Greek lawmakers approve tough budget
Athens: Greece's parliament has approved a tough budget for next year, including further spending cuts of 3.1 billion euros (USD 4.2 billion), aimed at ending the country's deep recession.
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 yesterday.
The move came as Greece's troika of international creditors - the European Union, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund - announced they had delayed until January their next trip to Athens.
Senior auditors from the so-called creditor troika had been expected to return to Athens tomorrow to resume an evaluation of pledged Greek reforms.
The EU-ECB-IMF decision means talks on unblocking one billion euros in bailout funds are postponed.
The budget approved by parliament foresees a return to growth for the embattled Greek economy.
But earlier yesterday 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 one-billion-euro instalment of financial aid pending since the summer.
Athens has been keen to wrap up the talks before it assumes the rotating EU presidency in January.
The creditors and Athens disagree on the level of a forecasted financing gap for 2014 and the measures that need to be taken to cover it.
Discussions are reportedly stumbling on the issue of a new property tax, debtor property auctions, layoffs in the state sector and the slow pace of privatisation.
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 in parliament that 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 2014 has not yet been approved by the troika and could yet be amended in the coming months with new austerity measures that the Greek government has thus far rigorously opposed.
As it stands the budget foresees a 0.6 percent growth in GDP for next year after six consecutive years of recession. A four percent contraction is expected this year.