Greece to stay the course, says PM

Prime Minister George Papandreou said yesterday that there was no question of Greece defaulting on its debt, as eurozone finance ministers met in Brussels to discuss whether Ireland would have to resort to taking on an emergency loan mechanism, as Greece did early this year. Dublin looks increasingly likely to need European Union and International Monetary Fund help amid fears that financial instability could spread to other countries that use the euro. Given the fraught climate in Europe, Papandreou attempted to assure people that Greece is not heading for bankruptcy after seeing its 2009 public deficit figure revised upward on Monday to 15.4 percent of gross domestic product. Papandreou said a Greek default would be a «catastrophe» for the country, Europe and the euro. He also said the idea of restructuring any of its 300-billion-euro debt is «out of the question.» «We are continuing in the direction we have set out,» he told France’s Le Figaro newspaper. «We have proved wrong all those who said that Greece would not be able to put its public finances in order. This effort is continuing.» However, the effort to cut public spending appears to be taking its toll on the government’s unity. In a radio interview, Health Minister Andreas Loverdos, previously head of the Labor Ministry where he spearheaded pension reforms, suggested that he was working much harder than other colleagues to help the country’s public finances. «We do not have a health minister at the moment, we have an accountant,» he said. «That’s what I am, since it has fallen on me for a second time to close a black hole [in public finances].» Loverdos said that his initiatives would save the government 1.3 billion euros of the 4.5 billion it needs to find by the end of the year. Meanwhile, government spokesman Giorgos Petalotis suggested yesterday that the government may rethink its decision to hold a parliamentary inquiry into the fiscal statistics produced under the previous New Democracy government. PASOK appears to be reconsidering the move as it might hamper its attempts to come to a political consensus over the next few months. The possibility of reaching out to ND was also set to be tested by a midnight vote in Parliament yesterday on whether to indict five former conservative ministers over the alleged Vatopedi Monastery real estate scandal.