ATHENS, Greece — Greece is already managing to beat some of its deficit-reduction targets, as figures released Wednesday show that its central budget deficit for the first two months of 2012 had shrunk by more than half compared with the same period last year.
The state budget deficit – the amount the government spends against what it receives in taxes – amounted to (EURO)495 million in January and February this year, the Finance Ministry said. The total was significantly lower than the (EURO)879 million target set out in the country's budget, and less than half the (EURO)1.054 billion the country was struggling with in the same months last year.
The improved figures came shortly after Philippos Sachinidis was sworn in as the country's new Finance Minister, replacing Evangelos Venizelos who quite the post Monday after being elected to head the majority Socialist party.
Sachinidis, 49, was promoted from deputy finance minister after serving for two years as the head of a Greece's drive to cut public spending.
Prime Minister Lucas Papademos' government is expected to call general elections for late April or early May after successfully negotiating a massive debt deal for additional rescue loans from eurozone countries and the International Monetary Fund and a debt restructuring with banks and other private bond holders.
Early Wednesday, Greek lawmakers approved the new international bailout deal, which will see Greece receive (EURO)172 billion ($227 billion) in rescue loans over the next few years. The amount includes a second, (EURO)130 billion ($172 billion) package as well as the undisbursed portion of a first, (EURO)110 billion ($145 billion) bailout and funds from the IMF.
Greece received the first installment of (EURO)5.9 billion ($7.8 billion) from eurozone countries on Monday, and a further (EURO)1.6 billion ($2.1 billion) from the IMF on Tuesday.
In exchange for the additional support, Greece agreed to impose harsh austerity measures during a fifth year of recession, slashing the minimum wage, pension and benefits – including deep cuts in the health service.
Greek state hospital services faced disruptions Wednesday as staff held work stoppages and protests over government austerity measures and pay delays.
Doctors and staff at public hospitals in the greater Athens area walked off the job for three hours Wednesday, and held a central Athens demonstration, with some protesters turning up wearing surgical gowns.
Hospital doctors were also holding a go-slow protest, demanding the payment of overtime they say has not been paid for four months.