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‘The international story is, we’re a basket case’

‘The international story is, we’re a basket case’

The Greeks are in the streets, protesting against tough austerity measures and labor market reforms. But Greek finance minister George Papaconstantinou says the measures are vital.

July 8, 2010 7:16 by

For Greek Finance Minister George Papaconstantinou, frugality begins at home.

In his expansive office overlooking Athens’ marbled Constitution Square and the tan-colored parliament building that an enraged crowd stormed twice in May, a multicolored clay piggy bank rests on a polished wooden table alongside modern art and glass coffee tables. A few coins jingle inside it.

Papaconstantinou is presiding over a range of austerity measures that will bring Greece’s income in line with International Monetary Fund expectations following an enormous 110 billion-euro loan program by the IMF and the EU. The measures ,set to make their final passage through the Greek parliament on Thursday, have provoked another nationwide strike.

Papaconstantinou, 49, is a London School of Economics-trained economist who worked for 10 years in Paris for the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development before starting a career as an economic advisor to the ruling centre-left Pasok party.
He now has less than four years to lower his country’s 13 percent deficit to well below 3 percent of GDP and restore debt sustainability.

What are the measures you’re taking to stop Greece’s cash drain?

We’re cracking down on tax evasion and implementing a carrot and stick policy designed to get people to ask for and get receipts when shopping. The first quarterly report showed a 10 percent increase in income in this field.
On July 1 we introduced an increased Value Added Tax as well as cuts for public servants and pensions.

But that’s only one aspect. We’re again ahead of the curve in the sense that tax reform has passed and now it’s a question of implementation. Public administrative reform is going ahead. So three major items are in the process of being passed through parliament or have already passed. Budgetary reform will go through in the summer, so by then you’ll have most of the big items finished and we’ll move into the phase of implementation.

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