Growth, deficit cut main ’05 priorities

The government’s main priorities in economic policy for this year are achieving a high growth rate, meeting the deficit target for the 2005 budget and reaching a final agreement with the European Union on how to whittle down deficits and public debt, Economy and Finance Minister Giorgos Alogoskoufis said yesterday. Alogoskoufis met yesterday with Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis to discuss the implementation of the budget. He later told reporters that 2005 will be a «crucial year» and appeared unwilling to implement austerity policies, as former Prime Minister Constantine Mitsotakis had suggested last week. The government’s aim is to reduce the deficit to an amount equal to 2.8 percent of Greece’s gross domestic product (GDP), just below the 3 percent upper limit set for eurozone countries. This, however, hinges on the economy achieving a 3.9 percent growth rate, a figure deemed too optimistic by the European Commission, which suggested that a 3.5 percent rate was more likely and has found the current budget’s predictions too optimistic. The government insists it can achieve its goals, though a circular sent yesterday by Deputy Finance Minister Petros Doukas to state agencies suggests that the task will be difficult. Doukas called for cuts on operating expenditures – especially items such as electricity and phone use and civil servants’ trips – and warned that not all funds earmarked for state agencies may be, in the end, approved.