As deadline looms, privatization plan divides ministers

A privatization plan that will seek to raise up to 50 billion euros by 2015 will be unveiled by the government within the next couple of weeks, it was revealed on Monday, as ministers continued to argue about what Greece should sell off and what should remain in state hands.

Government spokesman Giorgos Petalotis said that the Cabinet would approve the final privatization program by April 15. The European Union and the International Monetary Fund have agreed with the government that it should raise 50 billion euros over the next four years as part of the effort to reduce its huge public debt.

Representatives of the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the IMF are due back in Athens next week and are unlikely to be encouraged by the apparent lack of consensus within the Cabinet on which public assets should be sold off.

Environment Minister Tina Birbili added her voice to those of ministers who have expressed concern about the government?s privatization strategy. In an interview with Ta Nea newspaper, Birbili said it would be unwise for Greece to sell a stake in publicly listed state-controlled firms such as Public Power Corporation or the Athens Water and Sewage Company (EYDAP) because their share prices are low as a result of the recession. Prime Minister George Papandreou met yesterday with Birbili and several other ministers to discuss the issue of privatization.

When questioned about the environment minister?s objections, Petalotis indicated that the government would not exclude any public assets from the privatization program. ?Privatizations along with the commercial use of public property are included in the target of 50 billion euros that we have set so that we can create growth,? he said.

Finance Minister Giorgos Papaconstantinou is due to meet this week with Roland Mahler, head of Central and Eastern European operations for Deutsche Telekom, which already owns almost a third of OTE telecom, to discuss among other things the possibility of the German firm increasing its stake.

Greece?s latest attempt to tackle its debt crisis comes as a survey of 52 professional European economic forecasters found that two-thirds of respondents believe that Greece will default on its debt. A third believe that Ireland will also go bust. However, the vast majority think the euro could survive the crisis.

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