Post-election blues for the economy

Economy and Finance Minister Nikos Christodoulakis will be called upon to balance calls from within the ruling PASOK party for a looser economic policy with the realistic needs of a tight fiscal policy. In this effort, his adversaries will likely outnumber his supporters. The results of the local government elections, which showed a clear erosion of the Socialists’ support among disgruntled farmers, are certain to cause increased pressure from frantic deputies elected in central and northern Greece for more handouts and farmers’ income support. The government’s concern over the slippage in support among what used to be one of the Socialists’ bedrock support groups was evident last Monday, when Prime Minister Costas Simitis and Christodoulakis met. After the meeting, the latter said that the government was giving priority to development in the countryside. He did not say how this could be accomplished without further stretching the budget, given the European Union’s rigid stance on farmers’ subsidies. Another issue that Christodoulakis has to resolve is the demands by many ministers for extra funds for their ministries. Leading the charge are Interior Minister Costas Skandalidis, Education Minister Petros Efthymiou and Health Minister Costas Stefanis. Sources say they will not easily back down from their demands. Their clash with Christodoulakis, buried during the pre-election period, is certain to resurface now that the elections are over. Christodoulakis is already facing a problem with balancing the 2002 budget, which was supposed to be in surplus. Spending has exceeded budget targets and there is a lag in revenues. Producing a surplus 2003 budget will be close to impossible, unless Greece wants to find itself again under tight EU scrutiny for imaginative, but ultimately counterproductive, accounting practices.