Greece a month away from key bailout target, budget still balanced in November

ATHENS, Greece – Greece is close to reaching a central target of its bailout agreements with international lenders, after beating expectations for its budget performance in the first 11 months of the year, the Finance Ministry said Thursday.

It said the country is on track to achieve a modest primary budget surplus — excluding the cost of servicing its crushing debt burden — for the full year, meeting a key condition to qualify for further debt relief from its European partners.

Preliminary figures for January-November published Thursday showed a budget deficit of 3.2 billion euros ($4.4 billion), better than the target of 4.3 billion euros ($5.9 billion) and achieving a €1.2 billion euro ($1.65 billion) primary surplus, the ministry said.

The figures exclude data for local government and certain other areas of state spending.

Greece has been kept from bankruptcy by international bailouts since 2010, and is currently in talks with lenders about new austerity measures needed for 2014, along with a range of reforms demanded in public administration.

The government has promised not to impose any across-the-board cuts, but it is planning to expand property taxes next year and to slash income tax thresholds.

Drastic spending cuts imposed through six years of recession have led to massive job losses, with the September unemployment rate reaching 27.4 per cent, according to data published Wednesday. That is prompting an increasing number of Greeks to look for work abroad.

In Thessaloniki, Greece’s second largest city, scores of doctors, nurses and health care workers attended a European Union-sponsored event aimed at assisting job placements in Germany and other EU countries.

“I’ve started learning German because I’ve been told that there are lots of available jobs in my field there,” Spiros Grigoriadis, a 33-year-old male nurse whose eight-month work contract will end soon, said in an interview.

“Salaries are very low here … around €700 euros ($965) a month, while in Germany you can make €1,800 ($2,480) doing the same work. And if I stay in Greece I have no hope of finding a job.”