Politics plague privatization

Greece?s privatization program, which is intended to provide the country with some relief as it tries to cope with its overwhelming burden of debt, is being held up by disagreements between ministers regarding the future of profitable public enterprises. This is believed to be the reason that the Joint Ministerial Committee for Privatization, which met yesterday, avoided taking tough decisions. It limited itself to appointing consultants for the extension of Hochtief?s concession for Athens International Airport (AIA) by 20 years and for the sale of a 20 percent stake in the airport, for the development of the old airport at Elliniko and other state properties.

The committee made no reference to the possible sale of stakes in state gas company DEPA or the Athens-Piraeus and Thessaloniki water and sewage companies (EYDAP and EYATH respectively).

The lack of consensus among government ministers was clearly evident at a cabinet meeting, when eight ministers disagreed with the decision to approve a further 30 billion euros in state guarantees for banks, which have now received support worth a total of close to 100 billion euros. Defense Minister Evangelos Venizelos, Citizens? Protection Minister Christos Papoutsis, Education Minister Anna Diamantopoulou and Regional Development Minister Michalis Chrysochoidis were among the cabinet members who argued that the banks are not contributing liquidity to the market, in comments that were seen as indirect criticism of Prime Minister George Papandreou and Finance Minister Giorgos Papaconstantinou for their handling of the banking sector.

The prime minister arrived in Brussels late Wednesday for a summit where European Union leaders hope to complete their plan for fighting the debt crisis. The political instability in Portugal, the possible postponement until June of a decision on the EU?s bailout fund and harsh criticism of some member states against their indebted partners are all points of concern for the Greek delegation.

On Wednesday, BNP Paribas, National Bank of Greece and law firm Bernitsas were named consultants for the AIA concession extension.

For Elliniko, the government chose Citigroup, Piraeus Bank, Lamda Financial Consultants, law firm Zemberis, Markezinis, Lambrou and Associates, and Barcelona Strategic Urban Systems.

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