ATHENS – Greek Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis opened his policy statement at the Parliament on Saturday by stating that he is “not asking for a grace period” and offered assurances that he is going to seek a “productive dialogue” with the political forces and society. The new prime minister thanked Greek voters for electing a new government and elaborated on the ruling New Democracy (ND) party’s election pledge for “policy change”.
“We are retaining everything positive that has been done and we are dashing forward with necessary improvements and adjustments”, he stated.
Party leaders were expected to debate until midnight Monday , were a vote of confidence is expected to take place, for the confirmation of the New Government.
The Greek Parliament on Friday elected the first woman Speaker in its history. Ruling New Democracy party deputy Anna Psarouda-Benaki was elected House Speaker after a secret vote in parliament. Of the 300 deputies who voted for the new speaker, 163 voted for Mrs Psarouda-Benaki, 136 cast blank ballots and one was invalid. In the single-chamber House, ND controls 165 seats, PASOK 117, the Communist Party 12 and Coalition six. The new 300-member parliament that emerged from March 7 general elections was sworn in Thursday. Mrs Benaki is a Law professor at the Athens University and a member of the Athens lawyers association since 1962.
THE POLICY STATEMENT
In referring to the “exceptionally crucial months” that follow, Karamanlis stressed “all Greeks are standing by the Cypriot Hellenism” toward the accession of a reunited Cyprus to the EU.
“We support, with all of our strength, the efforts of the (Cyprus) President, the political leadership and the Cypriot Hellenism toward a viable and sustainable solution on the basis of the (United Nations Secretary General Kofi) Annan plan, in compliance with the decisions of the UN and the aquis communitaire”, the prime minister said.
“The accession of a reunited Cyprus to the EU is our firm and unshakable objective, so that all the residents of the island (Greek-Cypriots and Turkish-Cypriots alike) may enjoy the fruits of a new European reality, in conditions of security and stability”, he added.
“The course of the Cyprus issue is based today on the agreement made in New York on February 13 at the initiative of the UN secretary-general, which was accepted by both sides and is, therefore, binding. The talks that began in Nicosia between the Greek-Cypriot and the Turkish-Cypriot sides based on that agreement, will continue in Switzerland next week”, he went on.
“At any event”, he stressed, “all Greeks are standing by the Cypriot Hellenism. We are close to them, we are with them”.
In continuation, the prime minister referred to the European enlargement, emphasising that the EU accession of Cyprus had been set into motion by an ND government in the past, however, recognising the contribution made by subsequent governments.
With regard to progress on Olympic preparations, Karamanlis affirmed that “there are still certain pending issues with construction projects, as well as with legal and financial arrangements”.
He stressed that he was true to election pledges given by the ND to retain at their posts not only the officials, but also the persons holding the position of general secretaries at ministries.
“We proved that we mean everything that we say and that we in-deed serve the national consesus”, he said. “We are taking all necessary measures for organising the Games in maximum security conditions and in spite of undoubted delays existing with the preparations, we can, with everyone’s contribution, hold completely successful Games”.
In his policy statement on government administration Karamanlis stressed that the ”New Democracy government will be for all Greeks”.
”We are not talking about a New Democracy government, we are talking about a Greek democracy government”, he told parliament.
He said the new government also sought a change in policy, emphasising once more that necessary improvements and adjustments would be made, while everything positive done in the past would be retained.
New policy – new prospect
The prime minister said that his government was moving forward with strategic focus on ”Greece of 2010” based on three policy axes: investing in culture and education, an overhaul of the public sector and the implementation of a new economic policy ”guaranteeing the acceleration of growth, as well as a fair distribution of the wealth to all citizens”.
Culture and Education
Karamanlis said that his decision to personally head the culture ministry signaled the significance placed by the government on the Olympic Games and the cultural reserves of Greece.
He pledged a gradual increase of public spending to 5 percent, the creation of the schools and universities of the future and a new legal frame that will do away with the plethora of ”bureaucratic webs” that ”frustrate and impede the course of creative minds.”
Overhall of the public sector
He pledged a smaller but better and more effective state, focusing on citizen service and functioning without ”partisan banners”, adding that transparency and overall monitoring, the combat of bureaucracy and the organisation of local governments were required to achieve that goal.
He announced the establishment of three public offices, i.e. the Health Service Ombudsman, the Municipality Ombudsman and an Independent Body for reviewing contracts, as well as an upgrade to the civil service exams system (ASEP).
Karamanlis referred to a ”truly welfare state”, and said his government’s key priorities would be to combat high prices and reduce unemployment. He also said the new government aimed at upgrading health services, restructuring the social insurance system, providing financial support to weak social groups, and also assist large families and working mothers.