PM switches poll debate to social security reform

Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis pledged yesterday that if re-elected, New Democracy (ND) will resolve Greece’s growing social security problem without raising the retirement age or cutting pension payments. Unveiling his party’s plans to its central committee, Karamanlis said «the age limit for retirement will not be raised, nor will pensions be reduced.» He presented 11 measures on which the conservatives will base their reform of the rickety pension system. These include incentives for those wishing to remain in employment after reaching the retirement age, the gradual merging of pension funds and the increase of wages and pensions to converge with the European Union average. By announcing these measures, the premier sought to shift the election debate away from talk about the bond scandal and back onto ground where the ruling conservatives believe they have a clear advantage over PASOK. The government is said to be particularly upset with Giorgos Zorbas, the head of the committee formed to combat money laundering, because it feels that he has not done enough to stifle allegations that politicians benefited from the sale of a state bond to four pension funds. «Whenever there is anything shady, the matter is referred to justice and those involved are fired,» Karamanlis insisted. «There will be no compromises on morals and values.» The shift to a new topic for debate did not impress the Socialists, who accused Karamanlis of reiterating unfulfilled promises. «Mr Karamanlis spoke about the social security system exactly as he did in 2004, pledging exactly the same things, as if New Democracy never actually governed this country,» said PASOK spokesman Yiannis Ragoussis. The opposition party wants the bond issue to remain in the headlines, sources said, but will not itself highlight the matter because it fears that this may drive away many of the undecided voters. The government plans to step up its campaign by ensuring ample coverage of the public works it has undertaken over the last three-and-a-half years. The premier is due to visit worksites for the metro extension in Aegaleo and Peristeri, western Athens. On Sunday he will visit the new port at Igoumenitsa, northwestern Greece, as well as works on the Egnatia Highway.