NEWS

Privatization ball is set rolling

With lost ground to make up in its bid to replenish state coffers with income from privatizations, the government said yesterday that it was on the verge of selling 10 percent of its shares in the country’s main telecoms provider. Economy and Finance Minister Giorgos Alogoskoufis said the 10 percent stake in OTE Telecom would be sold by the end of August. He added that the government would retain a blocking minority in the company and would not reduce its holding below 34 percent. His comments came just 24 hours after the government revealed plans to include Greek soccer matches in the state-controlled soccer betting system. The government is due to sell 17 percent of its share in the OPAP betting company to private investors in July. The government hopes to bring in some 1.5 billion euros from various privatizations – income that is deemed vital to helping cut Greece’s deficit by more than half to meet the eurozone ceiling of 3 percent of GDP by the end of next year, as demanded by the European Commission. So far, there has been only a trickle of revenue from privatizations. Meanwhile, the Commission sounded a further warning bell yesterday when it revealed figures showing that Greek spending on pensions will shoot up more rapidly than in any other EU country. Greece will spend 12.3 percent of its GDP on pensions in 2009, while that figure will hit 22.6 percent – the highest in the EU – in 2050, Brussels said.