ECONOMY

Minister revs up reforms drive

The crisis provides Greece with an opportunity to change the image of the country and regain the place it deserves in European and world markets, Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos said after a cabinet meeting on Tuesday.

?For this to happen, we must change the way the state, the economy and society work. Otherwise, we will remain bogged down, we will not be able to give new generations the opportunities the previous ones had… we have to give the Greek citizen the opportunity to feel proud again,? he stated.

Venizelos said Greece is not the European Union?s permanent lame duck, but rather that it is an equal, competitive country which has problems regarding its public debt and deficit that require structural measures to be overcome.

?We need to send a clear message that Greece will honor and fully implement what it has accepted and voted through,? he said.

The Cabinet adopted final decisions regarding the structural measures, ?on which the future of our country hangs.?

The first phase of privatizations, which targets the collection of 5 billion euros within 2011, will be expedited immediately, Venizelos said. This phase includes, among others, the extension to the license of betting company OPAP, the extension of the concession for Athens International Airport, and the sale of a stake in the Public Gas Corporation as well as the government?s remaining 20 percent holding in Hellenic Petroleum.

?We are proceeding immediately. These specific public assets will be transferred to the special privatizations fund tomorrow,? he stated.

Earlier, Venizelos had promised that the revenue targets of the privatization program will be met. The targets are 1.7 billion euros by the end of September and about 5 billion by the end of the year.

The program for merging or shutting down public departments and agencies will be intensively pursued in the next few weeks, he added.

The Cabinet also decided upon the immediate activation and extension of the ?labor standby? scheme in the public sector, which will receive surplus staff at lower pay. Venizelos did not rule out layoffs in the public sector. He also promised further changes in the labor market and the full opening of closed-shop professions.