Belgium posts improved deficit, debt figures

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Belgium posted on Wednesday better public deficit and debt levels than previously estimated for 2010, a positive development amid market pressure over its marathon political crisis.

The deficit amounted to 4.6 percent of gross domestic product last year, an improvement from a previous estimate of 4.8 percent and down from 6.0 percent in 2009, Prime Minister Yves Leterme said after a cabinet meeting.

The public debt reached 97.2 percent of GDP in 2010, lower than the 100.6 percent estimate that was provided to European Union authorities but still higher than the 2009 figure.

The figures are "better than the objective that Belgium had given itself within the stability programme," the prime minister said, adding that Belgium was improving its finances "faster than the European average."

King Albert II asked Leterme's caretaker administration this week to tighten the 2011 budget after a new bid to form a coalition government of French- and Dutch-speaking parties failed nearly seven months after June elections.

The government has planned to reduce the deficit to 4.1 percent in 2011 but Finance Minister Didier Reynders said Belgium was committed to bringing it under 4.0 percent.

The debt should begin to go down in 2012, Reynders added.

Despite a much lower deficit than bailed out countries such as Greece and Ireland, Belgium is considered at risk of being sucked into the eurozone's debt crisis because of its political stalemate.

Reynders has warned that speculators would seize on the country's political crisis if the country did not make further efforts to cut its deficit in the first quarter.

© 2011 AFP

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