troublesome demands from unionists and party officials. On the last issue, Karamanlis has maintained a very cautious stance. Sources say he realizes that the government’s resistance to the demands of ND unionists favors his strategy of appealing to the middle ground and he is not perturbed by media fuss over the ongoing dissent. The ‘middle way’ Besides, all the public opinion polls show clearly that the strategy meets with widespread acceptance in Greek society. On the other hand, the premier does not ignore the fact that some of the dissenters are popular in certain sections of the party and that they and their supporters have contributed to electoral successes. For this reason, the prime minister has chosen the «middle way,» by distancing himself from the problem and yielding the carrot and stick to New Democracy General Secretary Vangelis Meimarakis to use in tough negotiations. Some sources say tension may abate with acceptance of proposals made by ministers and deputies to offer posts to party officials – in state-run organizations or as general secretaries at ministries – during upcoming structural changes implemented by the Maximos Mansion in its next stage of exercising power. Some indication of the mood on both sides will emerge early this week during Meimarakis’s meeting with Costas Poupakis, president of the ND-affiliated union DAKE. The premier is also said to view other sources of discord within the government with equanimity. For instance, he recognizes the right of Public Works Minister Giorgos Souflias – who has repeatedly made critical comments – to his own opinions. On the other hand, Karamanlis does not conceal his concern about the economy, which is largely to blame for other problems facing the government. Realistic approach Many party officials are expected to speak of the need for a realistic rather than a mild approach and for the premier to clearly and openly seek social consensus on new measures. The ND leader took the first step in this respect at the latest cabinet meeting, insisting that ministers cut back demands on state coffers and produce evidence within six months that they have trimmed expenses in their sectors. The second step in the process, sources say, will be to expedite a thorough round of privatizations, starting with the Emporiki Bank, soccer pool firm OPAP, the Public Power Corporation and state-run telecoms organization OTE, followed by the organizations managing the ports of Piraeus and Thessaloniki, state-owned land and infrastructure (such as airports and marinas). Public works The premier will lay special emphasis on post-Olympic Games projects. In a recent meeting with Souflias and Economy Minister Giorgos Alogoskoufis, he asked them to expedite work on drafting legislation for medium-sized and large self-funded projects so as to present the regulations for speeding up Third Community Support Framework projects by late February, or early March at the latest. Meanwhile, the Public Works Ministry is to speed up the auction of public works budgeted at around 2 billion euros. The premier and his economy team hope that getting projects and associated investments moving will stem the rising tide of unemployment, now at 12 percent.