Greece fighting ‘battle of survival’

THESSALONIKI – Prime Minister George Papandreou sought to demonstrate over the weekend his government’s commitment to pushing through tough reforms while also giving some hope to Greeks, who have seen their salaries and pensions cut, by ruling out any new austerity measures. Addressing an audience of entrepreneurs and politicians on Saturday at the Thessaloniki International Fair, the country’s most important annual business gathering, Papandreou declared that Greece had won a «tough, relentless battle» to avoid bankruptcy. He appealed to Greeks to «join a collective effort and show a collective conscience,» saying that their sacrifices so far had prevented a situation that the world once thought inevitable – default. Still, Papandreou warned, the specter of bankruptcy had not completely disappeared. «This is a battle of survival for Greece. In this battle, either we win or we all sink together,» he said. Unlike his predecessors, who have traditionally used the opening of the trade fair as an opportunity to secure votes, Papandreou was not in a position to offer handouts, despite looming local authority elections in November. His only concession was to companies struggling amid a deepening recession. Papandreou announced that planned reductions in corporate taxes to 20 percent from 24 percent – due to come into effect in 2014 – would be applied from next year. The aim of the initiative, he said, was «to support businesses that are trying to survive.» Addressing a press conference in Thessaloniki yesterday, Papandreou described changes implemented earlier this year – a radical revision of the tax system and bold pension reforms – as «a small revolution.» But he said that more reforms must be pushed through if the ailing economy is to be revived. These include the radical restructuring of the debt-mired Hellenic Railways Organization (OSE) and other state enterprises as well as the deregulation of the electricity market and the opening up of dozens of so-called closed professions – a move that could create thousands of jobs at a time that unemployment is hovering just under 12 percent. The premier pledged major reforms in the problematic state education sector, the failings of which have been linked to youth unemployment, which has hit 30 percent for those aged under 24. Papandreou also heralded a drive to facilitate the issuing of licenses for the construction of wind farms and solar parks so that would-be investors can harness Greece’s largely untapped potential in renewable energy sources and create more jobs. «We want to move from a parasitic Greece to a productive Greece,» he said.

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