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Greek report Greek report
by Euro Reporter
2011-01-24 10:00:50
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Greece pledges to enforce disputed smoking ban

Greece has pledged to enforce a smoking ban enacted last year, the latest after decades of failed effort, which continues to be widely flouted in Europe's most nicotine-addicted nation. The health ministry said it would hire additional inspectors to bolster a feeble response by municipal officials as a leading anti-tobacco activist on Wednesday rejected arguments by cafes and restaurants that the ban chases away their patrons in the midst of a bitter recession. "We need to protect public health even if it hurts the pockets of some people," Panagiotis Bechrakis, a prominent pulmonary expert, told Flash Radio. A day earlier, Health Minister Andreas Loverdos had warned that the crackdown would be enforced "without exception."

"Those who smoked in bars, restaurants and cafes in recent months have smoked enough," he told reporters. As a response to the reluctance of many mayors to aggressively pursue the ban -- a trend largely blamed on local elections in November -- Loverdos said hundreds of state inspectors would be brought in to do the job. "The state can be ridiculed no longer," the minister said, noting that in the last two months there had been 343,000 complaints from non-smokers but only 3,000 fines were imposed. Loverdos had earlier proposed to levy 'smoking licenses' on businesses to fill the state's depleted coffers but Prime Minister George Papandreou, a dedicated non-smoker, quashed the proposal, reports said.

Restaurant and cafe owners say that business is already down by 30-50 percent because of the recession gripping Greece, and the smoking restriction has brought a further slump of up to 80 percent in turnover. The latest legislation bans smoking in all enclosed public spaces except casinos and large music halls which have a nine-month extension to June. Those who persist in flouting the law face fines from 50 to 500 euros ($67 to $670) while business operators risk tougher penalties of 500 to 10,000 euros and repeat offenders could have their licenses revoked. Over 40 percent of Greeks are smokers and go through an average of over 2,900 cigarettes every year.


Talk of debt restructuring hurts Greece-cenbaker

Greece's central banker said in a Sunday newspaper interview that talk of debt restructuring is hurting the country as it struggles to exit a huge fiscal crisis that has shaken the euro zone. "I believe that even mere talk of debt restructuring hurts the country," Bank of Greece governor George Provopoulos told Sunday's Ethnos newspaper. The finance ministry has repeatedly denied reports that it is in talks to restructure Greece's debt. The debt-ridden nation is implementing austerity measures prescribed by the European Union and the International Monetary Fund in exchange for a 110 billion euro ($148.9 billion) bailout.

Provopoulos said the negative impact of a debt restructuring would far exceed the short-term pain caused by the austerity measures Greece is implementing and added that banks and government bond holders would also be negatively affected. "The political and economic impact of debt restructuring would far exceed the short-term pain of fiscal adjustment. Debt restructuring would spark an uncontrollable chain reaction which would start a new, long-term cycle of a lack of credibility for the future of Greece's economy," said Provopoulos, a European Central Bank Governing Council member. "It would also have immediate and significant negative consequences on pension funds, banks and all those holding government bonds."

Greek banks have lost access to wholesale funding markets in the wake of the country's debt crisis and have increasingly been relying on the ECB for their liquidity needs. Provopoulos said that the difficulties the Greek banking sector is facing were triggered by the country's fiscal woes and that the banking sector will be very different once the crisis is over. "The banking landscape after the crisis will be very different compared with the past and our banks will face significant challenges," he said.  "When banks return to international markets they will face increased competition from governments, other banks and large corporations looking for liquidity."


World's largest solar park planned in Greece

Debt-hit Greece plans to build the world's largest solar park over depleted coal mines in the northern city of Kozani, Prime Minister George Papandreou said this week. Estimated to cost 600 million euros ($807 million) and with a capacity of 200 megawatts (MW), the project's electricity output will be "greater than any other photovoltaic park operational in the world until now," Papandreou told a development event in Kozani on Thursday.

The state-run Public Power Corporation (PPC) said it would organise an international tender to find a strategic investor for the solar park, which is to be built over 520 hectares (1,285 acres) of disused company mines. Papandreou said the project will serve as a model for the development of renewable energy and will boost employment in a country striving to stand on its feet amid a deep economic crisis.

His Socialist government has sought to attract investment in renewable energy projects to offset thousands of jobs lost to a recession exacerbated by austerity measures adopted to tackle a national debt crisis. It has also pledged to gradually shift electricity production away from lignite, a heavily polluting form of coal. Last week Greece's unemployment rate skyrocketed to 13.5 percent in October 2010 from 9.8 percent in the same month the previous year. The Greek economy is expected to shrink by three percent this year after two previous years of contraction.

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