Greek economy spirals down as EU forces final catharsis

A Greek default and traumatic ejection from the euro moved a step closer last night after eurozone finance ministers cancelled a crucial meeting, accusing Athens of failing to flesh out austerity cuts.

The escalating brinkmanship came as fresh data showed that Greece’s economy contracted by 6.8pc last year and at an accelerating 7pc rate in the last quarter, far worse than expected by the European Union (EU), the European Central Bank (ECB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) “troika”.

The country appears to be in a self-feeding downward spiral that is playing havoc with budget targets, leaving Greece with a Sisyphean task of ever deeper cuts.

Premier Lucas Papademos called his cabinet together late last night to find a further €325m (£272m) of fiscal austerity demanded by the troika, likely to be defence cuts and lower salaries.

The coalition parties failed to convince the Eurogroup that they would stick to the deal, and the mood has been poisoned by EU demands for an escrow account to seize Greek budget revenues at source.

Blackened buildings set alight by protesters on Sunday were cordoned off on streets around parliament in Syntagma Square, a vivid reminder to Greece’s politicians that any misjudgment could push the country towards anarchy.

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