Belgium extends austerity measures

March 11, 2012, Sunday/ 15:21:00

Belgium's government agreed early on Sunday to extend austerity measures by 1.82 billion euros ($2.39 billion) to keep its 2012 budget deficit within EU limits.    

After a full week of talks, ministers from the six-party coalition also decided to freeze a further 650 million euros of spending in case a weak economy meant further savings were required, the government said in a statement on Sunday.      

It added that it would provide further details at a news conference planned on Sunday morning.     

"Despite a very difficult context, the spending power of the public is preserved and the competitiveness of companies guaranteed," the government statement said.     

The new savings add to the 11.3 billion euro package of measures agreed upon when the government took power at the end of the year. Those measures included raising the effective retirement age from a current average of 59 years and hiking tax on company cars.     

Belgium has pledged to bring its public sector deficit down to 2.8 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) this year from 3.8 percent in 2011. It risks an EU fine if its deficit does not fall to at least 3 percent.     

The Federal Plan Bureau, whose estimates are typically used to draft budgets, has forecast Belgium's economy, the sixth largest in the euro zone, will grow by just 0.1 percent this year from 1.9 percent in 2011.       

Belgium's central bank has forecast a contraction of 0.1 percent in 2012.       ($1 = 0.7622 euros)          

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