- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 29, 2007

Gateway in Europe

The Greek finance minister never got his chance to play electric guitar with Donovan, although he told colleagues that he hoped to jam with the ‘60s pop star who performed this week at the Greek Embassy.

But rock ‘n’ roll was not the purpose of the Washington visit for George Alogoskoufis, who also serves as minister of the economy. Mr. Alogoskoufis is on a world tour to promote Greece as the “gateway” for global trade and an economic engine for southeast Europe.

“Greece has been a very dynamic economy and dynamic society in the last several years,” he said. “We had been isolated in southeast Europe with very little trade with our neighbors. … All this has changed. Greece is the most mature economy in the region.”

Greece has invested about $15 billion in southeast Europe, and Greek banks are expanding into neighboring countries, including Turkey where Athens bankers have bought up major Turkish financial institutions.

“We are no longer a dynamic economy of 10 million people. We are the center of a region of 250 million people,” he said, referring to the citizens of the 27-nation European Union.

“We’re working with everybody in the region. We’re working with everybody in the world,” he added.

The conservative government, which swept the socialists from power in 2004, has been busy privatizing the remaining state-owned sectors of the economy and reforming a regressive tax system, he explained. The conservatives are working on getting the government out of the banking, energy and telecommunications sector.

“The test is to further privatize the economy,” he said.

The government has restructured the income tax system, lowering the tax rate for most workers to 25 percent from a high of 40 percent and exempting the poor. Greece cut its corporate tax rate to 25 percent from 35 percent under the socialists.

Conservative economic policies slashed the deficit to 2.6 percent of gross domestic product from 7.8 percent three years ago. The deficit places Greece firmly within EU limits, outpacing such European giants as Germany, which currently holds the presidency of the bloc. The economy grew by 3.7 percent in 2005 and 4.3 percent last year, while unemployment fell to 8.9 percent last year from 10.5 percent in 2004.

However, Greece still has its economic critics, who complain it has not gone far enough. The Index of Economic Freedom, published by the Heritage Foundation and the Wall Street Journal, ranks Greece 36 out of 41 European countries rated in its annual report.

“As a developed nation, Greece scores highly in surprisingly few areas,” the report said, citing “trade freedom and monetary freedom” as the exceptions.

Nevertheless, as far as Mr. Alogoskoufis is concerned, his government has guided Greece to the best economic times in decades, and he is spreading that message from the halls of Congress to the board rooms of the Federal Reserve.

On his visit he has met with Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke, World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz, Deputy Treasury Secretary Robert Kimmitt and Undersecretary of State R. Nicholas Burns.

Mr. Alogoskoufis arrived in Washington after stops in China and Belgium. He leaves for Australia today on the last leg of his trip.

Turkey angered

The Turkish Foreign Ministry yesterday criticized a U.S. Senate committee for approving a resolution that condemned the slaying of a Turkish journalist who had been prosecuted for writing about the killings of millions of Armenians during World War I.

The bill, approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, refers to Hrant Dink, killed in January by a Turkish nationalist who accused the writer of “insulting” Turkey. The resolution, which now goes to the full Senate, also mentions the massacre of Armenians.

“It is clear that bringing this resolution to the agenda of the Senate serves only to exploit the loathsome murder for political aims by referring to the events of 1915,” the ministry said.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail [email protected]

washingtontimes.com.

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