Fabricated picture

Greece’s budget deficit doubled in the first 11 months of 2003 compared to the same period in the previous year, sources told Kathimerini yesterday. The data, which constitute a severe blow to the glossed-up picture of the national economy painted by the PASOK government, should have been made public last month. However, the national economy and finance minister has been at pains to put off the release of related economic figures in an attempt to minimize damage for the ruling Socialists. But although the government managed to keep these figures away from the public eye, it failed to keep them secret from European Union officials in Brussels. The European Commission’s annual report on member states’ implementation of the broad economic policy guidelines, which is due to be made public tomorrow in the Belgian capital, is another clear warning to the government in Athens. The EU report refers specifically to unchecked spending, which resulted in inflated deficits and a huge public debt. The Commission accuses the government of making no substantial efforts to trim the debt apart from channeling some revenue from privatizations. The overruns in the 2004 Olympic Games budget combined with increased spending included in the so-called «social package» announced by the government a few months ago are expected to increase the strain on public finances. The grim picture painted in the European document is supplemented by references to the lack of business dynamism, low investment, ineffective incentives for boosting employment and curbing the jobless rate, low competitiveness and to the perils deriving from a costly social security and pension system. Campaign periods, of course, never go hand-in-hand with policies aimed at improving the public economy. This time, however, the government is being pressured by high economic expectations among several social groups. These are to some degree justified as the PASOK government has been congratulating itself over Greece’s ostensibly powerful economy. The government is responsible for conning the public into believing that the country possesses a thriving economy. It is also responsible for its sorry state. Although the Socialists will most likely not be the ones to have to bear the consequences of their policies, the burden that they are about to bequeath to the next government is a heavy one and could well become a source of peril and strong social discontent.

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