NEWS

Focus shifts to structural reforms

The government’s efforts to push through painful structural reforms are to come back under the microscope this week as a bi-ministerial committee convenes to discuss plans to open up so-called «closed» occupations and a delegation of officials from the International Monetary Fund arrives in Athens to offer guidance on curbing widespread tax evasion. The committee tackling the thorny issue of closed-shop professions – certain restricted occupations ranging from dispensation of medicines to notary services – is to focus on the area of transport first. Talks are planned with officials of unions representing truck drivers and taxi drivers. According to sources, the opening up of the taxi drivers’ trade will begin with a halt to the automatic renewal of licenses. The aim is to curb the number of taxis in circulation, particularly in Athens where some 30,000 cabs are in operation. As for trucks, there are plans to restrict the issuing of new licenses to a minimum with the state retaining the right to determine freight rates. European Commission officials have long been pressing Greece to open up a number of closed professions to foster competitiveness in line with the Bolkestein Directive, which aims to create by next year a single market for services within the EU, similar to the single market for goods that already exists. Another area where the debt-ridden government is under great pressure to act is in curbing tax evasion and, according to sources, government officials will this week start receiving advice on how to achieve this. A team of IMF officials is due in the capital over the next few days to assess the government’s strategy, sources have told Kathimerini. Prime Minister George Papandreou has insisted over the past few weeks that tax evasion and a crackdown on corruption rank high on the government’s to-do list of structural reforms. In an interview with Time magazine, excerpts of which were published on the magazine’s website, Papandreou reiterated calls for an end to cronyism and graft. «Already people are saying we do need a change. We do want to have a different state. We do want to fight corruption,» Papandreou was quoted as saying. «If we do what is necessary, we’ll come out of this stronger and much more viable.»