The energy sector is going to be the next focus of the government’s privatization drive. However, perceived delays in talks to sell part of the state-owned Hellenic Petroleum (ELPE) group, oblige the government to tread carefully. Economy and Finance Minister Nikos Christodoulakis had been too optimistic when he insisted that talks with Lukoil, Russia’s largest oil company, and the Latsis group, owners of refinery Petrola, would be completed by the end of July. The two, acting as a consortium, have been adjudged the winning bidders for a 23-percent stake in Hellenic Petroleum. Talks have stalled on several fronts, including what to do with Hellenic Petroleum’s and Lukoil’s businesses in the Balkans. Workers at Hellenic Petroleum are largely hostile to any move toward privatization, even partial. The management is aware of that and managing director Athanassios Karahalios had one more opportunity to confirm this yesterday, in a conference organized by the company union. If Karahalios wanted to woo the workers to his position, he failed, because, far from presenting a convincing picture of the deal, he gave the impression that talks have stalled. Negotiations are «at a preliminary stage and are going to last long,» he told his audience. «We have not agreed on our Balkan business… Lukoil has been less than forthcoming about our proposal for a joint business organization among equal partners and an independent management,» he said. Karahalios added that, in order for the agreement to be sealed, Hellenic Petroleum and the consortium must agree on several aspects, including refining, trading of refined products, the companies’ Balkan businesses and on oil reserves. Concerning the latter, Karahalios emphasized that some of the reserves Lukoil claims to own in the Caspian Sea are the subject of a dispute with Kazakhstan. Workers at Hellenic Petroleum have called for a 15-day strike beginning July 3.