NEWS

Greece braces for EC feedback

As the government braces for feedback from the European Commission this week on its crisis plan for the nation’s reeling economy, the main conservative opposition has pledged its support for austerity measures, while Germany’s foreign minister has assured Kathimerini of the European Union’s support for Athens. The government is due to receive by Wednesday an official response from Brussels to the measures it has proposed in its Stability and Growth Program. It is widely expected that Brussels will approve the crisis plan. But if authorities fail to follow the goals set out in the program to the letter, sources reveal, they will be obliged to submit a «Plan B» – containing additional reforms – by March 16. Otherwise, they risk handing over the responsibility for financial decision-making to Brussels. According to sources, the additional measures envisaged by Brussels include an increase in taxes on fuel and luxury goods. The government is also expected to come under additional pressure to cut salaries and freeze recruitment in the public sector – measures that are likely to incite more public protests. Public sector employees on short-term contracts staged demonstrations in Athens last week, tax officials are planning a walkout this week and civil servants have called a strike for next Wednesday. But Prime Minister George Papandreou and Finance Minister Giorgos Papaconstantinou have stressed, in a flurry of interviews with the foreign media, that the necessary austerity measures will be taken. Some appear ready to give Greece the benefit of the doubt. «We are confident that the Greek government will display the dynamism necessary to address the structural weaknesses of its economy,» Germany’s Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle told Sunday’s Kathimerini. «Greece has the full support of Germany and all other European Union member states on this issue,» said Westerwelle, who is due in Athens tomorrow. In another interview with Kathimerini, the main conservative opposition leader Antonis Samaras said his party would back crisis measures «because these are critical times and the good of the country demands it.»