* Greece says Spain, Portugal may be next
* ECB's Constancio pessimistic on Portugal
* Spanish unemployment tops 4 million in January
* Greece to take additional wage, tax measures
(Adds Papandreou, Barroso, Portugal minister, analysts)
By George Georgiopoulos and Harry Papachristou
ATHENS, Feb 2 Greece warned on Tuesday its
fiscal troubles were part of a wider euro zone problem, with
Spain and Portugal next in line, and EU officials urged Athens
to fix its finances before markets dragged others down with it.
Greece's ballooning deficit and debt have reverberated
across the euro group, hitting the euro currency and bond prices
and prompting speculation of a bailout plan, which European
Union officials have denied.
"Following Greece, there are other countries, like Spain and
Portugal," Finance Minister George Papaconstantinou told an
economic conference. "This is why the Greek issue, despite its
particular Greek characteristics, is also a euro zone issue."
Prime Minister George Papandreou, who won October elections
pledging to tax the rich and help the poor, said Greece was the
victim of an unprecedented speculative attack, which has pushed
its borrowing costs to euro-era record highs.
On the eve of an EU opinion on Greece's deficit cutting
plan, he announced tougher, EU-pleasing measures, such as
extending a public sector wage freeze to lower salaries in 2010,
hiking taxes on fuel and hinted at raising the retirement age.
"We are making an effort to stop the country from going over
the cliff," Papandreou said after meeting party leaders to seek
their support. "The government is determined to take all
Greece has been pounded by markets after revealing its 2009
budget was 12.7 percent of GDP, more than four times the EU
ceiling of 3 percent and three times initial estimates.
European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said on
Tuesday the Greek austerity plan, which the EU executive was
expected to endorse on Wednesday, was risky but achievable.
"A successful correction of its very excessive deficit is
not only important for Greece but for the euro area and the EU
as a whole," Barroso said in a statement.[ID:nLDE6111JI].
Greece will have no choice but to follow tough policies
under intense EU monitoring, with the possibility of additional,
unpopular measures later this year if results are not positive.
Athens has pledged spending cuts and tax hikes to claw its
way out of the crisis but the socialist government has been slow
to implement concrete measures, fearing a popular backlash.
Thousands of farmers demanding more subsidies and higher
prices for produce have been blocking highways and border
crossings with Bulgaria for more than two weeks, piling pressure
on the government as it struggles to save the country's economy.
The farmers' protest is seen as the first test for the
ruling socialists as they brace for strikes later this month.
Greece's financial problems have sparked talk about a
possible financial aid by the EU and fears about the stability
of the 16-country euro area. EU leaders have ruled out a bailout
and said Greece should sort out its own problems but economists
say it is unlikely the bloc will allow a member to collapse.
Nobel laureate economist Joseph Stiglitz said on Tuesday the
euro zone was not at risk of disintegrating because of the
fiscal and debt strains currently troubling some of its members.
"The reason is that the European project has been a success
and mutually beneficial to everyone. Therefore, everybody has a
stake in seeing the system working. When there is a will, there
is a way," Stiglitz told Reuters
The spread between Greek and German 10-year bonds widened to
344 basis points on Tuesday, having tightened to 327 basis
points earlier from last week's record of 405. [ID:nLDE6111B3]
EFG Eurobank, the country's second biggest lender, said
Greece could not afford spreads of 300-350 basis points for
Greece's problems may spill over into other vulnerable
euro-zone countries, most notably Spain and Portugal.
"That's Portugal, Ireland's next, and then Spain. And then
you'll get a domino effect," Dutch Finance Minister Wouter Bos
told Dutch business channel RTL Z.
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, on a visit to
Athens on Tuesday, said Greece's deficit-cutting reforms were "a
matter of stability for the EU."
European Central Bank Governing Council member Vitor
Constancio said Portugal needed to make significant adjustments
to its economy, which was in a "serious and difficult moment".
"Portugal has once again a budget deficit which is high and
there is an imperative need to reduce it," he said.
Constancio, who also heads the Bank of Portugal, said he was
relatively pessimistic about the short-term outlook, adding
difficult spending cuts were needed, and most likely a hike in
indirect taxes, to cut the deficit from last year's 9.3 percent.
Portugal's government, however, ruled out any tax hikes in
the medium term and Finance Minister Fernando Teixeira said
Portugal's problems were not the same as Greece's.
[ID:nLSB002242] The spread between Portuguese and German bonds
hit its highest level since April at 132 basis points.
News from Spain was also worrying, with the number of
unemployed up 124,890 in a single month to top 4 million.
Unemployment, which the government expects to rise to 20
percent this year, is set to complicate government efforts to
slash spending and cut the budget deficit to 3 percent of GDP in
2013 from 11.4 percent last year. [ID:nLDE6110NY]
Papaconstantinou said a joint euro zone bond may be the
answer to the turmoil. Germany, France and the Netherlands have
opposed the idea.
"There are no plans to do such a thing, and no discussions
about that either," a German Finance Ministry spokeswoman said.
(Writing by Dina Kyriakidou; editing by Mike Peacock and