Πέμπτη, 28 Φεβρουαρίου 2013

Baird Welcomes Greek Counterpart Dimitris Avramopoulos

"Obviously we see Greece as an important NATO ally which we’ve worked tremendously well. We have had and will continue to have a broad discussion on multilateral issues whether it’s the tragedy unfolding in Syria, the importance that Canada places on the issues and the concerns coming out of Iran, the western Balkans. And I was pleased to learn about Greece’s rapprochement with Turkey and to get a better sense of that and other issues"
(John Baird)

February 27, 2013 - Ottawa - Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird meets with Dimitris Avramopoulos, Greece’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, who is on his first visit to Canada as foreign minister.

Discussions focused on bilateral issues, such as strengthening trade and business links between the two countries. Minister Baird reaffirmed Canada’s support of Greece’s efforts to overcome its current economic challenges.

“We appreciate that many Greeks have seen their living standards change and that this change has been difficult for some,” said Baird. “But we hope the long-term benefits of such change will prove worthwhile.”

At a time when the global economy remains fragile, both countries’ governments must remain focused on creating jobs, growth and opportunity. As the two ministers noted, the recent implementation of the Canada-Greece Youth Mobility Agreement is an important step in that direction. The new agreement makes it easier for Canadian and Greek young people to travel and work in each other’s country. The ministers also discussed the state of negotiations for the comprehensive economic and trade agreement between Canada and the European Union.

The visit of Minister Avramopoulos highlights the important role of the Greek-Canadian community in Canada, whose academic, economic and political contributions form the foundation of the strong Canada-Greece relationship.

Τετάρτη, 27 Φεβρουαρίου 2013

French Kiss

Justine Frangouli-Argyris
Huffington Post

Amongst much glamour and optimism, French president Francois Hollande arrived in Athens last week, bringing words of hope and following in the footsteps of Germany's Angela Merkel who herself dropped in on the Greek capital last October bearing a similar message of solidarity to the suffering nation. The local government proclaimed satisfaction with the visit and emphasized the fact that such importance given Greece by the two major European allies would help boost the country's shattered image on the international scene prior to the beginning of the all-important tourist season.
Mr. Hollande's sojourn, which lasted all of eight hours, outlined three key areas where France could be instrumental in helping its southern neighbor:

1) in offering French support for Greece, the president stressed that "no people in Europe have undergone such a test so we must be at their side;"
2) in encouraging private investment in Greece, Hollande declared, "I am here to mobilize French companies so they invest in Greece" and invited French participation in bids for the privatization of the Greek state's water and rail enterprises as well as others;
3) in promoting cooperation between the two countries, he focused on the energy sector stressing that
Greece aimed to become an "energy hub in the Aegean" and declaring that "should France be able to commonly exploit hydrocarbon reserves with Greece, it will do so."

Beyond the pomp and circumstance, however, the true picture is one of a startlingly different reality with the French beating a path to exit the country as quickly as possible. For, recently, the two banking giants with major Greek subsidiaries, Credit Agricole and Société Générale, as well as the dominant retailer with a large Greek joint venture, Carrefour, have hastily sold their holdings for a pittance or abandoned them altogether.

On the other hand, rumours continue to circulate about important French businesses eyeing Greece for expansion and investment, but can this really improve the lot of a country in the midst of its sixth consecutive year of economic downturn, with unemployment at a record 27 percent and with a population crippled by never-ending austerity measures that have slashed salaries and boosted taxes?

Meanwhile, the Greek government, reeling under the demands of its bankers, the so-called "Troika," the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund, continues to alter an already incomprehensible taxation system, literally by the day, in the quest for new sources of revenue thereby confounding and alienating entrepreneurs, be they French or otherwise.

As well, the demoralized work force, suffering under widespread negative publicity as being "lazy and rebellious" even though official figures indicate the Greeks put in a longer work week than any of their European compatriots at 42.2 hours, is looked upon as another negative by any potential investor.

All this is leading the political leadership in Greece to fear the worst for, as Arnaud Leparmentier writes in Le Monde, things that must be done need time and Greece has to endure at least until autumn, when the federal elections are over in Germany. Until then, any accident can happen. This is the fear of the president of the Hellenic Republic, Carolos Papoulias, who confided as much in the French President, Francois Hollande.

Leparmentier goes on to specify that a so-called "accident" could come from any of a number of factors including the downfall of the current Greek coalition government, a violent social revolution brought about by Greece's youth whose unemployment rate stands at a bewildering 60 percent or even as a result of a meltdown of European financial markets should Silvio Berlusconi triumph in Italy and follow through with his threats to pull his country out of the Euro.

Yes, it is true, Francois Hollande went to Greece. Unfortunately, he had nothing of substance to offer the Greek people. In the future, it may be wise, before any other great "benefactors" such as Mr. Hollande and Mrs. Merkel stop by on an official visit spreading cheer and good will, that they come humbled knowing that they, themselves, are the ones responsible for having imposed this tragedy on the Greek people by continuing to insist on an untenable program of austerity.

Τρίτη, 26 Φεβρουαρίου 2013

Our John Catsimatidis against soft drinks and toll hikes!


Cats Out of The Bag

By Ross Barkan

John Catsimatidis Holds Court in Brooklyn

Freewheeling billionaire John Catsimatidis was told again and again it was time to for him to leave as he stood at the foot of the Verrazano Bridge in Brooklyn this afternoon.
“No, no, no…” his handlers pleaded as Mr. Catsimatidis, a Republican candidate for mayor, prepared to tell a gaggle of reporters about another press conference of his scheduled for next week.
“Now, there’s another press conference coming, guess what we did in Brooklyn that nobody knows about?” Mr. Castimatidis asked as his team strained to keep their plans under wraps.
But Mr. Catsimatidis, arriving in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn to originally explain his plan to call upon the MTA to freeze additional toll and fare increases, was in his element, rambling extemporaneously about whatever subjects the assembled reporters cared to discuss. Republican Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis smiled at his side, watching as the man who had never been an elected official said and did exactly what he wanted to do. Politicker asked Mr. Catsimatidis about Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s controversial plan to ban high-sugar drinks in cups or containers bigger than 16 ounces. Business leaders have attacked the proposal, which is set to go into effect March 12, but Catsimatidis, a supermarket tycoon, wasn’t willing to join their ranks.
“I wouldn’t want my kids to drink 32 ounce sodas,” said Mr. Catsimatidis, explaining that he would also want more health education programs put in public schools. “When I went to the movies a couple of weeks ago and I looked at the 32 oz soda and it said 1,100 calories, wow, never in a million years would I buy that one!”
Ms. Malliotakis rushed to agree with Mr. Catsimatidis about how it was good to make calorie counts available, but pivoted to take up the New York Post’s talking point that the ban would also “tell me that I can’t have a birthday party for my kids at Chuck E. Cheese with a pitcher of soda.”
Mr. Catsimatidis also criticized the MTA’s planned fare and toll hikes in March but, like Ms. Malliotakis, did not lay the blame on his Republican rival in the mayor’s race, Joe Lhota. The MTA chairman when the tolls hikes were approved, Mr. Lhota faces potential backlash from voters on Staten Island who will have to pay even more to cross the Verrazano Bridge.
“I would say, I would have looked at it a lot more closely,” said Mr. Catsimatidis when asked if he also would have hiked fares if he was in Mr. Lhota’s shoes. “I think some of the other political people in Staten Island that want to support him have to ask him the same question.”
And Mr. Catsimatidis, seemingly unaware that former Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion is kicking off his mayoral campaign tomorrow night and looking to run against him in a Republican primary, said Mr. Carrion should instead run for something like public advocate or comptroller.
“I think the Republican Party that I’m running in has to be diverse. We need a Hispanic, we need a black and I’d love to see Adolfo Carrion run on one of those lines or A.R. Bernard who is a very, very decent guy. I’ve met him and really love the guy,” he said.
As for that mysterious Brooklyn press conference?
“Stay tuned to next week. We saved jobs in Brooklyn nobody knows about.”
Follow Ross Barkan on Twitter or via RSS. rbarkan@observer.

Κυριακή, 24 Φεβρουαρίου 2013

No money, No honey in Greece

Crisis forces Greeks to skimp on traditional weddings, funerals
Fewer Greeks are walking down the aisle as their country’s deep economic crisis takes a toll on their famously lavish weddings, an age-old ritual that has become an unbearable cost for those struggling to make ends meet.
Religious wedding ceremonies in bell tower chapels overflowing with flowers, metre-high candles and candy wrapped in tulle, are a deeply ingrained tradition in Greece, where the powerful Orthodox Church plays an influential role in society.
But as recession slides into its sixth year, unemployment rises and poverty spreads, a church wedding is a luxury many couples can no longer afford.
For 28-year-old bride Nafsika Koutrokoi, who works at a butcher shop, fulfilling her dream of marrying her fiancé, a cable technician, in church was a difficult decision that required huge sacrifices.
“Things are quite tough right now,” she said after the wedding. “We cut down on many things, from invitations to the reception, on everything.”
The number of Greek couples who tied the knot in church tumbled to 28,000 in 2011, two years into Europe’s debt crisis, compared to the pre-crisis level of 40,000 in 2008, according to the country’s statistic service ELSTAT.
In contrast, the number of low-key civil unions skyrocketed to 26,000 in 2011 from about 8,000 a decade earlier.
As Greece’s crisis deepens and successive governments are forced to impose wage cuts and tax increases in exchange for the foreign aid keeping the economy afloat, the wedding industry’s countless shops and planners are also feeling the pinch.
“They want whatever is cheapest, which often is not possible because the cost of everything is rising,” said wedding shop owner Anastasia Theophanopoulou, whose family business has sold wedding supplies for decades. “There is a drastic drop.”
The downturn has also had an unexpected effect on another ceremony revered by many Greeks – funerals.
With more and more Greeks having trouble paying for funerals, municipal authorities in Athens have reduced the cost of burial in the capital’s cemeteries.
“There was always money for the deceased, but now people are in a very bad state,” said Athens City Councillor Nikos Kokkinos, who is responsible for cemeteries.
Some Greeks do not collect their dead loved ones from the hospital to avoid having to pay for the funeral. Others can no longer afford a traditional marble tombstone and so leave plots as simple dirt mounds overgrown by weeds, a cemetery official said.
Funeral home director Vassilis Tranou has been forced to lower prices at his family-run business and sometimes will do a funeral – which costs at least €1,500 ($1,978 U.S.) – for free.
“People don’t have the money any more or they don’t spend like they used to, and Greeks are usually people who take great care with the people they have lost,” Mr. Tranou said.
“It makes your hair stand on end,” he said, recounting the story of a man who was only able to bury his mother by selling a family heirloom of four gold coins.

Παρασκευή, 22 Φεβρουαρίου 2013

Les Miserables of Greece

Les Miserables of Greece
Huffington Post World   
Posted: 02/20/2013 5:32 pm

Who would have thought that Greece, a country basking in the limelight of the triumph of the 2004 Olympic Games, would find itself, a mere few years later, a country mired in poverty and despair? Who could imagine that this state that dedicated 0.7 percent of its share of budget to international aid and humanitarian assistance prior to the financial crisis of 2008 would now find itself in need of global charity? And, yet, this western European country lives in misery today with its proud people fighting for survival and its youth abandoning it en masse to seek their place in the sun abroad.
According to government statistics, the unemployment rate hit 27 percent this past November and registered a staggering 61 percent among those aged under 24 years of age with 1,350,181 Greeks officially registered as being unable to find work. Unbelievably, however, according to calculations by labor specialist George Romanias, the unemployment rate will soon surpass the 30 percent threshold, rising to some 2.3 million by the end of 2013. According to a report by the European Union's statistics agency, Eurostat, one-third of Greece's citizens are considered to be below the poverty level with another 27.7 percent on the brink of poverty or social exclusion. The Greek economy has already contracted by more than 20 percent and predictions are that GDP will have shrunk by more than a quarter by 2014.
As if this were not startling enough, there are presently at least 1.5 million economic migrants, most of whom are undocumented residents, roaming the country. Their squalid living conditions, the meager wages they are willing to accept and the all but nonexistent immigration policies of the government have created an explosive atmosphere, especially in the capital, Athens, where the majority reside. This has fomented a deep hatred between the Greeks and the "Xenoi," as the foreigners are called, and has boosted the popularity of the extreme right-wing "Golden Dawn" political party, whose members take it upon themselves to harass and terrorize the newcomers at each and every opportunity.
Alarmingly, the phenomenon of malnutrition has begun to surface with more and more organizations and individuals, in lieu of government, waging a daily battle to provide food and resources to destitute families. In many of the suburbs around the major cities, in the provinces as well as in various parts of Crete, the incidents of starving students are stunning. Teachers and parents continue to report growing numbers of children fainting as a result of being undernourished.
Every day, approximately 250,000 people visit the myriad of soup kitchens that have begun to dot the landscape while countless others subside on food packages provided by the services of the Archdiocese of Athens and its sister Metropolises.
The homeless, foraging in the trash and sleeping in front of abandoned buildings in downtown Athens, number about 20,000 and represent a cross-section of Greece's once proud middle class, counting among themselves yesterday's entrepreneurs, educated former employees and skilled tradesmen.
Hospitals, too, are in dire need, lacking basic medicines as a result of the government having instituted drastic health care cuts, leaving the poor and the elderly without sufficient means to fill their prescriptions. Significant numbers of the aged have been forced from the care of their nursing homes, dragged back to their children's residences so they can contribute their slashed pensions to the household monthly expenses.
Unfortunately, however, both the Greek government, as well as the European Union as a whole, feign ignorance of the situation and continue to adhere to a policy of economic austerity that has led the country to complete destitution in such a short period of time.
Recently, the National Council of Greek TV and Radio took the unprecedented measure of forbidding any broadcasting of images of Greece's "Miserables."
On this side of the Atlantic, Greek-American organizations have taken much too long to react to the crisis. Apart from the Greek-Orthodox Archdiocese of America and the Metropolis of Canada who periodically send their offerings, traditional Greek-American organizations continue to channel their significant donations to their usual local focal points.
Unbeknownst to the world, the "Miserables of Greece," yesterday's prosperous citizens, require international humanitarian assistance and a strong support from the Greek-American community at large. The Greek government and its European allies cannot pretend that nothing is amiss anymore.