Dijsselbloem arrives as military cuts approved

A day after Greece decided to pare down its armed forces, Eurogroup head Jeroen Dijsselbloem is due in Athens on Friday to review the progress of the fiscal adjustment program.

After talks with Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras, Dijsselbloem, also the Dutch finance minister, will meet Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, who is likely to discuss with him the idea of reducing value-added tax in the food service sector, even temporarily. The government has toyed with this proposal for some time but has so far been rebuffed by its lenders.

Dijsselbloem will then have lunch with Samaras and coalition partner Evangelos Venizelos. The New Democracy and PASOK leaders will not be joined by Democratic Left chief Fotis Kouvelis, who has a prior engagement.

Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker, Dijsselbloem’s predecessor, is due in Athens for a two-day visit in June.

On Thursday, the Government Council for Foreign Affairs and Defense (KYSEA), chaired by Samaras, agreed a set of changes in the armed forces that will see some departments merged or closed down and the number of high-ranking officers (from brigadier upward) reduced by 20 percent. Of 22 countries analyzed in a December report by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Greece showed one the biggest drops in spending on military equipment and personnel.

Defense Minister Panos Panayiotopolous insisted that the changes would not affect frontline troops and were aimed at downsizing the administrative side, or what he termed “military bureaucracy.”