Athens.- Parliament in the early hours of Friday voted in favour of the 2007 state budget. 166 deputies voted for while 134 against it, out of the 300-member House. Addressing Parliament before the vote takes place, Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis termed the voting of the budget as a “vote of confidence for the continuation of reforms in all sectors” of Greek society.
According to the 2007 state budget, the growth rate of the Greek economy is anticipated at approximately 3.8 percent, spurred chiefly by investments. A 6.5 percent increase is also forecast in exports of goods and services while, on the negative side, a 7.0 percent increase is forecast in imports.
The main targets of the 2007 budget are boosting development and gradual reduction of the state deficit, while measures are provided for boosting the growth potential, consolidating the climate of fiscal discipline and stability in the economy, increasing the economy’s outwardness, and strengthening social cohesion.
The budget further advances reform in the taxation of natural entitites, while the dialogue between the social partners will also be continued on reforming the country’s social insurance system.
The central government’s deficit will decrease to 4.3 of the GDP. It is anticipated that strong economic activity will boost employment, thus containing the unemployment rate at 8.2 percent.
Addressing Parliament, during the debate on the 2007 state budget just before the vote took place, Karamanlis said that “I understood that even with minced words, you are calling for elections,” directing himself to main opposition Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK) leader George Papandreou.
“I would be tempted to answer with a saying which says: Be careful when you advance demands, because sometimes they become acceptable,” Karamanlis said.
Commenting on Papandreou’s speech earlier on, the prime minister expressed his disappointment because, instead of proposals he heard “insults, outcries and voices of tension and division, which in essence prove poverty of substance and weaknesss of political discourse.” The citizens’ interest and the quality of public life “are not promoted, neither with aphorisms, neither with extremities, neither with insults, neither of course with building walls of division, which you are attempting to erect,” Karamanlis said.
Replying to Papandreou, the prime minister said: “The elections and the institutions are a very serious matter. You can play. I do not play. We have work to do, we have work to advance. The elections will be held at their own time, when we complete this work. And then, really, we will tell the citizens: Judge us by our work and by this they will judge us. However, they will also judge you. And then you will receive the answer you fit.”
Karamanlis, who termed 2007 “a year of continuity of reforms, but also a year of preparation for the major institutional reforms, which will follow the 2008 elections,” called for Parliament’s positive vote “in order for us to continue the cleansing of the economy and to rid the country from the problems and the pathologies, which held it stuck to yesterday, fearful in front of the new. I ask for a vote of continuity of reforms in all sectors, the economy, the structures of the state and the broader public sector, higher public education, health and the environment. I call for a vote of confidence to the road of the future and of responsibility.”
The prime minister said that the 2007 budget depicted clearly the way the government was achieving its difficult targets for the reduction of the deficit, the slowing down of the public debt, a growth having at its centre man, and for an economy of opportunities. The budget, he said, “is an example of mild fiscal adjustment and a foundation of a new momentum for development. It is based on realistic forecasts on incomes as well as expenditures. It means credibility, consistency, effectiveness.”
“The reform strategy which we are implementing already yields the first results. The rate of growth has reached 4.4 per cent while the fiscal deficit has decreased by 4 per cent limiting itself to under 3 per cent. Investments are beginning to return to Greece, as the latest EU Commission report notes,” the prime minister said.
He said his government opted for dialogue in implementing reformes. “There were cases where we exhausted all time margins. But this cannot go on indefinitely,” Karamanlis underlined.
Main opposition Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK) leader George Papandreou said on Thursday night that the 2007 state budget tabled by the ruling New Democracy (ND) “makes arrangements regarding obligations towards specific interests and signals the end of tenure of the government.”
“It is the last budget tabled by the ND,” Papandreou said during the debate on the 2007 state budget.
Papandreou termed as “completely untrustworthy” the depictment of public finances in the draft budget. “You transfer pending expenditures with interest, you eliminate the hospitals’ debts, you fabricate the data on unemployment, you find excuses to wipe out jobless from the registration forms,” Papandreou added.
He said that the reforms proposed by the government were “in essence clientele arrangements,” asking Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis “to name just one reform that has profited the citizens, that has improved their standard of living, that has benefitted the country.”
Papandreou also accused the government of “a revival of pockets of parastate conceptions within the police force.”
The PASOK leader committed himself on four governmental measures, promising, when in power, to “govern with sincerity and transparency without shadows and dependencies.”
The commitments concern, as he said, equality of taxation between dividends and salaries, transparency in the distribution of funds, the maintenance of the public sector’s strategic role in the Hellenic Telecommunications Organisation (OTE) and the Public Power Corporation (DEH).
He also promised a 5 per cent of the GDP for education, a one per cent for research and innovation and 5 per cent for public investments.