Deficit figure triggers new round of bickering

An argument between PASOK and New Democracy on Tuesday over the size of Greece?s public deficit, which was confirmed at 10.5 percent of gross domestic product for 2010, disguised internal rifts both within the government and the main opposition party.

Greece?s 2010 deficit figure was rubber-stamped by the European Commission?s statistical arm, Eurostat, but New Democracy immediately reminded voters that earlier in the year it was expected to be about 1 percent lower. The conservatives said this was down to reduced revenues, which were caused by the government?s decision to tax households and businesses more. ND repeated its position that only economic growth can really restore Greece?s public finances to good health.

Government spokesman Giorgos Petalotis, however, responded by reminding Greeks that even though the figure was higher than had been expected earlier in the year, it still represented a massive cut in the public deficit. ?We achieved a deficit reduction last year of 5 percent, the largest in the EU and during a recession,? he said.

However, the dispute between the two parties was minor in comparison to the friction within their ranks.

At New Democracy, high-profile party members continued their attacks on former Economy and Finance Minister Giorgos Alogoskoufis. ND spokesman Yiannis Michelakis triggered the internal conflict last week when he criticized the decision of the conservative government that came to power in 2004 to carry out an audit of public finances that led to the public deficit being revised upward. Yesterday, a close aide of ND leader Antonis Samaras, Chrysanthos Lazaridis, fueled the debate by labeling the audit ?criminal.? Alogoskoufis insisted it was a decision of ?national responsibility.?

The row is an indication of Samaras?s intention to make a clean break with the party?s recent past, even if it means a full-blown clash with ex-Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis and his team.

At PASOK, meanwhile, Environment Minister Tina Birbili indicated her dislike for plans to allow owners of illegally built homes to pay a fee to protect the properties from demolition. The government?s intention was announced by Finance Minister Giorgos Papconstantinou last week but Birbili said that she has no intention of there to be an ?environmental excuse for policies that are only designed to raise revenues.?

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