NEWS

Greece in bad books

Greek confidence took another beating yesterday as Europeans were highly critical of its upwardly revised public deficit figures while EU officials denied making any special concessions in the past over how the government made its accounting calculations. «The Greeks have caused a deep wound to the idea of European understanding and the stability of the uro and this cannot go unpunished,» said Edmund Stoiber, minister-president of Bavaria and president of the Christian Social Union (CSU) party in Germany. The previous PASOK administration, which was in government during the period for which the figures have been revised, has cried foul over accusations that it was less than competent – or worse – in keeping its books, claiming a deal was done with the EU statistics service, Eurostat, over how to compile the figures in question. «We had made an arrangement in good faith with Eurostat to count heavy military expenditure directly into public debt and not on the deficit in order to draw out related payments over a longer period,» former Greek Finance Minister Yiannos Papantoniou told Agence France-Presse on Wednesday. European Monetary Affairs Commissioner Joaquin Almunia hit back yesterday, denying that any such agreement had been reached. «Statistical information is not a question of negotiations but of substantiated data,» Almunia told private radio station Flash yesterday. Almunia’s comment did not wash with everyone. «It is certain that the European Commission knew of practices and rules followed in the compilation of Greek national accounts and therefore it can’t claim ignorance about the methods [used for] Greece’s fiscal records,» said New Democracy Euro MP Antonis Trakatellis. Meanwhile, Finance Minister Giorgos Alogoskoufis met with Premier Costas Karamanlis yesterday to discuss the upcoming budget. With the government already having declared its intention of reducing the public deficit from a projected 5.3 percent of GDP to 2.8 percent by next year, and hence back under the 3 percent limit set by the EU, a series of belt-tightening measures are likely. Sources indicate the new budget, whose draft will be made public next week before it is submitted to Parliament the week after, will substantially limit departmental spending. It is thought most ministries will only receive a 4 to 5 percent increase, apart from those of Health and Education, which will receive rises of 5.8 and 6 percent respectively.