Spain, Greece launch austerity plans to secure aid

By Ciaran Giles

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, Sept. 27 2012 12:00 a.m. MDT

To get help from the ECB, Spain must first ask for assistance from the rest of the eurozone. So far, the government has been reluctant to ask for fear of the conditions the other countries will attach to its aid. Analysts say the Spanish government hopes Thursday's budget measures will be enough to stop the eurozone imposing further spending and deficit controls if and when Spain asks for help.

Economy Minister Luis de Guindos said the measures "go beyond" the steps European officials have recommended that Spain should take. He added that Spain was consulting with other countries in the bloc but has still not decided whether to ask for a bailout.

The country is battling to fulfill an EU commitment to reduce its deficit in relation to economic output from 8.9 percent last year to 6.3 percent in 2012, 4.5 percent next year and to 2.8 percent by the end of 2014.

Montoro said Spain would meet the 2012 deficit target despite recent reports that it was off-target eight months into the year. "We're on a very viable path," he said.

Among new taxes to be levied, Montoro said all national lottery prizes of more than €2,500 ($3,210) would be taxed 20 percent. Saenz de Santamari, meanwhile, announced a new body to oversee regional and local government's adherence to deficit reduction targets.

Thursday's budget package comes in the wake of anti-austerity protests in Madrid over the past two nights, with further protests are planned for Saturday.

The Greek coalition government hopes that Thursday's agreement on the latest round of austerity cuts will be enough to meet the targets demanded by its international lenders and keep the vital bailout loans coming.

Finance Minister Yiannis Stournaras said the long-delayed agreement placed him in a stronger negotiating position ahead of talks Monday with representatives from the country's bailout creditors, who will have the final word on the cutbacks.

Greece has relied on international bailouts since May 2010. In return, it has imposed a punishing austerity program, repeatedly slashing incomes, hiking taxes and raising retirement ages.

On top of the €11.5 billion that has to be axed from state spending in 2013-14, Athens must also boost state revenues by an additional €2 billion over the next two years through tax reform and improved tax collection.

The three-party meeting came a day after more than 50,000 anti-austerity protesters took to the streets of Athens, in a demonstration marred by clashes between anarchists and riot police.

The conservative-led coalition has been debating the new cutbacks for about two months, but a deal was delayed by opposition from the two center-left junior partners — coupled with disagreements with the austerity inspectors.

Socialist PASOK leader Evangelos Venizelos said after Thursday's two-and-a-half hour talks that he would "struggle to the end to ensure that these measures are not across the board and are fair ... and that they are truly the last," as Samaras has pledged.

Barry Hatton in Lisbon and Nicholas Paphitis and Elena Becatoros in Athens contributed to this report.

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