The roads of reform

Prime Minister Costas Simitis seized the opportunity of a visit to the eastern Aegean island of Rhodes yesterday, and the quiet news day after Orthodox Easter, to drive home the message that he will stick to his reform program. With opinion polls regularly showing the ruling PASOK party trailing the conservative opposition, New Democracy, by up to eight percentage points, and with the consequent rumbling within PASOK, Simitis had been expected to stress his faith in his reform policy. In a speech to the provincial party organization last night, he emphasized the need for change in the tax, social security, education and health systems, saying that the reforms were aimed at creating greater social justice. The next six months, Simitis said, would be crucial to the achievement of Greece’s major goals, including preparations for the 2004 Olympics, the EU presidency in the first half of 2003, and the issue of real convergence with other eurozone countries. «The tax situation in the country is changing, with a system that will bring about a sense of justice in society, and will benefit low- and middle-income groups and encourage the development of small- and medium-sized businesses,» Simitis said. Proposals to this effect would be presented soon, he added. Simitis said that reforms to the education system were proceeding at a rapid pace. The health system’s reforms, he said, had begun in 2000 and were due to be completed in 2006, with a new, decentralized administrative system, hospital managers and afternoon clinics to be introduced for all major hospitals. Regarding social security, Simitis said that the «pie» had to be shared equitably, thus ending current injustices and making State funds more central to the system. «We are moving toward a new and viable social security system, which guarantees the maintenance of the maximum pension age, subsidizes working mothers, raises lower pensions and helps future pensioners and keeps today’s mature retirement rights completely intact.» On Sunday, on a visit to a local military base, Simitis said that he had seen a newspaper report claiming that elections would be held in late 2002 (they are due by early 2004). «We must not dwell on secondary issues but must see the primary ones… No serious country can call elections at a time when it has to deal with such serious issues,» Simitis said.