NEWS

PM urges economic unity

Prime Minister George Papandreou yesterday called on all Greeks – citizens, labor unions and industrialists – to work together to tackle the enduring scourges of Greek society such as patron-client relations, corruption and tax evasion so that the country can curb its spiraling debt and breathe new life into the economy. Among the measures and goals listed by Papandreou toward the end of a long televised speech were a 10 percent cut in public spending and the reduction of the ballooning public deficit to below 3 percent of gross domestic product by 2013. He also pledged to target widespread tax evasion and graft in the public sector, as was expected, and said that public sector wages would increase in line with inflation, a development that might not go down too well in Brussels where some had been hoping for salary freezes or cuts. In an impassioned speech, Papandreou acknowledged that the country «risked sinking into debt» but promised to make good on his Socialist party’s election promises to protect poorer citizens and boost the welfare state. «We are not talking about half measures, but far-reaching reforms – but they must be fair and we will protect the middle-income households and the most vulnerable citizens,» he said. Referring to doubts that have been expressed by European Union officials and global financial markets about Greece’s ability to pull itself out of a deep fiscal hole, Papandreou said: «As a Greek, as a patriot, I want to prove them wrong. Let us show them that we can do it.» One of the key focuses of the «action plan» heralded by the premier is patron-client relations. «The state is being held hostage to a host of vested interests that hamper the fair management of state funding. We are ready to clash with these interests,» Papandreou said to loud applause. The premier is today due to sit down with opposition party leaders at a meeting to be chaired by President Karolos Papoulias for talks on methods aimed at tackling corruption in the public sector.