Government plans to cut 450 mln euros in expenses

The government yesterday said it plans to shave 450 million euros off this year’s expenditures, with the ax falling on non-social spending. The move to rein in expenditure comes as Greece finds itself burdened with more than it had bargained for, the costs of social security reforms being the latest drain on this year’s budget. Efforts to instill greater fiscal discipline also underscore the inadequacies of the government’s fiscal strategy, which hinges on reducing debt servicing costs and boosting tax revenues rather than cutting spending. Since the mid-1990s, Greece’s current primary spending has steadily increased in proportion to its GDP, a dubious honor it shares with Portugal. A Finance Ministry spokesman told Kathimerini English Edition that spending cuts would apply to all ministries’ operational expenses, notably travel expenditures and overtime pay. He said the call for spending restraint is part of the government’s efforts to offset one-off expenses incurred this year, such as compensation to farmers for crops damaged during the winter blitz. The budget has also come under pressure following a package of tax cuts announced late last year and which came into force this year. The measures are expected to cost the State 675 million euros, amounting to 0.5 percent of GDP. Expenditure for the year as a whole is projected to grow by 5.4 percent. Data from the Finance Ministry, released last month, showed spending had increased by 5 percent in the first quarter of the year, the bulk of which was for personnel expenses and interest payments. While this year’s budget has focused on boosting revenues, the spotlight on next year’s budget is expected to fall on spending as well, in particular overtime pay and travel expenses which have traditionally tended to diverge from the budget. Part of the government’s fiscal restraint includes a 2-percent cap on operational expenditures in next year’s budget. The new fiscal strategy is patterned upon the UK model with the key focus on specific expenditure ceilings and multi-year budgeting. Ministries have been asked to submit their budget estimates for 2003 by mid-July, with the draft budget expected to be tabled in Parliament in early October.