ECONOMY

Foreign state asset manager for Greece?

Just days after the government announced plans to get its stalled privatization program moving, pressure is mounting on Greece to provide foreign managers with a larger role in the unpopular sell-off procedure.

The European Union and the International Monetary Fund have said that any further aid given to Greece will be provided on the condition that the country speeds up its asset sale program, which aims at raising 50 billion euros by 2015, to pay down debt.

After increasing targeted privatization revenues in February, little had been done as the ruling Socialists dodge clashes with powerful union groups fiercely opposing sell-offs and possible job cuts.

The Finance Ministry outlined a more detailed privatization agenda earlier this week and the setting up of a sovereign wealth fund composed of state assets to accelerate the process, without providing further details.

Frustrated at the lack of action on a revenue raiser that could ease Greece?s debt woes, EU leaders have been pushing for international oversight of this fund by Brussels, the IMF or possibly also the European Central Bank.

Kevin Featherstone, director of the Hellenic Observatory at the London School of Economics, said that by appointing a ?foreigner,? there?s plenty of scope for populist attacks about ?imperial powers? but there is also a positive side.

?If the foreigner failed to deliver as much privatization as sought by the troika [as the team of officials from the European Commission, the IMF and the ECB are known], then the criticism could not be directed at ?awkward? or ?lethargic? Greeks,? he told Kathimerini English Edition.

?In other words, it might be a good tactical ploy between Athens and the troika.?

The issue is certain to split public opinion, even though recent surveys show that most Greeks agree with privatizing assets.

Minister of State Haris Paboukis told Reuters recently that he was cautious about any external involvement, questioning whether handing control of Greek companies to foreign managers is right when they ?have no knowledge of their management, or of how to deal with social or political issues.?