The European Commission on Wednesday confirmed Greece’s projected primary surplus of 1.5 billion euros, paving the way for the launch of talks on a lightening of the country's debt and prompting government officials to herald a more optimistic period.
Prime Minister Antonis Samaras hailed the Commission's confirmation of Greece’s once mistrusted statistics, saying it "testifies to the major turnaround that the Greek economy has achieved thanks to the sacrifices of all Greeks." "Gradually we are leaving the crisis behind and founding the future of a new Greece," he said. Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras struck a similar note. "After four very difficult years, Greece has stood on its feet and we can look to the future now with much greater optimism," he told reporters.
Commission spokesman Simon O'Connor said Greece’s primary surplus of 1.5 billion, or 0.8 percent of gross domestic product, is "well ahead of the 2013 target" and showed Greece is "on the right track to heal its finances."
Ahead of the announcement in Brussels, the Greek Finance Ministry put the primary surplus for 2013 at 3.4 billion euros in accordance with the methodology of Eurostat, the European Union’s statistics service, and at 1.5 billion euros, as per the troika's methodology.
The government has pledged to give the bulk of the 1.5 billion euros to low-income households and the unemployed. By Wednesday, more than 312,000 people had applied for a share.
Apart from allowing the government to offer handouts ahead of European and municipal elections at the end of next month, the confirmation of the primary surplus also gives the green light for the launch of talks on debt relief in accordance with a pledge made by eurozone officials in November 2012.
It is thought that Greek officials will raise the issue of debt talks at a Euro Working Group on Thursday in Brussels though the matter is not expected to be formally broached until a summit of eurozone finance ministers on May 5.