NEWS

EU pushes on privatization, consensus

European Union officials on Tuesday increased the pressure on the Greek government to raise much-needed revenue by pushing through an ambitious privatization program, and to seek consensus with its political rivals for an ongoing austerity drive – a proposal that was all but rebuffed by the conservative opposition New Democracy.

?Greece must rapidly privatize 50 billion euros of assets so that its medium- and long-term public debt becomes sustainable, because at the moment it is unsustainable,? Luxembourg?s prime minister and the head of the Eurogroup, Jean-Claude Juncker, told European Union finance ministers in Brussels.

Sources told Kathimerini that Greece?s Finance Minister Giorgos Papaconstantinou presented his peers in Brussels with data showing the progress of austerity measures implemented by Greece so far but that that they were largely unimpressed. There was reportedly a feeling among many EU ministers that Greece?s ruling Socialist government does not have the political will to implement reforms and that it must seek political consensus. European Monetary Affairs Commissioner Olli Rehn gave voice to these concerns on Tuesday, indicating that any future aid for Greece would be dependent on the government securing backing for new measures from all parties.

?It is possible for Portugal and Ireland; why not for Greece?? Rehn said, referring to the two other eurozone countries that have received EU bailout packages and where political consensus has been greater (though in these cases the austerity measures taken have been less severe).

ND leader Antonis Samaras appeared to all but rule out the prospect of consensus on Tuesday, calling the mid-term austerity program, which is to be submitted in Parliament in the next few days, ?demonstrably wrong.? Emerging from a meeting with President Karolos Papoulias, Samaras told reporters: ?Agreement, of course, exists with Europe on the targets to lower the deficit and the national debt. To this we say yes. However, to support a demonstrably wrong formula, we say no.?

Samaras, who last week unveiled his party?s own alternative economic program, suggested that ND would support some measures if they were ?good for the country.?