Minister sees no monopoly in new ELPE

The government and opposition continued to trade barbs over the weekend, following the announcement on Friday that the Latsis group’s Petrola refiner would merge with state-controlled Hellenic Petroleum (ELPE), with the Latsis group gaining control of 25.35 percent of the company. New Democracy charged that this confirmed the failure of the privatization effort. Vardis Vardinoyiannis, chairman of Motor Oil, which controls 22 percent of the domestic market, as opposed to the 78 percent of the merged companies, charged on Friday that «a monopoly is being created.» Yesterday, Development Minister Akis Tsochadzopoulos argued that the merger would increase competition, and he replied to the charge of a monopoly by noting that Greek companies no longer functioned in a domestic market but in a global one. «We have created a new champion in the energy sector,» Tsochadzopoulos said in Thessaloniki. «I think the great advantage is that the investments which ELPE will be forced to carry out will lead other players in the energy market to make new investment plans, so that they too will improve their competitiveness. And this will lead to an overall strengthening of the energy market,» he said. «How can anyone talk about a monopoly when the State is reducing its stake in ELPE from 68 percent to 43 percent?» Tsochadzopoulos asked. «There is no issue of a monopoly or watered-down privatization, because, in the final analysis, the specific market is not local; it is not national; it is international,» he declared. New Democracy spokesman for «production and commerce,» Giorgos Salagoudis, replied: «The inability of the government and its lack of political will in following the classic way of privatizing ELPE has led to today’s complex arrangement for an exchange of shares between ELPE and Petrola… The PASOK government does not know how to complete a procedure that would open up the market.» In February, Greece canceled an effort to sell 23.5 percent of ELPE to Petrola and Russia’s Lukoil. Now, the Latsis group will pay 326 million euros for a 16.65 percent stake in ELPE and, after the merger, will hold 25.35 percent of ELPE.

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