Tough budget set for approval

With its ample majority in Greece?s 300-seat Parliament, the coalition government of Prime Minister Lucas Papademos looked set to easily pass a tough budget for 2012 in a vote scheduled to take place shortly after midnight on Tuesday.

MPs were to cast their ballots in a roll call with the majority of the 258 deputies in the three parties forming the coalition — socialist PASOK, conservative New Democracy and the right-wing Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS) — expected to support the budget.

Described by Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos as ?a tool for exiting the crisis,? the budget for 2012 foresees some 5 billion euros in spending cuts and another 3.6 billion in tax collection. The chief aim is to report a primary budget surplus of 1.1 percent of gross domestic product next year.

Speaking in Parliament before the vote, most MPs and party leaders appeared to focus less on the budget itself and more on criticism of rival political parties and their responsibility for Greece?s current debt problems.

PASOK?s leader, former Premier George Papandreou, accused conservative New Democracy of allowing the country?s debt to spiral out of control. But he also stressed that the emphasis now should be on cooperating as a coalition, ?not everyone focusing on their own constituencies.? He added that Papademos?s coalition government should serve beyond the end of February.

ND leader Antonis Samaras struck a tone that made it clear that he was focused on the early elections. ?New Democracy is a decisive factor in developments and the guarantee of a transition to a new era,? he said. Samaras added that he did not regard the current government as a coalition but as ?a temporary, transitional government.?

With the approval of the budget essentially sealing the country?s commitment to austerity measures demanded by Greece?s international creditors, Papademos is to travel to Brussels on Thursday for a crucial EU summit.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel are expected to present their peers with proposals for closer fiscal discipline, probably via a treaty change.

Greece remains in a vulnerable position despite its success in securing crucial rescue funding and approving next year?s budget.

In an interview published in German daily Die Welt on Tuesday, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said that Greece would have to leave the euro if it failed to meet its commitments to creditors.

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