NEWS

PM eyes use of EU funds

As the government rushes to push through a raft of new laws and issue ministerial decisions demanded by foreign creditors in exchange for more aid, Prime Minister Lucas Papademos flew to Brussels on Tuesday where he is to discuss with European Union officials Greece?s efforts to put its beleaguered economy back on track.

Meanwhile the chairman of the eurozone group of finance ministers, Jean-Claude Juncker, said he backed the idea of an EU commissioner ?for developing the Greek economic structure,? according to an interview with Germany?s Die Welt to be published on Wednesday. Juncker stressed that the commissioner would oversee growth, not fiscal issues.

Papademos is to meet in Brussels with European Council President Herman Van Rompuy, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and European Commissioner for Regional Policy Johannes Hahn, among others.

The challenge of boosting growth and employment in Greece — as well as finding ways to absorb some 11 billion euros in EU subsidies — is expected to dominate the talks, which come a day before the launch of an EU summit in Brussels. Barroso is expected to propose certain key goals including the provision of capital to small businesses and subsidies for the recruitment of unemployed young people, as well as the resumption of five major road construction projects and the overhaul of Greece?s public administration.

Just ahead of Wednesday?s European Union summit, eurozone finance ministers are to hold a brief meeting to ?take stock? of Greece?s progress in pushing through reforms.

On Tuesday the Cabinet took another step toward completing a slew of ?prior actions? demanded by foreign creditors, approving a steep reduction to the minimum wage. The reduction was one of several measures included in a new debt deal for Greece that was voted through Parliament earlier this month. It will allow employers to impose a 22 percent reduction in the standard minimum wage of 751 euros retroactively from February 14.

Later Tuesday, MPs were to vote on new cuts to main and auxiliary pensions. The vote was expected to pass easily thanks to the coalition government?s comfortable majority of 193 in the 300-seat Parliament. Another vote, due to take place on Wednesday, will ask MPs to approve cuts to state spending on pharmaceuticals.