Brussels gives Greece thumbs-up

BRUSSELS – The European Commission late on Monday acknowledged Greek efforts at fiscal consolidation, particularly in lowering its budget deficit. Speaking after the informal eurozone finance ministers council meeting (Eurogroup), which discussed the recent forecast report on the economies of member states, Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner Joaquin Almunia noted that Greece was the only member which heeded in its 2008 budget the Commission’s standing guideline for cutting its fiscal deficit by 0.5 percent of gross domestic product (GDP). Greek Economy and Finance Minister Giorgos Alogoskoufis said the Commission’s report on Greece was satisfactory, with its forecasts diverging little from those of the government itself. Yesterday, the finance ministers council of the 27 EU members (Ecofin) focused on the issue of reforms according to the so-called Lisbon agenda, which aims at bolstering the economic competitiveness of the EU economy. In statements afterward, Alogoskoufis said Greece has already submitted to the Commission a progress report on its reforms, with two areas in particular showing the best results: first, fiscal consolidation, where the deficit will be down from a projected 2.6 percent this year to 1.8 percent of GDP in 2008 and debt lowered to below 90 percent of GDP by 2009; and secondly, an improvement in employment and a fall in unemployment. A lot more remains to be done on all fronts, Alogoskoufis added. Separately, Alogoskoufis said Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda’s view that the yen is appreciating too quickly is similar to the eurozone finance ministers’ views on the euro. «It is the same view that we have on the euro – that we don’t welcome high volatility and very sudden movements,» he said after the Ecofin meeting. Asked whether Fukuda’s comments were in line with G7 agreements, he said, «One step further, I think.» (Kathimerini, Reuters)