Grip kept on state firms

The conservative government imposed yesterday a 20 percent limit on the stake investors can hold in companies of strategic importance unless special approval is granted. Finance Minister Giorgos Alogoskoufis said the measure would take affect immediately and that an interministerial privatization committee would have the power to approve stakes higher than the 20 percent mark. «This approval will be given if certain criteria are met for the protection of the public interest,» said the minister, without giving further details. The move is seen as giving the government the power to prevent Marfin Investment Group (MIG) from further upping its stake in state-controlled OTE telecom. MIG said yesterday it has increased its position in OTE to 18.45 percent, while the government holds 28 percent of the telecom giant. According to Finance Ministry sources, the measure to limit shareholdings has the support of the European Union. Alogoskoufis pointed out that in other privatization cases in the EU where the companies being sold manage infrastructure networks, there are similar limits imposed. «The acquisition of shares in these companies… cannot be done without imposing control procedures for the protection of national and social interests,» he added. The amendment was submitted to Parliament where the conservatives hold a majority. George Papandreou, the president of opposition socialist party PASOK, which was in government when OTE was initially listed on the Athens bourse in 1996, accused the conservatives of losing control of the company. «The government is harming the Greek economy and the country’s potential and systematically hurting the interests of the people,» said Papandreou.