The Development Ministry is expecting energy sector investments amounting to 3.5 billion euros in the next few years. The two new bills for the liberalization of the electricity and natural gas markets, approved by the government on Tuesday, will pave the way for those investments, Minister Dimitris Sioufas said yesterday. «The time of private initiative has come,» said Sioufas, expressing his optimism about investments in electricity production for the creation of new units. Asked about the industrial action planned from next week by the Public Power Corporation (PPC) staff union GENOP, the minister explained that changes can still be made to the draft laws and that he is open to further negotiations with all parties concerned up to the passing «of the last clause in Parliament,» as he said. He also noted the already long discussion of the bill after a GENOP request, during which there was an agreement on main issues. He then called on GENOP to show «some seriousness and responsibility as well as respect to citizens,» which, he conceded, are qualities the union does possess. GENOP’s main cause of concern, triggering a 24-hour strike on Monday with more to come, is the bill’s provisions for the separation of the distribution arm of PPC. The union has demanded that the new company be set up as a 100 percent PPC subsidiary. Sioufas, however, gave an indirect answer to GENOP, saying the draft regulations are required by EU law, emphasizing the delay in the country’s harmonization with the EU directives regarding the electricity and natural gas markets’ liberalization, which, he announced, provoked the country’s referral to the European Court last Tuesday. The terms for the new power unit tenders are already under preparation for the process to be completed by May 2006. This means the first production unit will join the network by end-2008. The minister did not make it clear whether the tenders will include the Hellenic Petroleum unit in Thessaloniki besides the two 450-megawatt units to be allocated to private investors. He did specify though that PPC cannot participate in the tender for the two units, as the law passed by the previous government dictates. Bidders can only be licensed private parties and those who secure a license by the beginning of the process, expected at the end of the year. He further announced that the two market liberalization bills, as well as those for the introduction of biofuels and the establishment of the National Energy Strategy Council, will be tabled in Parliament next week.