In a post-midnight vote, the Greek Parliament approved the government’s incomplete 2014 budget in the early morning hours of Dec. 8 as expected with the ruling coalition lawmakers following orders how to vote, passing the disputed fiscal blueprint by 153-142, hoping it would speed release of a delayed one billion euro ($1.37 billion) installment from international lenders.
A deputy who was a former minister from the ruling conservative New Democracy party was absent and three MPs from the extreme-right Golden Dawn party, including its leader, could not vote, because they have been jailed pending trial charged with membership in a criminal organization.
“We’re getting our fiscal economics in order and we’re fixing fundamental long-term imbalances in our economy,” Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras told lawmakers before the vote. “We’re not just winning the battle to reform, we’re winning the battle to become competitive and standing on our own feet.”
He didn’t say how nor did he address a looming hole in the budget of as much as 2.9 billion euros ($3.45 billion) identified by the Troika of the European Union-International Monetary Fund-European Central Bank that is putting up $325 billion in two bailouts but has demanded harsh austerity in return.
The 2014 budget scaled down an economic contraction prediction for 2013 from 4.5 percent to 4 percent while forecasting a 0.6-percent growth for 2014 without providing details how that could happen during a six-year-long recession with record unemployment and 20 percent of the populace pushed into poverty while delays continue in privatization and other reforms insisted upon by the Troika.
Dismissing criticism of opposition parties and labor unions of “a road map to destruction,” he stressed that the budget’s forecast that Greece would post a 2.9-billion-euro primary surplus in 2014 would become a reality, “proving populists wrong.”
Samaras said his government, which includes the PASOK Socialists, had exceeded four of five major targets it had set this year, coming up short only on unemployment, which remains stuck above 27%. But he said, there were “revolutionary” developments in 2013, such as a small primary surplus of 800 million euros and a current account surplus, both for the first time in decades.
The budget also forecast an extra 2.1 billion euros in tax revenue and a 3.1-billion-euro cut in state spending even though revenue collections are far off projections despite big tax hikes that have come along with big pay cuts and slashed pensions.