Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras sought to strike an upbeat note in a speech to his cabinet on Monday, insisting that the country has returned to growth, but the address came minutes before Greece’s statistics agency ELSTAT pointed to a contraction of 1.2 percent in the last quarter of 2016.
ELSTAT’s seasonally adjusted, revised data showed a 1.2 percent decline in economic output in the October-December period, significantly worse than the 0.4 percent slump projected in February’s flash estimates.
Shortly before the announcement, Tsipras told his cabinet that the economy was poised to show “exceptionally high” rates of growth this year. “After seven years of disastrous recession, the country has already returned to positive rates of growth,” he declared.
The premier made only passing references to ongoing bailout talks between government officials and representatives of Greece’s international creditors as major differences of opinion are hampering progress. He made an indirect dig, however, at the International Monetary Fund, which continues to demand further cuts to pensions.
“Some, particularly those who bear the greatest blame for the disastrous economic recipes since 2010, may remain unrepentant,” he said. “But reality has already passed them by.”
The political opposition pounced on ELSTAT’s figures. “At the exact moment that the prime minister is jubilating, the data are contradicting him,” Christos Staikouras, of conservative New Democracy, remarked. “Gross domestic product has still not reached the point it was at in 2014,” he said, referring to when ND was in government.
“This is a result of the uncertainty which is growing due to the delay in completing the review, as the government has neither the will nor the ability to extract the country from the crisis,” he said.
Commenting on ELSTAT’s figures from Brussels, European Commission spokeswoman Annika Breidthardt said the EC was not discouraged. “We continue to expect growth this year,” she said, adding that the implementation of the reforms is necessary in order to restore confidence.