EC to keep Greece on tight rein

European Commission officials yesterday approved an economic crisis plan submitted to Brussels last month by the Greek government and welcomed the additional measures heralded by Prime Minister George Papandreou in a televised address on Tuesday night, but they said they would be keeping a close eye on the implementation of austerity measures and demanding regular progress updates. The European Union’s Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner Joaquin Almunia said Greece’s Stability and Growth Program, which aims to plug a gaping deficit over the next three years, was «ambitious but realistic.» He also welcomed Papandreou’s heralding of extra austerity measures – including a wage freeze in the public sector, a 10 percent reduction in civil servant supplemental pay and an increase in fuel tax. Almunia stressed, however, that the implementation of these measures by the government was not going to be easy. «If the program is followed by decisions, by actions… this will have a positive effect on the market,» he said. «If the decisions are not there, the markets will apply additional pressure.» The EC expects the first update on the government’s progress in implementing austerity measures by mid-March. After that, it will demand monthly progress reports until May and quarterly updates thereafter. Almunia stressed that the government’s efforts to meet targets for reducing its bloated budget deficit would be «rigorously monitored through the surveillance procedure.» But he emphasized the support of Brussels for Greek efforts to get the economy back on track. «The Commission fully supports Greece in this difficult task,» he said. Workers’ unions were less encouraging in their reception of the government’s bolstered austerity program. The General Confederation of Greek Labor (GSEE), the country’s main labor union, yesterday called a 24-hour strike for February 24. Papandreou’s pledges to Brussels were also criticized by the main civil servants’ union (ADEDY), which has already called a strike for February 10. «The measures announced [by Papandreou] confirm our predictions,» said ADEDY Chairman Spyros Papaspyros. «These measures will not be the last to be taken.»

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