12 Nov 2012

Greek MPs approve harsh budget

10:42 pm on 12 November 2012

The Greek parliament has approved a slashed 2013 budget that will secure the release of foreign aid vital to save the debt-ridden country from insolvency.

The 9.4 billion in cuts will mainly hit state wages, pensions and benefits, already drastically reduced over the past two years in a country where unemployment is now at a record level of more than 25%, AFP reports.

Police estimated about 15,000 protesters massed outside parliament before the vote.

According to an AFP count, more than 150 of parliament's 300 members voted in favour of the budget.

It predicts the economy will shrink by a worse-than-expected 4.5% next year, the sixth year of recession, while the public deficit - the shortfall between government revenue and spending - is forecast to rise to 5.2% of gross domestic product.

Deputy finance minister Christos Staikouras, however, said the government could for the first time in years register a primary budget surplus - before debt servicing costs - next year.

Public debt is expected to swell to 346 billion, a massive 189% of economic output, compared with a target set by creditors who want the figure slashed to 120% of GDP by 2020.

The government will still need to borrow over 68 billion next year, according to the budget.

The vote marked another step in the government coalition's efforts to meet the demands of its creditors, paving the way for the European Union, International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank to unlock 31.5 billion euros.

During the debate preceding the vote, Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras said the budget would guarantee the funds.

"I assure you in the most categoric manner that the tranche (of aid funds) will be released in an imminent fashion," he said.

The vote came on the eve of a eurozone finance ministers meeting, during which Athens' progress on carrying out required reforms and cuts will be scrutinised.

Without the fresh funds, Greece risks default on 16 November, when the government must repay a three-month treasury bill worth €5 billion euros.