Finance chief tries to lower expectations

Economy and Finance Minister Nikos Christodoulakis tried to dampen excessive expectations of government largesse in a radio interview yesterday. Questioned about the Convergence Charter promised by Prime Minister Costas Simitis, and which is due to be revealed next month, Christodoulakis said, in effect, that it will target specific groups – those with the lowest incomes – and will not affect the government’s tight fiscal policy. «The government systematically aims at boosting the incomes of workers and pensioners, especially those with very low income… We must keep a fine balance between our principle, that we must help those with lower incomes, and keeping within the bounds of fiscal stability and our goal of boosting competitiveness,» he told Skai radio station. When Simitis promised a Convergence Charter, he meant a blueprint of changes that would allow the Greek economy to improve its performance and catch up with the rest of the European Union. Convergence also means convergence of incomes: At the moment, Greece’s income is about 70 percent of the average in EU member-states and even less, about 65 percent, in terms of purchasing-power parity. However, many took talk of the charter to be about pre-electoral promises and there have been heightened expectations of handouts ahead of the national elections, nine months away at most. The government is constrained by other priorities: first, lowering the public debt by almost five percentage points, to just over 100 percent of the country’s gross domestic product; and second, finishing public infrastructure projects related to the Olympic Games. As for the second goal, Deputy Economy Minister Christos Pachtas announced yesterday the Public Investment Program had been accelerated. Total payments since the start of the year have reached 4.3 billion euros, a rise of almost 50 percent from last year. Of these, 1 billion was spent in July alone. Pachtas said that Attiki Odos, the semicircular highway skirting Athens, will be ready in October.