NEWS

Greece resisting EU pressure

European Union finance ministers yesterday gave Greece a month to prove that it is able to get its public finances back on track, as Athens insisted it is up to the job and will not need to take any additional measures. Following the Ecofin meeting in Brussels, the ministers said in a statement that Greece must show by March 16 it is on its way to cutting its public deficit by 4 percent of gross domestic product this year. Finance Minister Giorgos Papaconstantinou said that progress is already being made. «It’s a matter of credibility for the country,» he told reporters. «The execution of the Greek budget for the month of January, based on preliminary figures, is going quite well. We actually have a surplus.» Papaconstantinou refused to be drawn on whether any additional measures may include cutting one of the extra two monthly salaries paid to public servants each year. «The government will do whatever it can to protect the incomes of Greek workers,» the minister said in response to questions about this issue. Meanwhile, Prime Minister George Papandreou was in Moscow for talks with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, who offered words of encouragement as Greece attempts to reduce its debt. «As we all know, the global economic crisis did not start in Greece or Russia or in Europe,» he said. «It came to us from across the ocean,» Putin added in a clear reference to the United States. Greek and Russian officials denied that there had been any discussion of Moscow offering Athens financial aid to help it out of the economic crisis. In fact, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, who Papandreou also met, advised the Greek premier to seek assistance from the International Monetary Fund. The talks between Putin and Papandreou focused mostly on the Burgas-Alexandroupoli pipeline. The two sides agreed to set up a joint panel that would put pressure on Sofia to speed up work on its part of the project.