No new measures after emergency ministers’ talks

A lengthy meeting of government officials on Sunday did not lead to any new austerity measures being announced but Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos may yet unveil more steps to improve public finances today after a teleconference with troika officials and further meetings with cabinet colleagues.

Prime Minister George Papandreou met with the group of 11 ministers after canceling his trip to the US, where he had lined up a series of top-level meetings. Papandreou did not make any statements before or after the meeting, leaving that to Venizelos. The finance minister said he would announce the government?s next moves after talking to Greece?s lenders today but did not make it clear if this would include new measures or would involve the speeding up of changes included in the midterm fiscal plan passed through Parliament this summer.

?The government accepts responsibility for implementing the agreed program,? he said. ?At this time, Greece?s trustworthiness is being called into question. This cannot continue.?

Venizelos suggested that comments by New Democracy leader Antonis Samaras, Greek unionists, journalists, academics and businessmen had contributed to the country?s eurozone partners being skeptical about whether Greece could get its economy back on track.

Venizelos said the three broad goals agreed by the ministers were to meet Greece?s 2011 fiscal targets, to achieve a primary budget surplus as soon as possible and to push through structural reforms. ?Our main target will be to reduce spending, to rein in the state,? he said.

Venizelos suggested that his eurozone counterparts had not been convinced that an emergency real estate tax designed to plug a 2-billion-euro hole in public finances this year would work. The tax, which will see homeowners pay several hundred euros this year and next, was announced last Sunday and prompted heavy criticism from opposition parties, commentators and unions.

There was also criticism that the Church of Greece is exempt from the tax. Its head, Archbishop Ieronymos, accused the critics of being ?ill-intentioned? and claimed that the Church paid ?more tax than any citizen.? The Church and its employees paid about 10 different taxes but its total contribution to public coffers was a relatively modest 2.5 million euros last year.

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