Economy and Finance Minister Nikos Christodoulakis yesterday dismissed claims that the economy is in such a bad state that the new government to emerge from the March 7 election will have to ask Greeks to tighten their belts. «The Greek economy has the potential to bolster, through various measures, economic convergence (with the rest of the EU) and social cohesion, and to fight poverty,» he said. Christodoulakis argued that the 2005 budget would increase this potential, as it would be relieved of financing Olympic projects and the economy will have acquired added dynamism. The new potential benefits will be included in the government’s Convergence Charter, which was released in September and will be launched for dialogue. He said the fact that the Greek economy ultimately grew at a rate of 4.2 percent last year, when the rate forecast in September was 3.8 percent, was evidence of continuous improvement and of the added potential for meeting the convergence targets. He said Greeks’ per capita income now stands at 76 percent of the European Union average – putting Greece in 14th position among the 15 current members – and is fast approaching the 80 percent target. In terms of Purchasing Power Units, Greek incomes equal 88 percent of the 15-member average, he claimed. Other stated goals of the convergence plan are a reduction in unemployment to 6 percent in 2008 from 8.9 percent at present, while also increasing employment to 62 percent from 58 percent currently and creating 290,000 new jobs, particularly for women and young people.