Deficit up, spending in order

The budget deficit grew by almost 20 percent in the first 10 months of 2004, year-on-year, despite a slight application of the brakes on expenditure, the Ministry of Finance said yesterday. The total figure reached 9.67 billion euros, up 19.7 percent from 8.08 billion in January-October 2003. Nevertheless, the government managed to rein in spending to a certain degree, with the increase hitting 10.7 percent for January-October, year-on-year. The annual target for the whole of 2004 is 11.5 percent. During the same period, primary spending grew 12.4 percent, with an annual target of 14.6 percent. Interest payments increased 5.8 percent over the corresponding figure for last year, reaching 9.01 billion. On the other hand, public revenues fell behind budget targets, increasing by only 4.5 percent. The year-end target is 6.2 percent. Under revised forecasts, Greece expects the budget deficit to hit 5.3 percent of GDP at the end of the year, well over the 3 percent eurozone ceiling. The European Commission anticipates a 5.5 percent increase. Athens hopes to reduce this figure to 2.8 percent next year.