23 December, 2003
Parliament early on Tuesday morning approved the 2004 budget, which the government says will mark the beginning of a new economic era for Greece after the Athens 2004 Olympics and the growth they have spurred.
Supporting the budget in a roll-call vote were 156 parliamentary deputies, with 143 voting against in the 300-member house. One deputy was absent.
Finance Minister Nikos Christodoulakis has said that the public will receive three key dividends over the next four years, beginning with the budget for 2004.
The first benefit will be to reap funds in coming years from a cut in defense spending to 3.0 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) from 4.5 per cent. The government aims to boost spending on education to 5.0 per cent of GDP as a result of the cutback.
The second benefit will be more social spending due to a decline in the public debt by 4.0 per cent annually, aiming at a target of 85 per cent of GDP in 2008. The drop will release around 2.0 billion euros a year on health and welfare.
The third benefit will be revitalization funds from curbing tax evasion and widening the tax base, resulting in a gradual lowering of direct tax brackets for individuals and companies.
Prime Minister and PASOK president Costas Simitis, speaking in Parliament on Monday on the last day of the Parliamentary debate on the 2004 state budget, said that ''I will shape and we will shape developments at the necessary moment and in the proper way, in connection with our goal, which is for PASOK to be always ahead. Third parties will not tell us what we should do. I will shape, we will shape developments with terms of victory and victory will be ours.''
Simitis made the remarks at the start of his speech in reply to references by main opposition New Democracy (ND) party leader Costas Karamanlis regarding ''clear solutions'' and ''a change of government'' and to calls by the other opposition party leaders for him to make his position clear.
Addressing himself to the ND, he said:''I will worry you and displease you in the coming weeks and months. As in the elections of 1996 and 2000, in the 2004 elections we will not trap ourselves in the climate of confusion with rumors, opinion polls, extreme personal attacks and a climate of scandal-mongering. We will meet the demands of society.''
''I agree with Mr. Karamanlis that everyone in PASOK, myself, the deputies and its cadres, are co-responsible for the accession to the Economic Monetary Union, for stability and progress, for Cyprus' accession to the European Union, for our important position in the Balkans. But we are also co-responsible not to let Greece to turn back to leaderships which are only distinguished by their negative competence. And we will all respond to this responsibility with boldness and intelligence.''
Main opposition New Democracy party leader Costas Karamanlis, addressing Parliament on Monday, on the last day of the debate on the new state budget, said the problem of the economy is exclusively a political one and called for early elections immediately.
Karamanlis referred to ''explosive dimensions'' taken on by the ''lack of governance'' in the country and discerned a prime minister ''who is unable to take decisions and who has suspended his government'', adding that Costas Simitis is presenting the image of a ''besieged prime minister.''
Source: Athens News Agency