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“Defying the odds”. Kostis Hatzidakis interview in Athens News.

New Democracy came to power on a platform of transparency, but later faced a series of scandals involving government ministers (structured bonds, cartels, Vatopedi, Pavlidis). Why should it be rewarded with a new term and not punished?

I trust that New Democracy will be awarded a new term, because we are in the middle of a global crisis and our response to this formidable challenge is the right one. We are being frank and open to the citizens of this country, by telling them the “inconvenient truth” about how things stand, as opposed to the hollow and irresponsible pledges made by Pasok.

MP Savvas Tsitouridis charged that corrupt business interests are the boss in the PM’s office and party headquarters, and several ND MPs have criticised the PM in recent months. Why should Mr. Karamanlis stay on after what all polls say will be a major defeat, and what can restore party unity?

It’s probably inevitable that not everyone will be happy once the lists of candidates have been announced. Regarding the polls, I happen to have witnessed a number of election campaigns, both in Greece and abroad. You may remember what happened in Britain in 1992, when John Major won against all odds, including exit polls on election day. In 2002, Gerhard Schröder came from behind thanks to his efficient handling of the flood crisis in Germany. Therefore, I firmly believe that no opinion poll can beat election results – let’s be patient for ten more days. What we ought to do right now is convince voters that our policies are appropriate and credible, unlike Pasok’s.

Opposition parties charge
PM Karamanlis’ 2004 aim of re-founding the state, streamlining bureaucracy and encouraging investment has failed? How do you respond?

We have been hard working on this, but you should also keep in mind that state modernisation is a long process that goes beyond the lifetime of one single government. Our strategy has been embodied in the “Administrative Reform” operational programme of the National Strategic Reference Framework (2007-2013), i.e. the fourth EU support package for Greece.
As regards investment, we have reduced the general tax burden for enterprises from 35% to 25%. This government has promoted significant public private partnerships (PPPs) in the area of large-scale infrastructure projects as well as Chinese investment for the Piraeus port authority, to pick but a few examples. One should also keep in mind that we have successfully privatised the Olympic airline group, after four failed attempts by previous governments.

Pasok’s platform aims at increasing badly needed market liquidity through increased public investment and economic support for middle and lower income classes, even if this means increased borrowing at first.
Aside from cutting expenditures and harsh austerity measures,
what proposals do you have to restructure the economic base, spur new industries and create jobs – and in what timeframe?

Let me tell you that since early 2009 no fewer than 50,000 enterprises have benefited from the small-business loan guarantee fund (TEMPME). This accounts for hundreds of thousands of jobs saved and has helped avoid a liquidity dry-up at the height of the crisis. As far as new jobs are concerned, we have presented a comprehensive set of measures, not least
of all a further decrease of the tax burden for enterprises to 20%, which will allow them to grow and hire more employees.

Many Greeks believe that it is the EU in Brussels that calls the shots on the Greek economy (like dictating insurance reform), and the government (whether ND or Pasok) must comply. Given the restrictions of huge deficit and debt, how much freedom does Athens have to plan its own solution to the crisis?

Being an EU member state and a member of the eurozone, Greece has undertaken certain commitments. At the same time, it is in our own interest to meet our commitments, with or without reminders from Brussels. It is quite clear that the smaller our public debt and the annual budget deficit is, the larger the margin for social policies and relevant expenditure that the government could afford will be.

Left-wing parties charge New Democracy (like Pasok)
diminishing workers rights with policies supporting elastic labour, part-time labour with pay slips,
unpaid cleaning women in state schools, etc… Are you satisfied with your record on labour relations?

This government has done a lot to uphold “the right to work”, i.e. employment. At the height of the worst post-war global crisis, unemployment in Greece does not exceed 8.5% and was as low as 7.5% last year. By contrast, it stood at 11.5% in Pasok’s days, with no crisis around and at the time of the pre-Olympic games construction boom!

Why does New Democracy oppose Papandreou’s intention of re-negotiating environmental aspects of the Burgas-Alexandroupolis pipeline deal (they say it would turn Alexandroupolis into another Elefsina)?

This project has been talked about for nearly 15 years now. The trilateral deal between Greece, Bulgaria and Russia has now been finalised after painstaking negotiations and work on the construction of the pipeline is on track. All the details, including environmental aspects, have been meticulously studied and agreed on. This deal is of great significance for all the three countries involved as well as for Europe. Sadly, what we are now hearing from the head of Pasok is that, in his view, the deal should be re-considered and I find this unfortunate, to say the least. However, whatever the reasoning behind his position, it is an underlying principle in international politics that inter-state deals are to be honoured – if anything, for the sake of continuity and credibility.

Turkey’s challenges to Greek sovereignty in the Aegean have increased rapidly, while Ankara’s EU prospects, which were supposed to be an incentive for good behaviour, have grown dimmer, so what should Greece’s strategy be?

Our position has always been firm and crystal clear – Greece wants to see a “European” Turkey, but this can only happen if Turkey meets its pre-accession commitments to the EU. Violations of Greek air space by Turkey, indeed
increasing over the last summer, cannot be tolerated. What has further soured bilateral relations over the last years relates to the rising number of illegal migrants smuggled into Greece from Turkey through the Aegean. Οn a number of occasions this is taking place partly with the connivance of Turkish authorities. Both issues have been raised with Brussels and EU member states, and the unequivocal response of our European partners is a strong message to Turkey that should be taken very seriously.

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