Debate for 2004 budget begins

Parliament yesterday began a five-day debate on the budget proposal for 2004, a year that will encompass both elections and the Athens Olympics. The discussion will end with a roll call vote at midnight on Monday, in what is traditionally seen as a vote of confidence in the government. Prime Minister Costas Simitis’s PASOK party holds 156 seats in the 300-member Parliament. The debate began under the shadow of figures released yesterday which showed that the current budget’s forecasts for January-October had been derailed. The deficit widened by 150 percent over the 10-month period while the borrowing requirement ballooned to 10.22 billion euros, from 5.6 billion in the same period a year earlier. New Democracy’s shadow finance minister, Giorgos Alogoskoufis, claiming the 10-month period showed the government’s lack of credibility. «The government ought to be ashamed to bring us a budget that has been overturned by the 10-month figures. It should have withdrawn it, as it is literally without foundation.» National Economy Nikos Christodoulakis replied that the figures will improve by the end of the year. The general state budget proposal for 2004 expects growth of 4.2 percent of GDP, from 4 percent this year, and a deficit of 1.2 percent, from 1.4 percent in 2003.