Gov’t set on reform

The government will not waver on its policy of structural changes, reforms and privatizations in the face of reactions by the main opposition, labor unions and the media, ministers were insisting on Thursday. They stressed that any relaxation would not only jeopardize the prospects of the economy but would also jolt the confidence of foreign banks and institutional investors who are the basic players in the Greek bond and stock markets. The growing internationalization of the Greek market, therefore, constitutes a strong political factor in favor of the economic restructuring which, by all accounts, enjoys broad support and is considered necessary for sustaining the Greek economy in the long term. It is in the light of such prospects, the ministers argued, that the government decided to take up the hot potato of reforming the country’s pension system in the middle of its term by launching a broad dialogue on the issue this week and with a view to the reform being finalized by the next government. With this move, the government wants to convey a signal abroad, believing that both it and the economy also stand to gain. At the same time, it hopes that the business and economic climate will have improved markedly by the end of this year, or within the first quarter of 2007 at the latest, as progress is under way on a number of fronts. They include large, jointly financed projects by the private and public sectors with the end of time-consuming litigation, and the three big private power production plants. Such progress improves the business climate and fuels expectations of more jobs and higher incomes and consumption. Ministers also say that in a year’s time the privatizations program will have made great strides, beginning with the sale of the government’s major shareholding interest in Emporiki Bank. Barring any unforeseen developments, the sale of a large stake in OTE telecom to a foreign strategic investor will follow, as well as 25-30 percent of the Postal Savings Bank after it was listed on the Athens Stock Exchange.