Economic truce at an end

Prime Minister George Papandreou and New Democracy leader Antonis Samaras met yesterday for the first time since the government announced austerity measures to aid Greece’s economic recovery but the two men appeared to disagree on what needs to be done next. ND has broadly supported the government’s attempts to put public finances in order but, following yesterday’s meeting, Samaras indicated that he is concerned that PASOK has a limited plan of action. «I had said that consensus is a strength, not a weakness,» said the ND leader. «But the government has regarded it as a weakness and will now realize how mistaken it is.» Samaras said the government needs to consider what other measures it must take to cut spending and increase revenues before possibly being forced to do so by the European Union next month. He also backed a parliamentary investigation into the handling of public finances but said that this would have to go back to 1981, when PASOK first came to power. This confrontational approach between the two parties was reflected in events in Parliament as well. Speaking during a debate about a bill to set up a new, independent national statistics service, Finance Minister Giorgos Papaconstantinou hit out at the previous government and officials for failing to provide an accurate assessment of the state of Greece’s economy. It had been projected early last year, under the New Democracy government, that Greece’s deficit would reach 3.7 percent of gross domestic product but, after PASOK came to power in October, this figure was revised to 12.7 percent, triggering concern and demands for austerity measures from the EU. «They constantly ask me in Europe: ‘Won’t someone be held accountable for what happened with your country’s statistics? Doesn’t someone need to go to jail over this?’» Papaconstantinou told MPs. «Clearly the fudging of figures was not carried out by employees [of the National Statistical Service]. Those who gave the orders will be made to answer.» ND deputies responded by pointing to reports that previous PASOK governments had hidden Greece’s debt by engaging in complicated credit swaps with US banks.

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