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Athens News Agency: News in English, 06-05-23
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From: The Athens News Agency at <http://www.ana.gr/>
 Rising oil prices a stimulus to work together, Greek PM tells 'Les Echos'PARIS (ANA-MPA - A. Panagopoulos) - Rising oil prices were a stimulus for European countries to work together even more closely and put into effect a European policy for energy, Greek Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis said in an interview with the French daily "Les Echos" published on Tuesday.
"The [European] Commission has presented this target in its Green Book. The discussion has been underway for years. We must now move forward. The solutions are well known. We must diversify our sources of energy and supply locations, we must reduce our dependence on oil and promote renewable energy sources," Karamanlis said.
The Greek premier played down the risk that higher oil prices would trigger a re-emergence of rising inflation, though he said that the situation required careful monitoring and stability, while adding that the European Central Bank was a guarantee of this stability.
Questioned on tough austerity measures taken by his government to reduce the Greek deficit to below the 3 percent GDP ceiling required by EU treaties - and whether larger European countries showed equal determination in returning to Stability Pact limits - Karamanlis stressed that Greece was determined to reduce its deficit, not only in order to conform with Eurozone standards but also because this formed the basis of good economic policy.
Asked whether the jump in the Greek public deficit to more than 6 percent of GDP in 2004 had been caused mainly by the 2004 Olympics hosted in Athens, Karamanlis confirmed that this had played a large part but stressed that there were also other factors.
"Greece had been spending a lot for a long time. We put an end to this divergence. It is painful but necessary, and not just because we must respect the Maastricht criteria. This restructuring, I underline, did not occur at the expense of the real economy, the economy of action. Growth is strong, it came near to 4 per cent at the beginning of this year. Unemployment is declining. Investments are increasing. The competitiveness of the economy is improving," he stressed.
He also underlined the government's determination to reduce the size of the public sector through privatisations:
"We wish to create a more efficient state. The majority of Greeks supports this policy of reforms, regardless of party affiliations," Karamanlis added.
Regarding the accession of Romania and Bulgaria in 2007 while other Balkan countries were on the brink of joining - and whether EU enlargement might be moving too fast - the Greek premier underlined the need to give Balkan countries a European prospect in order to promote peace, stability and prosperity in that region.
"We must now consider the effectiveness of European institutions. We must regulate these now, without sending negative messages to the countries that aspire to join the EU. All the world will benefit from these future enlargements, especially Greece. Our political and economic relations with our neighbours will improve and develop. Greece will become a privileged gateway to their markets for all those who want to set up in business there. Greeks have, already, penetrated these countries," he pointed out.
With respect to Turkey's accession prospects, in particular, Karamanlis underlined that there must be rules, principles and terms for all candidate countries.
"Turkey has the status of a candidate-state. As long as it meets the requirements expressed by the European Union it must preserve its European prospects," he said.
He also denied that the European Constitution had been permanently put on hold after the no vote in the French and Dutch referendums:
"We respect the result of the French and Dutch referendum, but the majority of member-states has ratified the Treaty. We must find ways to go forward. This is one of the main issues at the upcoming EU summit in June," he said.
Karamanlis underlined that the enlarged Community of 25 or 30 members could not operate in the same way as a Community of six or 15 and advised against substantial modifications of the EU Constitutional Treaty, pointing out that it was the result of long and painstaking negotiations and compromises and that changes to certain points would disrupt the balance of the whole.
 Papandreou: 'Education will be our top priority'Main opposition PASOK leader George Papandreou on Tuesday said that the first goal of a PASOK government would be to tackle the high cost of education. He was addressing a meeting of the party parliamentary group's coordinating body as some 98,000 pupils began university entrance examinations throughout the country.
Papandreou wished the candidate higher education students good luck in their examinations, and expressed his support for their familes, teachers, and all those who took part in their preparation.
The main opposition leader said that the cost of education today was unbearable for the average Greek family, adding that the psychological cost for the families was multiple, in addition to the financial cost.
He said that the high cost of education was rendering public education into education for the privileged, adding that a wide reform was necessary in the education sector.
Papandreou also expressed regret that consensus and agreement was lacking on such a major issue as education, and accused prime minister Costas Karamanlis of "concealing a different programme than that which he presented to the people, behind the mask of consensus he put on for Education, too".
He spoke of "partisan" bills tabled by the education ministry in parliament while dialogue was ongoing with the politicians and the social agencies, "and thus the parties were forced to walk out of the dialogue", and charged that a "secret plan" existed "to the benefit of the (financially) powerful", referring to the energy sector, which was the topic of Tuesday's meeting of the coordinating body.
 Greek, Turkish jetfighters collide over AegeanA Turkish and a Greek jetfighter collided over the southern Aegean Sea on Tuesday, apparently during the routine interception of the Turkish jetfighter after it entered the Athens Flight Information Region (FIR) by a Greek Airforce plane.
A massive search and rescue operation by air and sea was immediately mounted for the pilots of the two airforce jets, which collided at around 12:50 p.m., 15 miles south-southeast of Karpathos island.
Alternate government spokesman Evangelos Antonaros told a scheduled press briefing shortly afterwards that Greek search and rescue vessels, including a Super Puma helicopter and seagoing vessels, were speeding to the area of the crash.
"It is an extremely regrettable incident," he said.
According to a later report by the Greek Armed Forces General Staff, the Turkish pilot was safe and had been picked up by the Panama-flagged and Japanese-owned merchant ship "Gaz Century", while a Greek 'SuperPuma' search-and-rescue helicopter that arrived on the scene 20 minutes after the crash was still searching for the Greek pilot.
It also confirmed that the Turkish aircraft had not submitted a flight plan to the Athens Flight Information Region (FIR).
Antonaros said that prime minister Costas Karamanlis, who was in Paris for the OECD ministerial council, was immediately informed of the incident by Defence Minister Evangelos Meimarakis, and added, in reply to press questions, that the prime minister's was not hastening his return to Athens.
According to an ANA correspondent in Paris, meanwhile, the prime minister immediately contacted Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis in Finland, where she is currently on a visit, and asked her to return to Athens.
Though he will not be returning to Athens early, Karamanlis has decided to leave an OECD official dinner early this afternoon and return to his hotel room, in order to contact his government in Athens and be updated on the latest developments.
The Greek premier intends to go through with plans to host a dinner for ministers and foreign dignitaries attending the OECD Forum scheduled to take place on Tuesday night, however.
The foreign ministry in Athens, meanwhile, later issued a press release announcing that Bakoyannis and her Turkish counterpart Abdullah Gul had spoken on the phone on Tuesday, expressing their regret over the incident and agreeing that it should not be allowed to affect the efforts of Greece and Turkey to improve bilateral relations.
Defence Minister Evangelos Meimarakis and the leadership of the Greek Armed Forces have been in session since the incident occurred to monitor developments.
 OECD positive on Greek economic growthThe Greek economy will maintain its high growth rates, at around 3.75 pct, in the period 2006-2007 helped by a recovery in investment activity, the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development said on Tuesday.
In its semi-annual report on the country's economic outlook, the Paris-based organisation said a slowdown in economic growth last year (3.7 pct) after a 4.7 pct growth rate in 2004 was attributed to a weakening of incentives related with the Olympic Games and to a lesser extent to high oil prices, with both factors burdening on domestic demand.
The OECD expects the inflation rate to ease at around 3.0 pct in 2007, above the Eurozone average, and stressed that this trend could underline economic competitiveness in the future.
The international organisation, in its spring report, welcomed recent measures to improve the operation of public sector enterprises and underlined the necessity of wide range reforms to ensuring sustainability of public finances.
The OECD sounded optimistic that a strict implementation of a national reform programme, aimed to achieve fiscal restructuring, would improve business environment and boost productivity and employment in the country, setting the preconditions for a sustainable strong economic growth.
Greek Economy and Finance Minister George Alogoskoufis, speaking to reporters in Paris, said it was extremely positive that OECD acknowledged efforts made by Greece to contain its fiscal deficits and maintaining high growth rates. The Greek minister added there were still much to be done to improve economic competitiveness and said the government did not intend to take any new initiatives beyond pursuing a dialogue on reforming the country's pension system.
OECD's chief economist, Jean-Philippe Cotis, said Greece has made substantial progress in reducing its deficits and stressed he was confident that the Greek government would do its best to achieve its economic goals.
 Nationwide university entrance exams beginOver 98,000 candidates are competing for a place in the country‚s universities or technological institutes in the nationwide university entrance exams that began on Tuesday.
Education Minister Marietta Yiannakou visited candidates taking the entrance exams at the 190th School in Athens to wish them good luck. The minister stated that everything will go well reminding that this year students will be tested in fewer courses, 6 instead of 9.
She also reminded that this year 10 (with 20 as the top grade) will be the minimum passing grade, so as to avoid having candidates with very low grades being admitted in higher education institutions.
The same school was visited by main opposition Socialist Party PASOK deputy Sylvana Rapti, who criticized the government for its decision to institute 10 as the minimum passing grade. She also stated that with fewer courses to be tested in, candidates have fewer chances of getting good overall grades but she, nevertheless, wished them good luck.
The candidates were tested in Modern Greek, including essay writing, on Tuesday.
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