Constitution is next target

Having wrapped up the debate over the 2006 budget in Parliament last night, Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis laid out his plans for one of the government’s next projects, which will be a review of the Greek Constitution. The five-day debate about next year’s budget was set to end with a vote in the early hours of this morning which the ruling conservatives, who have a clear majority in the 300-seat house, were expected to win comfortably. The success of next year’s budget is likely to prove a milestone in New Democracy’s immediate political future as well as Greece’s economic prospects. The government is under pressure from the European Commission to deliver on a promise to reduce its public deficit to below the 3 percent of GDP ceiling for eurozone countries. Karamanlis and Economy and Finance Minister Giorgos Alogoskoufis will largely be judged on whether they deliver on this commitment. Alogoskoufis has predicted the deficit will be cut to 2.6 percent by the end of next year. Meeting the target will mean that the government could loosen the purse strings going into 2007, which is set to be a pre-election year. This year’s political sparring in Parliament came to an end with speeches from the four parliamentary party leaders. Karamanlis defended his government’s reform program which, he claimed, would revitalize the economy. He said that he was optimistic Greece would meet the economic targets it has set itself in 2007. PASOK leader George Papandreou labeled the government’s economic policy a failure which had forced it to keep thinking up new ways to raise money. He criticized Karamanlis for failing to negotiate a better deal at the EU leaders’ summit than the 20 billion euros in aid for Greece between 2007 and 2013. Papandreou, however, appears to have problems of his own to deal with, as PASOK sources indicated that Socialist MPs were disappointed with their showing in the parliamentary debate because they did not provide a convincing alternative to the government’s policies. Karamanlis was also keen to move the discussion away from the economy and said his government intended to begin a review of the constitution next year. The last review of the constitution was in 2001.