The government of Premier George Rallis has asked the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development to defer publication of its annual economic report on Greece because of its potential impact on the general election this fall.
The request points up the political implications of Greece's economic problems, stimulated in part by its joining the European Community in January.
The move, characterized by observers as "not unprecedented, but fairly damning in its implications," was in sharp contrast to a previous litany of official assurances that the economy was recovering from the slowdown in growth rates, rising inflation and widening balance of payments deficits of recent years.
The government argues that Greece's current econmomic ills are common to other Western European countries.
Socialist opposition leader Andreas Papandreou, who is making the economy the focal point of his campaign, maintains that the policies of the ruling New Democracy party have led the country to "chaos and bankruptcy."
The last word rests with the Greek voters, who will be casting their ballots Oct. 18 with an eye on their pocketbooks.
In terms of the last decade the Greeks have never had it so bad. In the 1970s, Greece enjoyed annual growth rates of over 5 percent. Economic policies designed to raise spending and increase the money supply provided citizens with more money and increased imported luxury goods to spend it on.
But the clouds began to gather in the late 1970s, as inflationary pressures increased and productivity and investments lagged. A move to tighten monetary and incomes policies succeeded in curbing growth, but not inflation.
Despite price controls, the annual inflation rate skyrocketed from 13 percent in 1978 to 25 percent in 1980, well above the Western European average. At a continued 25 percent or more annual rate, Greece has the highest rate of inflation in the Common Market.
At the same time the 1980 balance of payments deficit widened to $2.2 billion, reflecting a rise in import volume as well as increased oil prices.
The balance of payments problem should be eased somewhat by the production of the Prinos oilfield offshore from Kavalla in the northern Aegean, which began production in June. It is expected to yield 25,000 barrels a day, covering about 13 percent of the country's annual oil needs. Further oil exploration in the Aegean is hampered, however, by disputes with Turkey over the continental shelf.
The factor most damaging to Greece's balance of payments is the devaluation of about 37 percent of the drachma against the U.S. dollar since May 1980 when the Greek currency was subjected to a controlled float in preparation for joining the European Community. The depreciation is expected to increase the cost of Greek imports by 30 to 35 percent.
Joining the Community, a longtime project of President Constantine Karamanlis, a former New Democracy leader, is unlikely to provide much immediate economic relief. It has meant sharp rises in food costs for consumers. Farmers, on the other hand, are dissatisfied with price increases imposed by the Community in Brussels that fall far short of the annual inflation rate.
This discontent was reflected last winter in a rash of strikes and protests by government workers, bus and taxi drivers, bank employes and farmers.
Joining the Community has also exposed small-scale Greek farmers and businessmen to competition from larger, more efficient West European enterprises.
Despite insistence by Minister of Economic Coordination Ioannis Palaiokrassas that the economy could be expected to pick up over the summer, observers agree that the prospects for a strong recovery before the election are slim.
The government has enforced a 20 percent limit on wage increases, equal to the official projected inflation rate for this year. But it pushed through 80 percent increases in electricity rates in January in an effort to counter high oil prices. The government has held down telephone and transport costs to the public at considerable expense to the state.
Independent observers now predict growth of 1 percent or less in gross national product this year, as contrasted to the 3 percent forecast by Bank of Greece director Xenophon Zolotas.
Socialist leader Papandreou has been capitalizing as much as possible on the gloomy economic picture. He proposes "socialization" of the nation's key industries, a loose term that seems to include conventional nationalization, the formation of agricultural cooperatives, a reform of bank credit policy and import controls.
Papandreou is careful not to promise an instant economic miracle if he is elected, stressing that his government would inherit intractable economic problems. But his plan to curb profiteering and high prices by doing away with the middlemen -- traditionally powerful in the Greek economy -- and to take the sting out of inflation by linking salaries and wages to the price index, has created a feeling among some voters that his party may be the better bargain.