Tidier finances and reforms top incomer’s list

Faced with a slowing economy and a massive public debt, newly appointed National Economy and Finance Minister Yiannis Papathanassiou promised yesterday to help Greece get through the crisis by tidying up public finances and pushing ahead with reforms. Following a swearing-in ceremony held yesterday, Papathanassiou took control of the country’s purse strings from Giorgos Alogoskoufis, who had headed the ministry since the conservatives took power in 2004. The changeover was part of a Cabinet reshuffle by Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis aimed at shoring up his government’s popularity, hit by riots, scandals and economic woes. The new finance minister, who served under Alogoskoufis as his deputy, said future efforts must avoid further burdening low-income earners, pensioners and small-business owners hit by continuous tax hikes – the latest being in September last year. «We are obligated to continue efforts toward greater order, transparency and effectiveness of spending in the public sector and at the same time step up efforts to fight tax evasion,» said Papathanassiou, who has also served as president of the Athens Chamber of Commerce & Industry (EBEA), Greece’s largest. «We must also speed up structural reforms.» The reshuffle, which placed Costis Hatzidakis at the helm of the Development Ministry, largely focused on improving economic sentiment in Greece as the ongoing international crisis highlights the domestic economy’s shortcomings. With the second-highest public debt in the eurozone (as a percentage of GDP) and a budget deficit of over 3 percent in 2007 and 2008, Greece has few fiscal tools to fight the crisis despite years of strong economic growth. Experts say changes of leadership at the ministries are unlikely to result in any shift in the conservative government’s economic policy since there is little room for fiscal maneuver. [email protected]

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