Ministerie van Financien



PERSBERICHTNR. 99/043 Den Haag 18 februari 1999



Minister Zalm zal heden middag bij de Hellenic-Dutch Association te Athene onderstaande speech uitspreken.

Ladies and gentlemen,
Let me start by thanking the Hellenic-Dutch Association for inviting me to this meeting. Over the past 10 to 15 years an important boost to business relations between Greece and the Netherlands was given by the internal market of the European Union. Lower tariffs have lead to more trade between the two countries and the internal market has made mutual direct investments easier.

Earlier today I had a meeting with my Greek colleague, Minister Papantoniou and we discussed the ongoing process of European integration and more specific the Agenda 2000 proposals. In these proposals the European Commission gives its views on how the common agricultural- and structural policy of the Union should be reformed, how enlargement should take place and how the expenditure of the Union should be financed in the next seven years.

It is important to have a solid financial framework for the present fifteen Member States, so that future integration of several Central and Eastern European Countries and Cyprus in the Union can be financed in a sustainable way. Given the geographical proximity of potential markets in south-east Europe, a successful enlargement will especially be important for companies which are already active in Greece.

The sustainability of the Union is however dependent on a fair distribution of costs and benefits between its members. Greece and the Netherlands agree on the principle of solidarity between Member States in the way European expenditure is financed. This means that the strongest shoulders should bear the heaviest burden. As a result of this principle the so called cohesion countries, including Greece, receive more support than other, wealthier countries. I think that this is fully justified. It is however the distribution of the financial burden among the remaining countries that does not reflect the relative positions of these countries in terms of economic prosperity. This has recently been acknowledged in a report by the European Commission.
Of course, I realise that in separate policy areas of the Union it is impossible to have a perfectly corresponding relationship between a country.s relative wealth and its net receipts or costs. However, I can no longer explain to the Dutch population, that we are among the highest payers and lowest recipients in all policy areas, while wealthier countries are far better off in this respect.

A way to improve this uneven burden sharing would be to make national payments to the Union more dependent on a Member States Gross National Product. Solidarity is not only the strongest shoulders bearing the heaviest burden, but also a more equitable burden sharing between all the 'strong shouders'.

Another point on which Greece and the Netherlands agree, is that the current situation in the Union no longer justifies the so called UK rebate. This rebate, of which the UK is the sole beneficiary and which compensates the UK to a high degree for its net payments to the Union, should be phased out.

In the next month the European Union will face important decisions with regard to its agricultural and structural policy and its financing. The negotiations between Member States will no doubt be difficult, but I am confident that in the end a satisfying result for all countries can be established. This result will have to contain financial solidarity between richer and poorer countries and at the same time protect Member States that enjoy comparable degrees of economic welfare from the danger of unequal treatment. Only then will the European Union be able to continue its important process of integration and co-operation.

Turning now to another subject, I have to congratulate my Greek colleague, minister Papantoniou, with the progress Greece has made on its way to joining the Economic and Monetary Union. There.s a good chance that if Greece continues its convergence efforts, it could already become a member in 2001. For those doing business in Greece this is certainly good news; in a few years time they can probably profit from the macro-economic stability that the EMU provides and from the advantages of the use of a single European currency, the euro.
The economic performance of Greece in the last few years can rightly be called a success. The budget deficit has been brought down from 16% in the beginning of the nineties to about 2%, which is one percentage point below the level required by EMU. Inflation was down to 3.9% last year and is expected to reach a mere 2% by the end of this year. The interest rates are also showing a downward trend and public debt has been brought down as well. In addition, the entry into the exchange rate mechanism in March last year has made the Drachme a stable and reliable currency.

All this has resulted in a growing confidence on financial and business markets. In 1998 the index of the stock market of Athens even showed the largest rise world wide. Commercial relations between the Netherlands and Greece also reflect this optimism, as business activities between the two countries have intensified in the last few years.

Coming to an end, I would like to let you know that I am really curious as to what your own experiences are in Greek-Dutch trade and business relations. Hopefully we can talk about this over a drink. Thanks again for the invitation and I wish you all the best with your further business activities.

Spokesperson: Frits Kemperman
Telephone: 342 8236

18 feb 99 17:14


Deel: ' Speech minister Zalm bij Hellenic-Dutch Association '

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