NEWS

Athens says it sticks to EU Stability Pact

Athens yesterday continued to try to rationalize its support for Germany and France in a vote of finance ministers on Tuesday that spared the EU’s two largest countries the ignominy of being punished for excessive deficits but which was also seen as dealing a blow to the bloc’s credibility. Greece was among the seven countries that outvoted Spain, the Netherlands, Austria and Finland. The four had sided with the European Commission in the ECOFIN meeting. Germany and France were not allowed to vote. The International Herald Tribune yesterday pointed to a possible reason for the support that some countries had given the Germans and French. «Analysts speculated that there were various political motives among the countries that supported Germany and France, ranging from the personal ambitions of their leaders to negotiations for the future European Constitution,» the IHT’s Thomas Fuller reported from Brussels. This renewed rumors of Prime Minister Costas Simitis’s ostensible ambitions to pursue a senior EU role, as he had said on Monday, just before the ECOFIN meeting, that he had been on the telephone with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and said that he (Simitis) was in favor of a compromise decision. As the EU continued to be rocked, with Commission President Romano Prodi saying Tuesday’s decision was «not satisfactory,» Greece’s economy and finance minister, Nikos Christodoulakis, said that Greece adheres to the Stability Pact and therefore the debate does not concern it. «We support and adhere to to the Stability and Development Pact. We are a country that has one of the highest rates of economic development. Employment is also increasing greatly,» he said after meeting with Simitis. «The debate taking place in other countries does not concern us.» Meanwhile, in its twice-yearly Economic Outlook, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development predicted that in 2004, Greece will have a budget deficit of 1.6 percent of GDP (as in 2003), inflation at 3.6 percent, unemployment at 8.9 percent, growth of 4.1 percent of GDP and a current accounts deficit of 6.3 percent of GDP (from 6.5 percent this year).