|Sunday, 26 January 2020|
Athens News Agency: Daily News Bulletin in English, 16-03-11
From: The Athens News Agency at <http://www.ana.gr/>Friday, 11 March 2016 Issue No: 5130
 PM Tsipras meets with OECD sec general GurriaPrime Minister Alexis Tsipras received on Thursday OECD secretary general Angel Gurria.
"It is very important that throughout the year we had a very good cooperation" said Tsipras to Gurria noting that all those years of the recession it is important recovery to be recorded and to find a way this recovery to embrace all the dimensions and aspects. "First of all we must leave behind the crisis and secondly to try to take advantage of the new condition, the rise in the economy, the recovery and the growth".
Tsipras said that Gurria is in Athens at a very crucial moment and underlined "We have the economic crisis that tends to come to an end and in parallel we have the refugees crisis" he said and expressed the hope all these to end in the best possible way.
On his part Gurria called the time of his visit to Greece crucial adding that they at OECD are very happy that they can support the Greek government's reforms programme. He also stressed that a lot of work is needed and a series of issues are still pending in order this programme to be implemented, however, the government is dealing with the pending issues very effectively.
Gurria said that the participative social growth must be discussed at the next cabinet meeting and noted that the social growth must be at the center of the economic development while referring to the refugees crisis he said that it has financial and social dimensions.
This was the third meeting between the two officials since February 2015.
 PM Tsipras: Recovery with social justicePrime Minister Alexis Tsipras expressed his certainty that despite the difficulties "we will overcome this crucial moment" and this year will be a year of recovery for the Greek economy" in his statements after his meeting with OECD secretary general Angel Gurria on Thursday in Athens.
We are very close to the completion of the first review that will give the signal for the start of serious discussions for the debt relief and all these will bring positive chain reactions, he said.
Our main challenges are recovery with social justice and preservation of the fiscal balance and underlined that OECD shares the view that the Greek economy will return to growth in 2016.
The Greek government is currently facing a series of crises and challenges and in the meantime is held the final stage of the negotiation with the institutions for the completion of the first review. OECD's conclusions will support the government's arguments in the negotiation, he said adding that OECD's report for Greece constitutes a just and balanced review of the huge social cost of the polices implemented in the period 2010-2014 and of the imperative need for the planning of new tools and institutions in order the repercussions of these policies to become milder, the adjustment cost and the fruits of prosperity to be allocated more fairly and of the importance to fight interests that reproduce multiple forms of inequality.
The prime minister said that he agrees with OECD's recommendation on the debt's relief as well as that we must increase the minimum wage in Greece.
On his part, Gurria referring to the Greek government's plan for reforms, he said that they will have a positive impact and positive growth will be recorded next year. He also said that the progress in the implementation of the reforms will give the opportunity for deliberations with the partners on the Greek debt.
Gurria said that there must be a clear communication policy and the Greek citizens should be informed on the benefits of the reforms and warned that there will be strong reactions from interests that will feel affected by the reforms. However, the government must remain adamant, said Gurria because the reforms will lead to growth and improve the social welfare and will create a better investment environment.
 PM Tsipras has phone contact with Russian President PutinPrime Minister Alexis Tsipras on Thursday had a phone contact with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
They discussed the regional developments, the refugees issue as well as the economic and energy relations between the two countries with particular focus on the conflict in Syrian and the refugee crisis.
Moreover, they discussed the new opportunities created for the development of the relations as well as issue regarding the Greece-Russia year 2016.
 PM Tsipras meets Russian Dep. PM Prikhodko as part of Greece-Russia yearThe visit of Russia's Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Prikhodko to Athens is an important opportunity to inaugurate the Greece-Russia Year, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said on Thursday during a meeting between the two officials at Maximos Mansion.
Tsipras said Greece and Russia are bounded by traditional relations of friendship and cooperation, but most of all by the battles against fascism, as both peoples "didn't remain neutral, we fought for human dignity and human values."
He also said that the dedicatory year, a series of important events which have been planned will give an impetus to the relations between the two countries. He also said he spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin earlier.
On his side, Prikhodko said there will be an effort to strengthen bilateral relations on all levels, noting that Greek-Russian dialog is continuous and without disruptions.
"I know you had an intensive exchange of views with President Putin, I also convey the greetings of the Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev," he added.
 Greek PM, EC Vice-President Sefcovic discuss Greece's potential as energy hub in EuropeGreece will play a crucial role in the energy pathways of the future due to its geographical position and the government's foreign policy initiatives aim to ensure this, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said on Thursday as he received visiting European Commission Vice-President for Energy Union Maros Sefcovic in Athens.
The prime minister outlined Greece's foreign policy in this area and its attempt to use the country's comparative advantages, as in the case of the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline (TAP), whose Greek section would go into construction in May.
Sefcovic referred to Greece's huge potential as an energy hub for electricity, renewable energy sources and gas and said that Energy Union was a project that could help Greece realise this potential.
In a statement, the EU official said his meeting with the Greek premier had been very constructive and had largely focused on Greece's potential and prospects as an energy hub for Europe and a gateway for the supply of gas from the Caspian fields. Tsipras had also briefed him on plans for a Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) station in Alexandroupolis, he added and noted that this was in line with EU energy strategy since it increased competition in the market and led to lower prices for consumers in Greece and neighbouring countries.
Sefcovic expressed the Commission's support for a project linking the electricity grids of Israel, Cyprus and Crete, as well as for efforts to improve the links between islands and the power grid on the mainland, in order to reduce the cost of producing and distributed power.
In brief statements before the cameras ahead of meeting the prime minister, the Commissioner had also referred to the important new possibilities from the discovery of gas fields in Cyprus, Egypt and Israel.
During the meeting with Tsipras, they had discussed how Energy Union could help Greece and how cooperation could secure that Greece has clean and sustainable energy at better prices and with better services to consumers, Sefcovic said. He also referred to EU support to Greece on energy innovation, such as two projects on more efficient use of collected solar energy.
In an exclusive statement to the ANA-MPA, Sefcovic praised Greece's progress toward meeting 20-20 targets, especially in RES, energy efficiency and reducing carbon emissions. He said that he encouraged the Greek government to continue reforms in the energy sector and noted the EU's support for major projects, such as the TAP or IBG pipelines.
 PM Tsipras to participate in socialist and left parties meeting on Saturday in ParisGreek prime minister Alexis Tsipras will participate at a socialist and left parties meeting that will be held in Paris on Saturday at a French President Francois Hollande's initiative.
According to information, President Hollande seeks, at this first meeting, to form a convergence framework between socialist and left parties.
However, SYRIZA's position foresees a turn of the socialist and Social-Democratic parties programme to the left.
The meeting will focus on the political condition in Europe, the refugees issue as well as matters referring to the economy, growth and investments.
On Friday, Tsipras will participate in a meeting organised by the European Left party in Paris.
 Mouzalas: Greece asked EU to activate relocation, readmission of refugeesBRUSSELS (ANA-MPA/M. Aroni)
European Union interior ministers discussed the implementa-tion of the EU-Turkey action plan during their meeting in Brussels on Thursday, Alternate Minister for Migration Policy Yiannis Mouzalas after the meeting.
The minister said his EU counterparts also finally discussed after a long time the issue of relocation and readmission of refugees and migrants to Turkey, with many member-states - except those of Eastern Europe - stating they will participate and promising to increase the number of people they accept. Member-states also pledged to cover the needs of Frontex and EASO in staff.
Mouzalas said Greece noted the need to activate relocation and reminded his peers it is obligatory and he also suggested practical solutions on how Turkey can help in this. On the issue of readmissions, the minister said Greece asked the EU for help to speed it up, without stripping refugees of their rights.
As to the issue of Turkey's designation as a "safe third country" Mouzalas expressed the opinion that insofar as Turkey hosts 2.5 million refugees and the EU and UNHCR intervene to check the living conditions in the camps, then the neighboring country is indeed a safe third country.
 German Chancellor Merkel, PM Tsipras react to EU President Tusk's twitters on Western Balkan route shutdownsGerman Chancellor Angela Merkel criticised the shutdown of borders along the Western Balkan route yesterday, in a campaign speech in the Rhineland-Palatinate state where she took a differing stance from that of European Council President Donald Tusk, who had earlier welcomed the shutdowns in his tweeter statements.
Earlier in the day, Tusk had sent two messages through Twitter, "I thank Western Balkan countries for implementing part of EU's comprehensive strategy to deal with migration crisis," and "Irregular flows of migrants along Western Balkans route have come to an end. Not a question of unilateral actions but common EU28 decision."
In comments reproduced by the e-edition of Der Tagesspiegel newspaper, Merkel commented that the measures Balkan countries take will not be viable without support by a larger plan to the migrant crisis coming from the European Union.
Closing the borders "is not a solution to the overall issue," she said, adding that fewer migrants may be requesting asylum in Germany but this meant the proliferation of refugees trapped in Greece. "The 27 countries cannot rest on their laurels and let a country deal with the problem by itself," she said, referring to the EU block and Greece, respectively, adding that the solution required a balanced European plan.
In statements published on the internet page of central Germany's radio (MDR info), Merkel stated that a solution should be helpful to all 28 EU member-states, while the redistribution of refugees among EU countries is not a decision of the Turkish government, but must involve the United Nations High Commission for Refugees.
Responding to Tusk's tweets, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said that "the Balkan route shut down because of unilateral acts by countries of the Western Balkans," and underlined that "we expect Tusk, as president of EU28, to focus his efforts on the implementation of joint decisions, rather than encouraging those who scorn them."
 EU Commissioner Avramopoulos: We must open a safe and legal window to refugeesBRUSSELS (ANA-MPA/M. Aroni)
We must discuss what we can do together to face the humanitarian crisis in Greece since there is danger to turn into a humanitarian disaster, stated European Commissioner For Migration Dimitris Avramopoulos upon his arrival to the EU Interior Ministers Summit held on Thursday in Brussels
Avramopoulos noted that the work must continue in order a higher number of relocations to be reached.
He also underlined that if we really want to stop the illegal migration from the back door, we must open a 'safe and legal window" to the migrants otherwise the ruthless traffickers will try to find new routes.
 Unfortunate and not helpful the unilateral closure of borders in Balkans, said Peter Altmaier"We have worked very closely and constructively with Austria on the (refugees) crisis. However, we consider the decision for the unilateral closure of the borders as most unfortunate and not helpful. In the long run this will lead us again to the point that the countries of the EU will be summoned to resolve the situation (caused by the refugees problem) in Greece", told the head of the German Chancelorship for the refugees Peter Altmaier in an interview with the German newspaper Die Welt on Thursday.
Altmaier reacted by making these remarks to the reporter's question if the regulatory role Austria aspires to take over in Balkans disrupts in any way the effectiveness of the German propositions about the solution of the refugees problem.
Asked if Germany and its Chancelor Angela Merkel are isolated because of these initiatives, Altmaier answered: "This phrase is a clich? and it was equally wrong both in the case of Greece and the case of Ukrania. In the end, we could always managed to achieve a European consensus thanks to the substantial contribution of Germany. Also now is even more proven that our approach is correct and is backed by many more other countries".
 EC's Tusk thanks countries in western Balkans for ending migration flows in the regionThe President of the European Council Donald Tusk thanked on Wednesday the countries in the Western Balkans for implementing the EU's strategy on migration, saying their actions halted irregular migrant flows in the region.
In two tweets in his official account, Tusk said closing their borders are not unilateral actions, but a joint decision of the EU's 28 member-states.
"Irregular flows of migrants along Western Balkans route have come to an end. Not a question of unilateral actions but common EU28 decision," he tweeted. "I thank Western Balkan countries for implementing part of EU's comprehensive strategy to deal with migration crisis," he added.
 NATO's Stoltenberg presents operation plan for the AegeanBRUSSELS (ANA-MPA/M. Spinthourakis)
NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg presented the three parts of the organization's operation in the Aegean on Thursday, during a press conference in Brussels ahead of his meeting with European Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker.
The first part is the enlargement of the Alliance's activity areas in Greek and in Turkish territorial waters, in cooperation with Frontex, he said, highlighting the crucial role of Lesvos.
The second part concerns strengthening NATO's cooperation with Frontex through the exchange of information and personnel and the third is the participation of five NATO ships and helicopters.
Asked on whether rescued refugees will be returned to Turkey, Stoltenberg said that the country has agreed to that, but noted that NATO will also take into account the rules that apply to the country from which the ship comes from.
 NATO MARCOM Commander Vice Admiral Clive Johnstone on lightning visit to AthensThe Commander of the NATO Allied Maritime Command Vice Admiral Clive Johnstoned on Thursday carried out a lightning visit to Athens, coinciding with the refuelling at sea by the Standing NATO Maritime Group Two flagship "FGS-Bonn" of the Greek frigate "Salamis" and the Turkish frigate "Barbaross" in the Aegean. Also in the area was the British ship "RFA Mounts Bay" that joined the SNMG2 force on Wednesday.
During his visit to Greece, Vice Admiral Johnstone was flown by helicopter on board the "FGS-Bonn" in order to be briefed on the course of the NATO mission, determine whether there are any further demands regarding the number of ships needed for the mission and give any orders necessary.
He then returned by helicopter to Athens and from there to MARCOM headquarters in Northwood, UK.
MARCOM announced that the German flagship patrolled waters between the island of Lesvos and Turkish territorial waters on Wednesday, relaying information to the coast guards of the two countries and to Frontex in order to assist their work. In order to further assist the prompt provision of information, one Greek and one Turkish liaison officer were also on board.
 US Assistant Secretary of State Nuland visits refugee center at DiavataUS Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland visited on Thursday the temporary accommodation center at Diavata, following a visit to the refugee camp at Idomeni.
The US official didn't make any statements to the press, but according to sources, she showed a particular interest in the situation in Idomeni and for the need of the center at Diavata. She also asked which bodies provide assistance and support to the centre, while she also spoke with young children and adult refugees and migrants who speak English.
Nuland, who was accompanied by Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration, Nancy Izzo Jackson, met with the temporary head of the Diavata center, Sakis Papathemelis, the representative of the Foreign Ministry Kostas Kousaxidis and the mayor of Thessaloniki Yiannis Boutaris.
The center was also visited by representatives of the Council of Europe and the Red Cross.
 Refugees will leave Idomeni voluntarily within 1-2 weeksThe majority of the refugees currently staying at the makeshift camp of Idomeni will evacuate voluntarily the area in the next one to two weeks and move into one of the organized accommodation centers, the spokesman of the Coordination Body on the Refugees Crisis, Giorgos Kyritsis, told news website "News247" on Thursday.
He said the people will not be removed by the police but added it "will take time to inform them because they're exhausted and they hear conflicting information."
"We believe in one or two weeks Idomeni will have emptied. It also has to do with the kind of agreement that the EU will sign with Turkey," he added.
"We will not round up the refugees. Apart from the fact that we don't want a police operation, we don't have this option. It's 12,000 people - half are women and children - in the mud. How would you round them up?" he said and added that authorities instead encourage them to board the buses that will take them to better living conditions.
 41,973 refugees currently in Greece; 12,000 at Idomeni campApproximately 41,973 refugees are currently in Greece, according to the Refugees Crisis Management Coordination body figures released on Thursday.
9,428 of then are on the islands of Lesvos, Samos, Chios, Kastellorizo, Kos, Leros and Kalymnos. 9,623 are hosted in the region of Attica.
Moreover, 260 are in a hotel in the region of Fthiotida, 1,958 at Diavata camp, 3,674 at the hosting center at Herso, Kilkis region, 3,273 at Nea Kavala in Kilkis, 800 at Nea Karvali, 200 in Eleftheroupolis, 420 in the city of Kozani and 337 in the city of Drama.
The refugees at Idomeni camp (Greek-Fyrom buffer zone) are approximately 12,000 refugees.
The new arrivals in the last 24 hours reached 2,373.
 At least 3,280 refugees hosted at the port of Piraeus; another 750 arrive this morning on two ferriesAt least 3,280 refugees are currently hosted inside the premises of the port of Piraeus, at the four spaces provided by the Port Authority of Pireus, after a counting of the portuary services
At 06:15, the ferry "Blue Star1" with more 455 refugees and migrants from Chios and Mytilene islands of the Norther Aegean Sea docked at the port. Later is expected to arrive the ferry "Diagoras" carrying another 307 refugees and migrants from Rhodes, Kos and Leros.
In the afternoon will also dock at Piraeus the ferry "Nissos Mykonos", carrying a still unidentified number of refugees and migrants from Kavala, Chios, Mytilene and Samos.
Volunteers and members of NGOs are already on the spot to assist the new comers and distribute food and other utilities to the people already hosted in the four passengers stations of the port.
 Greece returns 81 economic migrants to TurkeyEighty-one economic migrants were readmitted to Turkey on Thursday through the Kipi border crossing in northeastern Greece, as part of the protocol signed between the two countries.
Turkey accepted 13 Moroccans, 7 Algerians and 61 Pakistanis, while another 9 people (5 Algerians, 2 Moroccans and 2 Tunisians) were turned away by Turkish authorities because their declared personal details or nationalities were incorrect.
In the first two days of March, Turkey readmitted another 267 migrants.
 FinMin ends meeting with institutions on taxationA meeting between Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos, Alternate Finance Minister Giorgos Chouliarakis with the heads of the quartet of institutions ended on Thursday evening, with the two sides discussing the changes in the system of taxation.
According to a senior ministry official, the institutions presented their own proposals on taxation and a new meeting has been scheduled for Saturday.
Currently, the mission chiefs are meeting with Rural Development and Food Minister Vangelis Apostolou to discuss a national plan for the development of the agricultural economy.
On Friday, at 11.00 (local) the government will meet again with the mission chiefs to negotiate on issues concerning the financial sector and the completion of the institutional framework on non-performing loans. Two more meetings will follow at 14.30 and at 18.00 on competitiveness and closed professions and on the setting up of the new public revenues body respectively.
 Labour minister says institutions didn't ask for pension cuts, road map discussedThe institutions have not requested a cut in main pensions but that they're interested in the balance between benefits and contributions in social security, Labour Minister George Katrougalos said on Wednesday after a long meeting with the heads of the country's lenders who started their second round of talks to conclude Greece's first program review.
Katrougalos said the government is instead interested in the redistributive element of social security and that it is seeking a balance. He also said that it's not possible to achieve an agreement on pension reforms soon and that "it will take a decision by the Eurogroup", noting that he doesn't know if there will be an extra meeting of Eurozone finance ministers.
He said the two sides presented a road map for the negotiations on social security which is made up of four parts: The architecture of the system (national pension and replacement rates), measures for farmers and the self-employed and the government's new proposals which were submitted to the institutions, the recalculation of 2018 pensions and the way to implement personal disputes, and supplementary pensions.
The minister said his aim is to examine initially the first three issues and to leave supplementary pensions last.
 Gov't proposals on pension reform a 'monstrosity', Mitsotakis tells ND forumMain opposition New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis on Thursday invited productive bodies and society to participate in drawing up ND's programme, while attacking the government's proposals for reforming the pension system as a "monstrosity". He was speaking during an opening address to the Constantine Karamanlis Institute of Democracy forum on social insurance.
"ND listens to the views of the citizens. It is changing its mode of operation. It is uniting Greeks without looking at where they belonged politically yesterday or what their social, ideological identity and reference is. We are creating a grand majority social and political alliance for the just reforms our country needs," he said. Mitsotakis also hailed the participation of capable people with valuable experience from adjacent political areas of the progressive centre and broader centre-left in the dialogue opened by ND on this issue.
Regarding the pension system, he said ND was pointing the way toward a fair, efficient and sustainable pension system and had demonstrated in Parliament that it mounted an opposition based on positions, views and an alternative proposal.
ND's leader went on to attack the government's handling of the refugee crisis, saying it had put Greece at the tail end of Europe on an issue where it should have first say. The government had reached the point where it was learning about the closing of the Balkan route from Twitter, he added.
"Had Mr. Tsipras understood what he co-signed in Brussels? With every day that passes, the government's credibility and the so-called humanity of Mr. Tsipras is sinking into the mud of Idomeni," he said.
 Greek economy to grow by 1.9 pct in 2017, OECD reportThe Greek economy will grow by 1.9 pct in 2017 after contracting by 0.1 pct this year, the OECD said in its survey of the Greek economy. It also projected that the unemployment rate will fall from 25 pct last year to 24.7 pct this year and 23.8 pct in 2017. The inflation rate (harmonized consumer price index) is expected to return to positive ground this year and in 2017 (0.5 pct each year) from -1.1 pct in 2015. The country's public debt is projected to fall from 191.6 pct of GDP this year to 187.1 pct in 2017 from 190.2 pct of GDP in 2015.
Our survey acknowledged that "the tide is turning for Greece", Angel Gurria said in a written statement, adding that: "In reality, the Greek economy shows significant signs of resilience, as a 2015 recession was smaller than anticipated. The real GDP contracted by 0.3 pct with the help of another record season for tourism, with tourists arriving in Greece reaching 24 million, among them me and my wife. Second, despite the fact that we expect a zero growth rate in 2016 (-0.1 pct), a carry-over from last year, growth is expected to gain dynamism in 2017 with a growth rate of around 2.0 pct. Third, the labor market shows signs of gradual improvement, with unemployment rates falling from 2013 highs. Greece still has the highest unemployment rate in the EU (24.6 pct), but it is now lower from May 2012. Four, a successful recapitalization of banks, a gradual lifting of capital controls and reforms to deal with a high rate of non-performing loans, have also helped to stabilize the banking system and will strengthen the restoring of confidence and credit".
"Competion of the first review of the ESM programme will further enhance confidence, ignite investments and exports that will support economic recovery," Gurria said, adding that Greece must get significant help to address the challenge of refugee crisis which posed big problems to the Greek economy and its recovery.
 Greece needs to recover growth to address economic and social challenges, OECD surveyBoosting economic growth and investment to create jobs, improving the stability of public finances and providing an effective social safety net are crucial to help Greece recover from the profound social costs of the economic crisis, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in its latest report.
The Paris-based organization in its economic survey of Greece said that poverty has risen since the crisis to reach one third of the population. Tackling poverty and inequality must be urgent policy priorities, it added.
The survey sees the recovery strengthening in 2017 as ongoing reforms and external demand benefit investment and jobs. It stresses that successful negotiations to address public debt sustainability are critical to improve the outlook. However, major risks remain. Not only could the credit crunch continue to undermine domestic demand but weak activity could be compounded by a slowdown in global trade and softer growth in the rest of the Euro area, the destination of a third of Greek exports. The survey added that the refugee crisis could pose major problems for the Greek economy, particularly if the EU contribution turns out to be insufficient. Preliminary estimates put the cost of the influx of refugees at around 0.4% of GDP in 2015.
Presenting the survey in Athens, OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurr?a said: "Greece has gone through a painful adjustment and it's still facing a challenging economic and social outlook. Thus the country needs to recover growth to address such challenges. Reforms are starting to bear fruit, it is now essential to improve implementation, increase Greek "ownership" and focus efforts on both social well being and competitiveness. The OECD will continue to stand by the Greek Government, providing expertise and support to help Greece promote more inclusive and sustainable growth."
A targeted guaranteed minimum income scheme for poor households is due to be fully implemented in 2017 but the survey says further action is needed to tackle increasing rates of child poverty. Among its recommendations, the OECD said a subsidised school meals programme should be introduced in poor regions. Establishing a social housing programme should be a medium-term goal, but in the meantime, well-targeted assistance is needed to tackle homelessness and the high cost of accommodation.
Financing such social programmes would represent around 1.5% of GDP. Resources will need to be reallocated from savings generated elsewhere, such as from pensions, defence or improvements in tax collection, according to the survey. The pension reform should focus on better aligning contributions and benefits, reducing special regimes and alleviating the burden on the most vulnerable.
More investment, for instance in infrastructure and logistics, would support exports which are essential to a sustained recovery. Liberalising further the network industries would also give the quality and quantity of investments a boost. EU structural funds should be used more effectively to increase investment in education, research, and innovation, as well as in information and communication technology to help improve skills.
The report said the adjustment process has so far depended too heavily on fiscal measures and labour markets while not enough progress has been made on product market reforms. Product market reforms, introduced since the crisis, have advanced only slowly, and have been undermined by weak implementation and largely left monopoly power in place. Enhancing administrative capacity, stronger ownership of the policy changes and clear communication about the expected benefits to the general public, would improve the effectiveness of the new reform programme.
Tax evasion remains widespread in Greece, thus reducing revenues needed to support social policies. The OECD calls for a broadening of the tax base while the tax administration should be strengthened and given more autonomy, allowing it to free up resources for audits and improved enforcement.
Weak economic growth and bank recapitalisation needs have pushed up Greece's already high public debt. Reaching an agreement with creditors on significantly extending maturities and repayment grace periods could assure low and stable gross finance needs over the long-term and reduce uncertainty, the survey said.
 Supporting the recovery of Greece - Exclusive article by EBRD President Sir Suma ChakrabartiThe European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) stands ready to support Greek businesses using both with its own funds and financing from third parties, while working with the authorities on policy reform, EBRD President Sir Suma Chakrabarti said in an exclusive article submitted to the ANA-MPA on Thursday. Noting that the country faces huge challenges, he also pointed to what he called many promising signs.
"Greece has many good and solid companies. The entrepreneurial spirit has not been crushed by long years of recession and is ready to bounce back. The appetite and need for investment are huge.
The EBRD stands ready to support this with our own money, by attracting third-party finance and by working on policy reform with the authorities with whom we are also mapping out our strategy for Greece for the coming years," he said.
Chakrabarti, who was in Athens a few days ago for the launch of the EBRD's operations in Greece, said he was leaving Greece with "strong impressions" and that if reforms stay on track, the bank expects to "move full steam ahead" and bring many more projects to fruition.
The full exclusive article to the ANA-MPA is given below:
Supporting the recovery of Greece
By Sir Suma Chakrabarti, President of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development EBRD
A few days ago I had the opportunity to visit Athens for the first time since Greece became a country where the EBRD invests.
Last year's decision to invest in Greece until end-2020 came at the request of the Greek authorities and with the consent of our shareholders to support the recovery of the country's economy from a deep and protracted crisis.
My brief stay in Athens allowed me to meet government, business and banking sector representatives and to open an office which will serve as a base for our activities across the country.
I left Greece with strong impressions. It is obvious that the country is facing enormous challenges. Our economists do not expect a return to growth before next year and the highly volatile global economic and political environment is not helping.
Greece has embarked on bold and painful reforms. Important steps have been taken, but there is still more to do - both to meet international obligations and also to create the conditions for a sound and sustainable recovery.
At the same time I witnessed many promising signs. Greece has many good and solid companies. The entrepreneurial spirit has not been crushed by long years of recession and is ready to bounce back. The appetite and need for investment are huge.
The EBRD stands ready to support this with our own money, by attracting third-party finance and by working on policy reform with the authorities with whom we are also mapping out our strategy for Greece for the coming years.
A key element in this strategy will be the stabilisation of the banking sector. This is critical so that Greek companies, many of which are small and privately-owned, regain access to finance.
Another one is turning Greece's geographic location into an advantage. At the moment the country is under enormous strain from the crisis in the Middle East. But it also has the potential to become a hub on land and sea for transport and energy between Europa and Asia.
Improved regional links will also help the integration of Greek companies into the global economy. Anyone who has ever visited Greece has enjoyed the quality of local products. Yet exports remain well below potential. I am very pleased that we were able to make a first contribution to support the Greek export industry by signing a trade finance facility with a leading local bank during my visit.
This was just the latest example of EBRD activities in the country. We had already taken part in the recapitalisation of the four systemic Greek banks, participated in a bond purchase and invested in fund that promotes small and medium-sized enterprises.
If reforms stay on track, we now expect to move full steam ahead and bring many more projects to fruition.
We are continuing to develop a strong pipeline in the corporate sector. We are in advanced talks with several agribusiness companies, a local sector in which we see a lot of potential. At the same time we are building up projects in tourism, pharmaceuticals, ITC and logistics.
We will support privatisations and also seek to work with municipalities across the country to help improve the quality of their services.
These are just a few examples that do not simply illustrate the EBRD's plans for Greece but which also highlight the enormous potential we see in Greece. For too many years now this has been overshadowed by the crisis. It is now time to turn a page and start looking ahead. The EBRD stands ready to make its contribution.
 BoG, EBRD examine secondary loan market planThe Bank of Greece in cooperation with European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) are examining ways to develop a secondary loan market and ways to restructure small- and medium-sized enterprises' loans.
Th. Mitrakos, vice-governor of the Bank of Greece, addressing a seminar in Athens on Thursday, underlined that SMEs are the backbone of the Greek economy. A banks' turn to long-term solutions, combined with a restructuring of viable enterprises with changes in the structure, business planning and - if necessary - their management, will contribute to the stabilisation of the economy and its transition to a new export-orientated productive model. Banks should also examine taking joint action towards large business non-performing loans, a necessary precondition to offer viable solutions in a reasonable time period. Hellenic Financial Stability Fund is already working on drafting a study on the issue.
Referring to initiatives undertaken by the Bank of Greece towards resolving the problem of NPLs, Mitrakos said that the bank issued an act envisaging the framework for the set up and operation of companies focusing on management or purchase of loans from credit institutions.
He said that the central bank, in cooperation with the European Central Bank and commercial banks, was working towards setting new business goals for the management of NPLs.
 Energy conference on March 22 to discuss 'Unlocking Greece's economic potential'The latest developments in the energy market and proposals that will help the Greek economy grow will the focus of a one-day conference titled "Energy Market: Unlocking Greece's Economic Potential", which will be held on March 22 in Athens.
The 50 Greek and foreign speakers include Minister of Environment and Energy, Panos Skourletis, TAP Managing Director, Ian Bradshaw, Fluxys CEO and Chairman, Pascal De Buck, Socar Energy Greece CEO, Anar Mammadov, ENI Gas & Power, General Manager, EPA Thessaloniki S.A. & EPA Thessalia S.A., Federico Regola, Energean Oil & Gas CEO and Chairman, Mathios Rigas, Hellenic Gas Transmission System Operator (DESFA) CEO, Konstantinos Xifaras, ADMIE CEO,Ioanis Blanas and more.
The event is organized by the Technical Chamber of Greece, along with think tank Hellenic Association for Energy Economics (www.HAEE.gr), a subdivision of International Association for Energy Economics (www.IAEE.org). During the event, speakers will present successful business practices and submit proposals for the necessary policies and actions that will enhance the energy market and contribute to the development of the Greek economy. There will also be a detailed presentation of the prerequisite energy infrastructure investments, while representatives of Greek and foreign banks, such as the European Investment Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), will present financial tools and possibilities to finance investments.
 Greek unemployment rate fell to 24 pct in DecGreek unemployment rate fell to 24 pct of the workforce in December 2015, from 25.9 pct in December 2014, down from a revised figure of 24.4 pct in November 2015, Hellenic Statistical Authority said on Thursday.
The statistics service, in a report, said that the number of unemployed people totaled 1,149,716 in December, down 86,854 compared with December 2014 (a decline of 7.0 pct) and down 19,365 or 1.7 pct compared with November 2015. The number of employed people was 3,649,367, up 113,285 compared with December 2014 (up 3.2 pct) and up 18,727 compared with November 2015 (up 0.5 pct).
The unemployment rate among women was 28.3 pct in December 2015, from 29.6 pct in December 2014 while unemployment among men fell to 20.5 pct from 23 pct over the same period, respectively.
The unemployment rate in the 15-24 age group fell to 48.9 pct in December from 51.2 pct in December 2014, in the 25-34 age group it fell to 30.1 pct from 33.8 pct, in the 35-44 age group it eased to 20.4 pct from 22.8 pct, in the 45-54 age group it fell to 19.7 pct from 20.7 pct, in the 55-64 age group it rose to 18.1 pct from 16.7 pct and in the 65-74 age group it fell to 9.7 pct from 12.2 pct.
Thessaly-Central Greece (28.7 pct in December 2015 from 26.2 pct in December 2014) recorded the highest unemployment rate among the country's regions, followed by Epirus-Western Macedonia (28.3 pct, 26.5 pct), Crete (24.8 pct, 24.1 pct), Peloponese-Western Greece-Ionian Islands (23.9 pct, 26 pct), Macedonia-Thrace (23.8 pct, 26.8 pct), Attica (23.3 pct, 27 pct) and Aegean (15.3 pct, 16.3 pct).
 Greek inflation rate at -0.5 pct in FebThe Greek economy remained in a deflation trend for the 36th successive month in February, with the annual inflation rate falling by 0.5 pct, Hellenic Statistical Authority said on Thursday.
The statistics service, in a report, said that monthly price increases were recorded in fresh fruit (2.0 pct), alcohol (0.8 pct), pharmaceuticals (5.5 pct) and air fares (13.6 pct), while on the other hand, price declines were recorded in bread/cereals (0.5 pct), lamb (4.3 pct), poultry (1.6 pct), dairy/eggs (0.6 pct), fresh vegetables (1.2 pct), heating oil (2.5 pct), petrol (3.0 pct), combined passenger transport (3.8 pct) and hairdressers (0.9 pct).
On an annual basis, prices increases were recorded in bread/cereals (2.1 pct), veal (2 pct), fish (1.5 pct), sugar/choco-lates (5.3 pct), potatoes (13.9 pct), dried fruit and nuts (8.0 pct), food (7.3 pct), coffee (8.9 pct), clothing/footwear (3.9 pct), cigarettes (1.7 pct), solid fuel (4.9 pct), textiles (8.8 pct), pharmaceuticals (6.8 pct), hospitals (6.3 pct), air fares (12.8 pct) and road transport (7.0 pct). On the other hand, price declines were recorded in lamb (3.2 pct), poultry (1.8 pct), yoghurt (2.5 pct), fresh fruit (5.6 pct), fresh vegetables (16.7 pct), house rent (4.0 pct), electricity rates (0.9 pct), heating oil (24.2 pct), natural gas (19.2 pct), petrol (9.2 pct), car prices (4.0 pct), car insurance (10 pct), newspaper/books (1.0 pct).
The inflation rate fell 0.5 pct in February compared with the same month last year, after a 2.2 pct decline recorded in the 2015-2014 period.
The statistics service, attributed this development to prices declines in housing (4.7 pct), transport (4.0 pct), entertainment (1.7 pct), education (1.3 pct), other goods and services (3.0 pct) and to price increases in food/beverage (0.5 pct), alcohol/tobacco (1.6 pct), clothing/footwear (3.9 pct), durable goods (2.1 pct), health (3.7 pct), hotel/restaurants (2.6 pct).
The consumer price index fell 0.4 pct in February from January 2016, after a 0.6 pct decline recorded in the same period last year.
Greece's harmonized inflation rate rose 0.1 pct in February, on an annual basis, and was unchanged on a monthly basis from January.
 Greek insurance brokers see growth prospects in health and life insuranceGreek insurance brokers see growth prospects in the categories of health and life insurance business, stressing that businesses arising from health insurance was the most profitable activity for a big part of the insurance brokerage market.
A survey conducted by KPMG showed that 39 pct of insurance brokers said that the health sector was the most profitable, followed by the car insurance (11 pct) and the general insurance (11 pct). Insurance brokers supported the initiatives taken by the Association of Insurance Brokers to promote private insurance in the country.
 Titan Group reports higher 2015 resultsTitan Group on Thursday reported a 20.7 pct increase in its consolidated turnover in 2015 to 1.398 billion euros. Sales grew significantly helped by a dynamic increase in the US market. EBITDA grew 19.2 pct to 216.4 million euros last year and net after minorities and tax provision earnings totaled 33.8 million euros, up 9.1 pct from 2014.
Turnover grew 25.8 pct in the fourth quarter to 368.3 million euros, EBITDA jumped 46.7 pct to 51.2 million euros and net after minorities and tax provision results showed a loss of 2.4 million euros in 2015, from earnings of 400,000 euros in the same period 2014.
Parent turnover grew 3.5 pct pct to 273.2 million euros in 2015, operating earnins jumped to 43.8 million from 30.6 million in 2014 and net after tax earnings fell to 60.1 million euros from 91.7 million in 2014.
The board will seek shareholders' approval to a plan to pay a 0.30 euros per share dividend to shareholders.
 Greek stocks end 2.09 pct higherGreek stocks ended significantly higher in the Athens Stock Exchange on Thursday, following a positive trend which prevailed early in the day in other European markets after the European Central Bank announced a surprisingly bigger-than-expected cocktail of monetary actions to boost economic growth.
Bank shares were at the focus of buying activity. The composite index rose 2.09 pct to end at 564.12 points, off the day's highs of 566.32 points. The Large Cap index jumped 3.13 pct and the Mid Cap index rose 0.60 pct. Turnover was an improved 80.27 million euros in volume of 171,031,076.
Athens Water (4.99 pct) and Hellenic Petroleum (3.40 pct) scored the biggest percentage gains of the day among blue chip stocks, while Titan (1.06 pct), OPAP (0.63 pct) and Jumbo (0.36 pct) suffered heavy losses.
Piraeus Bank and National Bank were the most heavily traded securities of the day. Among market sectors, Banks (8.87 pct), Financial Services (2.69 pct) and Oil (1.93 pct) scored big gains, while Health (3.22 pct) and Travel (0.66 pct) suffered losses. Broadly, advancers led decliners by 57 to 37 with another 20 issues unchanged. Epilektos (27.19 pct), Yalco (20 pct) and G.E.Demetriou (14.29 pct) were top gainers, while Sato (16.33 pct), AEGEK (15.38 pct) and Mathios (9.89 pct) were top losers.
 Greek bond market closing reportThe yield spread between the 10-year Greek and German benchmark bonds shrank further to 9.14 pct in the domestic electronic secondary bond market on Thursday, from 9.23 pct the previous day. The Greek bond yielded 9.37 pct and the German Bund yielded 0.23 pct. Turnover was a thin 4.0 million euros.
In interbank markets, interest rates moved lower. The 12-month rate eased to -0.025 pct from -0.024 pct, the nine-month rate fell to -0.080 pct from -0.079 pct, the six-month rate eased to -0.138 pct from -0.136 pct, the three-month rate fell to -0.216 pct from -0.215 pct and the one-month rate was -0.287 pct.
 ADEX closing reportThe March contract on the FTSE/ASE Large Cap index was trading at a discount of 0.57 pct in the Athens Derivatives Exchange on Thursday. Volume on the Big Cap index totaled 5,124 contracts with 13,809 open positions in the market.
Volume in futures contracts on equities totaled 93,339 contracts with investment interest focusing on National Bank's contracts (35,581), followed by Alpha Bank (12,547), Piraeus Bank (27,837), Eurobank (20,068), MIG (1,274), OTE (2,123), PPC (1,095), OPAP (1,014), Hellenic Exchanges (186), Viohalco (217), Mytilineos (814), Hellenic Petroleum (391), Motor Oil (191), Metka (142), GEK (203), Ellaktor (433) and Korinth Pipes (215).
 Chinese artist Ai Weiwei at Idomeni; ' This is like a second war,' elderly Syrian woman tells ANA-MPADissident Chinese artist Ai Weiwei was at the side of the refugees in Greece once again on Thursday, this time at the tiny village of Idomeni on Greece's northern border with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) and its increasingly problematic refugee camp. After four days of rain and hermetically sealed borders, the camp had become a nightmarish expanse of churning mud, with thousands milling about in endless lines for a little food, water and other necessities.
"This is like a second war," said Hala, an elderly Syrian woman, as she leaned on her husband's arm in a long line for food. "We have to fight for a plate of food, battle for a tent to lay down our heads. I have many years on my back and all this is very difficult for me. I fled my country and now I am stuck here, in the mud, the cold, the dead end," she told the ANA-MPA. One of the many hoping to reach Germany, Hala said she has a son there who is waiting for her. One of the "lucky" ones that managed to pass through the border about a year ago.
Meanwhile, the news from Europe is not good and the iron-barred gate into the FYROM no-man's land remains stubbornly closed to now 12,000 refugees stacked inside the Idomeni camp, originally designed for no more than 2,500.
In the village for the last two days, Ai Weiwei blasted the conditions at Idomeni and said that what is happening there is "a big violation of human rights". This is not the first time that the Chinese artist has championed the refugees' cause. He also visited the island of Lesvos and in late 2015 used 14,000 life jackets discarded by refugees landing on the island to create an installation in Berlin, wrapping five columns of the city's iconic 'Konzerthaus' in the bright orange life vests to draw attention to the refugees' plight.
For those like Ahmed, who lost both his daughter and his house to the war in Syria, it seems the violence has no end. "Where would I go back to? There is no one waiting for me there," he says, showing us a picture of his bombed house on his cell phone. "I took it to remember what I escaped from," he said.
Around him sit countless other families with their children, who managed to survive both the war and the perilous sea crossing into Europe. Huddling around camp fires to keep warm, with their eyes on the fence that bars their way, they must now also survive the vicissitudes of life in Idomeni.
 Athens municipality to give more land for Elaionas refugee centre expansionAthens Mayor George Kaminis on Thursday announced that the municipality will give an additional 12,800 square metres of land for the expansion of the existing refugee hospitality centre at Elaionas in central Athens. During a press conference, Kaminis said he will ask the municipal council to expand the centre to all 37,000 square metres of municipal land from the current 24,000 it occupies. After this second expansion, the centre will have the capacity to house up to 2,000 people.
Kaminis also referred to an ongoing UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) project to house refugees in empty apartments, saying this was now in the final stages. He said that a total of 7,500 apartments will be used throughout Greece, of which 200 in Athens will be used to temporarily house 3,000 people. Kaminis explained that the aim was to distribute the refugees among many areas in the city and neighbouring municipalities.
 Partly cloudy on FridayPartly cloudy and winds from variable directions are forecast for Friday. Wind velocity will reach 6 on the Beaufort scale. Partly cloudy in the northern parts of the country with temperatures ranging from 09C-14C. Clouds and light rain in the western parts with temperatures between 08C-17C. Partly cloudy in the eastern parts, 06C-18C. Scattered clouds over the Aegean islands and Crete, 11C-19C. Mostly fair in Athens, 09C-18C. Partly cloudy with a chance of rain in Thessaloniki, 07C-14C.
 The Thursday edition of Athens' dailies at a glanceAVGHI: The boil will be lanced
EFIMERIDA TON SYNTAKTON: Two-year grace period for main pensions; cuts to the supplementary pensions.
ELEFTHEROS TYPOS: Trapped in pension cuts.
ESTIA: Unbelievable Turkish audacity.
ETHNOS: Four mines to the pension system
IMERISIA: Over 27.5 million tourists expected to visit Greece in 2016
KATHIMERINI: Tension between Brussels and Athens over the refugees-migrants flows.
NAFTEMPORIKI: e-trap on tax evaders.
RIZOSPASTIS: Communist Party's law proposal for the restoration of the minimum wage and the collective contracts.
36, TSOCHA ST. ATHENS 115 21 GREECE * TEL: 210 64.00.560-63 * FAX: 210 64.00.581-2 INTERNET ADDRESS: http://www.ana.gr * e-mail: anabul@ana gr * GENERAL DIRECTOR: MICHALIS PSILOS