PM, Barroso look toward growth

Prime Minister Lucas Papademos and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso on Wednesday stressed the importance of boosting growth and employment in Greece’s sluggish economy following talks in Brussels where foreign creditors were to evaluate Greece’s progress in implementing reforms ahead of an EU summit beginning Thursday.

Papademos appeared to reject a proposal by Jean-Claude Juncker, the leader of the group of eurozone finance ministers, for a special commissioner to be appointed to oversee Greek economic reforms. The premier countered that the responsibility for the program lies with Greece alone. “The new economic program for Greece will be implemented by the Greek government and the Greek authorities,” he said, adding that Athens “welcomes the support by the European Commission, the commissioners and the Commission’s services -- and I think this is sufficient.”

Juncker did not comment further on the issue but stated that the first tranche of aid will be released to Greece by March 20, when the government will need 14.5 billion euros to pay off a bond due to expire.

Barroso, for his part, noted that the first debt deal for Greece had been one-sided, with too much emphasis on cuts, and said more should be done to help the country make use of EU structural funds. Papademos echoed his sentiments, noting that the second debt deal “must be accompanied by measures that will have a positive impact on the economy.” Barroso -- who declared in Greek that “together Greece and Europe can make it” -- added that Greece had made “great progress over the past two weeks,” referring to a raft of votes and decisions on new austerity measures. Meanwhile in Athens the government was rushing to push through the latest in a series of measures demanded by creditors.

MPs, who approved a new round of cuts to pensions on Tuesday night, were to vote again last night -- on a bill slashing state spending on pharmaceuticals. In the pensions vote, 202 MPs in the 300-seat House voted in favor and 80 against.

A similar result was expected in the vote later Wednesday. Nevertheless, the debate that preceded the vote was often vehement, with several MPs voicing objections and Health Minister Andreas Loverdos referring to “an unprecedented reaction by vested interests.”

Separately, Finland’s parliament voted to approve the new 130-billion-euro debt deal for Greece, following in the footsteps of the Dutch and the Germans. 

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