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Greece looks for nod from Eurogroup after passing 2013 budget

Greece received encouragement from Eurogroup chief Jean-Claude Juncker on Monday ahead of a meeting of eurozone finance ministers, which Athens hopes will result in a clear political commitment to back the government’s efforts and release the next tranche of bailout funding soon.

Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras headed to the meeting having assured Parliament ahead of the vote on the 2013 national budget on Sunday night that Greece would receive the 31.5 billion euros it was initially expected to get during the summer.

The budget passed relatively easily through Parliament after almost three days of at times intense debate. It received the support of 167 out of 300 deputies but there were further losses for the government.

New Democracy's Theodoros Soldatos was ousted for the party for voting against some aspects of the bill. This left the conservatives with 125 seats.

All of PASOK’s 26 MPs supported the budget. But junior coalition partner Democratic Left saw three of its 16 lawmakers fail to back the economic plan. It is not clear if they will be ousted from the leftist party.

The European Commission said the passing of the Greek budget through Parliament on Sunday night was an «important step towards the disbursement of the next tranche to Greece».

Juncker, meanwhile, indicated that a troika report on Greece’s program had been completed and would make positive reading.

The Luxembourg prime minister received the report on Sunday night and, according to AFP, said it «is positive in its fundamental tone because the Greeks really delivered. Now it is for us to deliver."

“I am impressed by Greece's recent performance,” he added. “Greece is on track to meet its commitments step by step.

“There won't be any definitive decisions today, but I think the general feeling is that we would like the next disbursement to done in the most efficient way possible,” he said.

Greece is hoping its lenders will agree to release the loan installment before the end of the month, thereby allowing for disagreements between the eurozone and the International Monetary Fund over Greek debt sustainability to be resolved.

Once there is an agreement on the debt analysis, it will be sent to national parliaments to get approval for the disbursement of the next aid tranche -- money Athens needs to pay off loans and shore up its banks.

“I think it's rather unrealistic to expect a final decision today as in Germany the Bundestag (lower house of parliament) has to agree to it in advance,» German government spokeswoman Marianne Kothe said.

Lenders also have to agree on how to provide the extra funding Greece will need if it receives a two-year extension of its targets.

Time pressure for a deal on Greece is growing because Athens has to redeem 5 billion euros worth of treasury bills on Nov. 16 and has been counting on cash from the next euro zone aid tranche to help cover that.

Since the money will not come in time, Greece wants to roll over the bills. “We are very confident the issue will be rolled over without any problem,» a senior debt agency official told Reuters.

“We have liaised with the ECB regarding the ceiling on the outstanding stock of T-bills and there is no problem."

A senior EU official also said euro zone ministers were aware of the Nov. 16 Greek redemption and that there would be no «accidental” default.

Meanwhile, the Greek Finance Ministry announced on Monday that Greece beat its deficit target in the first 10 months of 2012 as spending fell 13.2 percent and revenue rose.

The budget gap, which excludes outlays by state-controlled enterprises, narrowed by 42 percent to 12.3 billion euros from 21.1 billion euros in the same period a year earlier, preliminary figures showed.

The government target was 13.6 billion euros. The primary deficit, which excludes debt-service costs, was 1.2 billion euros versus a goal of 2.4 billion euros.

[Kathimerini English Edition & agencies]

ekathimerini.com , Monday November 12, 2012 (15:29)  
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