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Greece on right track, must meet goals

It is vital that Greece meets its stated goals for cutting its budget deficit and steps announced by the government this week are encouraging, European Central Bank President Jean-Claude Trichet said.

“The ECB Governing Council approves of the medium-term goal that has been fixed by the Greek government... Now, we expect and we are confident that the Greek government will take all the decisions that will permit (it) to reach that goal,” Trichet told the ECB's post-meeting news conference.

“In this respect, the measures that were taken last Tuesday, namely the taxation on iron, the freezing of wages in the public sector, and the pension reform, are steps in the right direction.”

The European Commission on Wednesday endorsed Greece's austerity plan but said Athens must take further steps to cut public sector wages to tackle the most severe debt crisis in the euro zone.

In the ECB's post-meeting statement, Trichet stressed that all states must meet the terms of Europe's pact on budgets and debt, and underlined that the help Greece receives ex-ante as a member of the euro zone is conditioned on that.

“High levels of public deficit and debt place an additional burden on monetary policy and undermine the Stability and Growth Pact as a key pillar of Economic and Monetary Union,” the ECB's monthly statement said.

“Against this background, it is of paramount importance that the stability program of each euro area country clearly defines the fiscal exit and consolidation strategies for the period ahead,” he said.

Earlier, the ECB said it was keeping its benchmark interest rate on hold at a record low of 1.0% for the ninth month running, as expected by economists.

Greece must submit an interim report by mid-March on progress in reducing its huge deficit from 12.7% of gross domestic product (GDP) in 2009 to below 3% in 2012. (Reuters)