ATHENS – The Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center at the Faliron Delta in Athens moved another step closer towards completion, after the Greek Parliament approved a bill submitted by the Finance Ministry ratifying the donation agreement between the Greek Government and the Stavros Niarchos International Public Benefit Foundation.
The bill was approved in principle by the New Democracy, PASOK and LAOS parties, while the Greek Communist Party voted against the bill. The Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) was not present for the vote. Out of the seven Articles in the bill, the main opposition PASOK party expressed objections to Article 2, which essentially refers to the makeup of the agreement that was signed at the end of March between the Ministries of Finance, Environment, Town Planning and Public Works, Education and Culture.
The parties involved in the agreement are the Stavros Niarchos Foundation on the one hand, and the Greek State, the National Opera House, the National Library, Olympic Real Estate S.A., and the Greek public real estate company on the other.
The bill was approved by a majority of Parliament members and as stated therein, following a 450 million-euro donation from SNF, a Cultural Center will be built at the Faliron Delta which will bear the name of the man who established the foundation, Stavros Niarchos. The SNF is currently marking the 100-year anniversary of his birth.
Specifically, the agreement calls for the construction of a new National Library of Greece, whose rich resources will be made available to visitors all around the world via the Internet, a new National Opera House, which will be modeled after the most state-of-the-art opera houses in the world, the “Agora”, which will be designed to resemble the gathering spot of the ancient Greek agora, and an Environmental Park, which will be open to every Greek family wanting to escape from the daily grind of Greeces largest city. The works will span an area of 16,000 square meters and are scheduled to be completed by 2015.
“On behalf of the Greek state, we wish to express our infinite gratitude towards the Niarchos Foundation and we hope to be on the receiving end of more gestures of such grand proportions,” Greeces Culture Minister Antonis Samaras said during a discussion in Parliament held earlier this week. Referring to the project, Mr. Samaras said it “encompasses the identity of the city of Athens and reflects the nations culture.”
Speaking on behalf of the Socialist PASOK party, its main speaker Elias Beriatos, Maria Damanaki, and its Parliamentary Spokesman, Christos Papoutsis, noted that they too voted in favor of the bill. They also underscored that they recognized the significance of SNFs donation, but nevertheless expressed their objections to the regulatory role that SNF will continue to exercise, which will not be limited to only construction and managerial aspects during this period, and for this reason they did not approve Article 2.
“It ties the hands of the public sector,” Mr. Beriatos said, while Ms. Damanaki expressed reservations about how the relations between the public sector and SNF would continue to develop now that the agreement has been signed. She also pointed out that “when PASOK comes to power it will not leave any decisions regarding the by-laws up to SNF. “The protection of the public interest is above everything,” Mr. Papoutsis said, while noting that PASOK does not trust the Government to act in the best interests of the people. Nevertheless, he called SNFs project “a major work,” which he said will be to the benefit of “the whole of Greece.”
“There is nothing that is unclear, nor are there any gray areas in this bill,” Public Works Deputy Minister Stavros Kalogiannis replied, reassuring the members of Parliament. “This is a complete and full agreement which will provide the Greek State with the opportunity to obtain an ultra-modern Cultural Center,” he said.
Deputy Finance Minister Athanasios Bouras spoke along the same lines and noted that “this is an important cultural and environmental project,” calling it “an honor for Parliament to be presented with these kinds of bills for approval, since they are an example of social responsibility.”
Panos Panagiotopoulos, Parliamentary Spokesperson for Greeces ruling New Democracy party also took the floor to note that the time has come for all Parliament members to leave behind “the frivolous Greek mentality of complacency” and to look ahead to the sterling example of SNFs donation.
The Greek Communist Party, which voted against the bill, expressed its complete opposition to the bill, through its main speaker Eva Mela, who spoke about a “criminal fait accompli” and the “handing over” of the Faliron Delta according to terms that are a dishonor to the Greek State.
During the discussion that took place in Parliament, the sudden change in the position adopted by the Coalition of the Radical Left, which shifted from its initial position of supporting the bill, drew the attention of Parliamentarians. SYRIZAs parliament spokesman, Gregoris Psarianos, struck a different tone than main speaker Anna Filini and spoke about a “never-before-seen agreement,” with exceptionally large tax breaks. Despite all this, Ms. Filini insisted that her party may have changed positions, but she did not.
Finally, the main speaker for LAOS, Asterios Rondoulis, said that for his party the approval of the bill for the ratification of the donation is a “great act of patriotism” and accused all those who disagreed of treating the issue with complacency.
Its was noteworthy that despite the fact that the topic on the agenda was the approval of the SNF donation, a heated political debate broke out between NDs Panos Panagiotopouilos and PASOKs Christos Papoutsis with regard to the anniversary of the restoration of democracy to Greece in 1974 after a seven-year junta and the issue of Greeces upcoming presidential election in March 2010.