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Greek coalition wins budget vote comfortably, waits for loan tranche

Greece’s government sailed through a vote on the 2013 national budget shortly after midnight on Sunday, with almost all the coalition MPs backing the economic plan after two days of debate.

A total of 167 deputies voted in favour of the budget. Former minister Costas Skandalidis, ousted from PASOK earlier in the week for not backing spending cuts and structural reforms, voted in favour of the legislation, giving the government an extra vote. Giorgos Kasapidis, ejected from New Democracy for the same reason on Wednesday, also backed the bill.

However, there was a surprise for the coalition when New Democracy's Theodoros Soldatos voted against parts of the bill, while Democratic Left MP Yiannis Panousis was absent for the vote. Two of the leftist party’s deputies who voted against Wednesday’s measures, also opposed the budget.

Soldatos was ousted from ND soon after the vote, leaving the conservatives with 125 MPs.

The remaing New Democracy MPs and all PASOK lawmakers supported the legislation. A total of 128 deputies voted against the budget. Four MPs voted “present”. Only Panousis was absent.

In his speech moments before the vote, Prime Minister Antonis Samaras insisted that the coalition was on the right track to keep Greece in the euro.

“Within a few days, we are changing all those things that had not been changed in decades,” said Samaras.

The prime minister accused SYRIZA of being “full of divisions” and having no plan to exit the crisis. He insisted that the three-party coalition would lead Greece out of the crisis.

“Greece will exit the nightmare,” he said. “We will either exit united or we will not exit at all.”

Samaras said that the government aims to improve on the deficit and recession figures in the budget. He added that he would make a personal effort to bring more investments to Greece through economic diplomacy.

Having lost seven MPs following a tumultuous vote on a new austerity package on Wednesday, PASOK did not suffer any defections on Sunday night.

All 26 Socialist MPs voted for the budget. However, earlier in the day the party’s general secretary for communications, Yiannis Datseris, resigned.

Datseris had remarked in a radio interview that PASOK was a “bubble of the post-dictatorship era”. He also criticized ex-minister Andreas Loverdos in a newspaper article over the content of the leading Socialist’s book.

PASOK leader Evangelos Venizelos said that recovery was in sight. “We can reach a primary surplus in the first half of 2013 and see the first small signs of growth in the second half of 2013,” he said.

Venizelos also called on Greece’s lenders to stop holding back the country’s loan tranches and to agree on a comprehensive solution to its debt sustainability problem.

“The technical solutions to Greek debt problems are straightforward and easy,” he said.

SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras accused the government of giving in to the plans of German Chancellor Angela Merkel to make Greece a “debt colony.”

“You agreed to everything the lenders demanded but now you accuse them of blackmail, why?” said the opposition leader.

He labelled the coalition government “part of yesterday” and said that SYRIZA would come to power following elections in the near future.

Tsipras added that there was no point debating the 2013 national budget because none of the targets would be met because of the deepening recession.

Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras responded to the SYRIZA leader by saying that his proposals to repeal the latest austerity measures and refuse to repay Greece’s debt.

“Where do you live Mr Tsipras? Do you believe this stuff?” said Stournaras, who stressed that not keeping to its bailout program would lead to a euro exit.

The finance minister said he was certain Greece would receive its next loan tranche on time.

“Nobody can say Greece is not meeting its commitments. We are doing so, and then some,” he told MPs.

The 2013 budget forecasts a 4.5-percent contraction of the economy on the back of about 9.5 billion euros in spending cuts and tax hikes next year. It will be Greece’s sixth straight year of recession.

The budget sees average unemployment next year at 22.8 percent. The decline in private consumption is seen at 7 percent, compared to a 7.7 percent fall in 2012.

If execution goes as planned, the budget will next year have a primary surplus of 748 million euros, or 0.4% of GDP, and an overall deficit of 5.2% of GDP or 9.4 billion euros.

The budget foresees debt rising to 346 billion euros, or almost 190 percent of GDP, from 175 percent this year.

EU and ECB officials say that means that Athens will not be able to reduce its debt to 120 percent of GDP by 2020, the level the IMF has said is the ceiling for debts to be sustainable in the long term.

That has triggered a debate on how to reduce the debt, which include discussions on cutting interest rates on Greece's official loans, letting the ECB give profits from Greek bonds it holds back to Athens, helping bail out Greek banks with the EU's EFSF rescue fund, and other measures.

In comments published by a German newspaper on Sunday, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said the troika of international lenders to Athens was unlikely to deliver a full report in time for Monday's euro zone finance ministers meeting.

European leaders have been waiting for the report by officials from the three institutions - the IMF, EU and the European Central Bank - before agreeing to extend more loans.

"At the moment it does not look as if we will have a finished, complete troika report on Monday, especially given that the Greek parliament is only agreeing the budget on Sunday,» Schaeuble said ahead of the Eurogroup ministers' talks.

[Kathimerini English Edition & Reuters]

ekathimerini.com , Monday November 12, 2012 (01:25)  
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