Deficit woes grow

Under concerted attack in Luxembourg yesterday over the shaky deficit figures Athens tabled between 2000 and 2003, Economy and Finance Minister Giorgos Alogoskoufis drew the line at a substantial revision of the data that ensured Greece’s eurozone entry in June 2000. Alogoskoufis’s colleagues from the other 24 European Union members meeting in Luxembourg expressed displeasure at the deficit revisions, hours after eurozone finance ministers had voiced «deep concern» over the issue. «Revisions of budgetary data, similar to these that have been detected in the case of Greece, must not occur again in the Community,» a statement by the Council of EU Economy and Finance Ministers (Ecofin) said yesterday. Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker called for sanctions against EU members that publish erroneous data in the future. While casting doubt on Greece’s ability to fulfill its commitment to keep the deficit below the 3 percent eurozone ceiling in 2005, Ecofin also seconded strong aspersions cast by the European Commission on the data Athens submitted for 1997-1999 – which secured the country its inclusion in the eurozone. «Ministers urged Greece to work with the European Commission to clarify outstanding issues on deficit and debt data stretching back to 1997, and to supply all the necessary figures before the next meeting of EU finance ministers,» the Ecofin statement said. This meeting will be held on November 14-15. Last week, officials from the EU statistics service, Eurostat, failed to clear up doubts regarding the years 1997-1999 during a visit to Athens. Eurostat requested additional information from Greek authorities. Yesterday, Alogoskoufis insisted that Greece will attain its deficit targets for 2005. At the same time, he ruled out any substantial revision of the 1997-1999 figures by changing the method whereby these data were calculated. The minister said that, as far as his government is concerned, the methodology followed at the time was fully legitimate. However, sources told Kathimerini that the mood at the Ecofin meeting was very unpleasant, with many of Alogoskoufis’s colleagues openly questioning Greece’s eurozone entry.