Greek lawmakers approve tough new budget for next year

‘ENORMOUS’ CHANGES::The budget includes 3.1 billion euros more in cuts, but the country’s creditors postponed talks as they demanded further reforms


Mon, Dec 09, 2013 - Page 6

Greece’s parliament on Saturday approved a tough budget for next year aimed at ending the country’s deep recession, despite continued differences on fiscal policy with the country’s international creditors.

The coalition government, which enjoys a narrow majority in the 300-seat chamber, scraped through with 153 deputies backing the 2014 budget in a late evening vote.

The budget measures included a further 3.1 billion euros (US$4.2 billion) in spending cuts from an economy already suffering from successive austerity measures. The move came as Greece’s troika of international creditors — the EU, the European Central Bank (ECB) and the IMF — announced they had delayed until next month their next trip to Athens.

Senior auditors from the so-called creditor troika had been expected to return to Athens today to resume an evaluation of pledged Greek reforms. The EU-ECB-IMF decision means talks on unblocking 1 billion euros in bailout funds are postponed.

The budget approved by parliament foresees a return to growth for the embattled Greek economy.

However, earlier on Saturday a spokesman for EU Economic Affairs Commissioner Olli Rehn said the international negotiating team would not return to Athens until next month, “after the authorities have made further progress in implementation” of reforms demanded by Greece’s creditors.

An agreement with the troika is necessary to unblock the 1 billion euro installment of financial aid pending since the summer.

Athens has been keen to wrap up the talks before it assumes the rotating EU presidency next month.

The government is under pressure from the troika to loosen a moratorium on home foreclosures, but such a measure is likely to be opposed by several ruling party lawmakers and could risk the cohesion of the conservative-socialist coalition.

Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras stressed the positives in parliament, saying the country had “achieved a number of reforms which many had considered impossible.”

The changes made are “enormous,” he said, citing fresh competitiveness and a drastic reduction in the budget deficit.

He admitted discussions with the troika of creditors were difficult, but said he was confident there would be a satisfactory conclusion.

Greece’s budget for next year has not yet been approved by the troika and could yet be amended in the coming months with new austerity measures that the government has thus far rigorously opposed.

Alexis Tsipras, leader of the left-wing opposition party Syriza, said adopting the budget in its current form, which includes a 2.1 billion euro hike in tax revenues as well as the spending cuts, means “the disaster will continue.”