Greece expects 4.5-4.7 percent growth by ’06

Amid fears of a possible global recession, Greece’s revised Stability and Growth Pact program, which will be submitted to the European Commission in early December, will forecast annual growth rates of 4.5 to 4.7 percent between 2003 and 2006. Estimated at 3.8 percent this year, the growth of Greece’s gross domestic product (GDP) is already the highest among developed nations, a first for the country. A large part of the growth has been fueled by the big infrastructure projects under way, many related to the 2004 Athens Olympics, and the money for these and other projects made available by the European Union’s Third Community Support Framework (CSFIII). Sources within the Economy and Finance Ministry say that Greece’s report, like the 2003 budget, will also contain a pessimistic alternative of high fuel prices – a likely result of a prolonged US attack on Iraq – and a protracted recession. In this alternative scenario, annual growth will not exceed 3.5 percent of GDP but will still be much faster than the eurozone average, thus enabling Greek income levels to slowly converge with those in other EU countries. To achieve higher growth, the government wants to further open up markets like telecoms and energy to competition, accelerate privatizations and speed up the completion of projects funded by CSFIII. Including state and private capital infusions, these projects are worth over 50 billion euros and are expected to create thousands of new jobs. At a time when downward revisions on growth are the norm in almost all European economies, the authors of the report will be hard-pressed to paint a convincing picture of an accelerating economy. Inflation is expected to remain above average European levels, but lower than the 3.8 percent annual growth rate (according to the harmonized eurozone index) recorded at end-September. Inflation will be expected to average between 2.5 and 3 percent in the period ending in 2006. The report will forecast annual budget surpluses of around 1 percent of GDP, less than previously forecast but still able to bring Greece’s total debt to 95 percent of GDP. Debt is the thorniest issue facing Greece. A series of recent decisions by Eurostat, the EU statistics agency, obliged Greece, and other countries, to include in their debt financial operations designed to disguise its real extent. These decisions have meant that Greece’s debt at the end of 2002 will equal at least 105 percent of GDP instead of the previously announced 99 percent.