NEWS

EU turns up pressure on Greece

Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos on Tuesday heralded the faster implementation of a stalled privatization program and structural reforms as rumors swirled about the possible need for additional austerity measures following comments by top-ranking European Union officials who emphasized that Greece would not receive a sixth tranche of emergency loans unless it satisfies the demands of its creditors.

In a televised address, Venizelos said the first batch of state assets would be transferred into a privatization fund on Wednesday. The first wave of privatizations foresees the sale of stakes in the Public Gas Corporation (DEPA) and in Hellenic Petroleum (ELPE), an extension to the lease of Athens International Airport and an extension to the license of the Horse Racing Organization of Greece (ODIE).

Venizelos also set the scene for wage cuts and dismissals across the public sector by saying that an agreement between Greece and its creditors to put surplus staff in the civil service on labor standby status for 12 months, receiving just 60 percent of their basic salary, would apply to the broader public sector.

Earlier in the day, addressing fellow ministers during a cabinet meeting, Venizelos said that officials of the European Commission, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund, known collectively as the troika, had expressed ?annoyance and reservations about our willingness to push through with reforms because we have been dragging our feet.?

The minister added that the troika ?have accepted the shortfall in revenue but not the delays in reforms.?

The minister?s comments followed statements by EU officials earlier in the day, notably those of German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, who told a German parliamentary budget debate that Athens would not receive the next tranche of aid from foreign lenders - an 8-billion-euro installment upon which the country?s solvency depends - unless the troika issues a positive report on Greece?s efforts at reform and fiscal adjustment. ?They must understand this in Greece, there is no scope for other decisions,? Schaeuble said in an apparent reference to attempts by Greek officials to renegotiate the goals of a multi-billion-euro bailout plan. According to sources, German Chancellor Angela Merkel also said that the 8-billion-euro tranche should be revoked if Greece fails to make good on pledges to its creditors.

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