Athens, December 8, 2914/ Independent Balkan News Agency
By Lefteris Yallouros
Following many years of recession, the first balanced Greek budget in decades was approved in the early hours of Monday by parliament.
After a heated debate ahead of possible general elections next year and as protesters gathered in the rain outside the parliament building against fresh austerity, a total of 155 MPs approved the budget while 134 rejected and one expressed no view in the 300-seat House.
Despite the blueprint being theoretical as the troika has not signed off on it, the budget sets a deficit target of 0.2 percent of gross domestic product. It also expects the Greek economy to expand by 2.9 percent of GDP in 2015 following a timid return to growth this year. It also promises tax relief in the form of reductions in heating oil tax and an income tax surcharge.
Addressing the House, Prime Minister Antonis Samaras said the first balanced budget in decades, signaled Greece’s gradual emergence from six tough years of recession. “We are leading the country to a new era where we can offer relief,” he said. “We are reducing the deficit to zero.”
“We are entering a new phase, meeting fiscal goals and moving ahead with reforms in conditions of growth so that we can provide relief measures,” said Mr. Samaras.
“National elections will be catastrophic for Greece,” Samaras also told parliament before the budget was voted. “We will either elect a new President now and stabilize the country or everyone must own up to their responsibilities” the PM stated.
“The government doesn’t have right to commit the country” main opposition SYRIZA party leader Alexis Tsipras said in his speech, while stressing that decisions taken won’t bind his party.
“Your mind today is not here – it’s at the presidential election,” the opposition leader told Samaras. “Your big problem is that your time is running out.”
The Eurogroup meets in Brussels Monday and Tuesday to discuss a possible extension to allow the completion of the last troika review before the current bailout expires, on Dec. 31. The Greek premier admitted a technical extension of the current bailout deal is possible but the country will soon be on its way out of the restricting agreement with its lenders and a better deal will be reached.