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Call for EU to control Greek budget

There are continuing concerns that Greece's economic woes could have a major impact on the euro.

Story highlights

  • Athens could be forced to adopt a law committing state revenues to service debt first
  • Attitudes towards Greece within the EU have continued to worsen
  • On Friday, talks broke up without a deal on two elements of the EU-IMF plan

The German government wants Greece to cede sovereignty over tax and spending decisions to a eurozone "budget commissioner" to secure a second €130bn bail-out, according to a copy of the proposal obtained by the Financial Times.

In what would amount to an extraordinary extension of European Union control over a member state, the new commissioner would have the power to veto budget decisions taken by the Greek government if they were not in line with targets set by international lenders.

The new administrator, appointed by other eurozone finance ministers, would take responsibility for overseeing "all major blocks of expenditure" by the Greek government.

"Budget consolidation has to be put under a strict steering and control system," the proposal reads. "Given the disappointing compliance so far, Greece has to accept shifting budgetary sovereignty to the European level for a certain period of time."

Athens would also be forced to adopt a law permanently committing state revenues to debt service "first and foremost".

The German plan, circulated on Friday afternoon to finance ministry officials from eurozone countries who make up the so-called "euro working group", underscores the depths of mistrust between Greece and its European Union lenders.

    Despite the appointment of economist Lucas Papademos as technocratic prime minister in November, attitudes towards Greece within the EU have continued to worsen. European officials privately say that there has been little movement on public sector reforms under Mr Papademos.

    A senior Greek finance ministry official said Athens was unaware of the proposal and could not comment. A German finance ministry spokesman declined to comment.

    Greek voters have already expressed anger about EU attempts to assist in implementing reforms. Horst Reichenbach, the German national who heads an EU task force to assist Greece, was depicted in German military garb by leftwing Greek newspapers when he arrived last year.

    Under the new German plan, Athens would only be allowed to spend on the normal functioning of its government after servicing its debt. If such a law is adopted, the proposal states, financial markets and other creditors would be reassured that defaults would not occur in the future.

    "If a future [bail-out] tranche is not disbursed, Greece cannot threaten its lenders with a default, but will instead have to accept further cuts in primary expenditures as the only possible consequence of any non-disbursement," the document said.

    Even before Germany circulated its proposal, the EU and International Monetary Fund had presented a 10-page list of "prior actions" Athens must implement before the new bail-out is agreed. According to a copy of the document, also obtained by the FT, Greece must cut an additional 150,000 government jobs within three years.

    The document, dated Monday, also calls for major budget cuts in defence, healthcare and "entity closures" to bring down this year's budget deficit. The document said the preliminary estimate for the 2012 deficit target is about 1 per cent of economic output -- implying swinging cuts, since previous estimates by lenders put this year's budget deficit at 7 per cent.

    Negotiations between Athens and EU-IMF officials this week have been stormy. On Friday, talks broke up without a deal on two elements of the EU-IMF plan: a request that Greece's €750 monthly minimum wage be reduced, as well as elimination of the two-month salary bonus granted to private sector workers as an annual bonus.

    George Koutroumanis, the labour minister, instead backed a joint counterproposal by employers and trade unions for a three-year wage freeze, arguing wage cuts would plunge Greece into a deeper recession.

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