Greek minister: 'radically opposed' to some privatizations

AP News
Posted: Mar 11, 2015 10:40 AM
Greek minister: 'radically opposed' to some privatizations

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Greece's new government is "radically opposed" to the privatization of certain businesses, particularly in the energy and infrastructure sectors, a senior cabinet minister said Wednesday as reforms talks with creditors were due to begin.

Selling state-owned enterprises is one of the actions Greece has been asked to take to raise funds and reduce debt in exchange for rescue loans from the eurozone and International Monetary Fund.

Talks between Greece and its creditors began on a technical level in Brussels on Wednesday to cement a series of reforms Athens must implement in order to get the remaining bailout funds released and avoid bankruptcy.

"We are radically opposed to the privatization, particularly of the strategic sectors and businesses of our economy, and primarily in the sector of infrastructure and energy," said Panagiotis Lafazanis, the energy and environment minister and a government hardliner, at a conference in Athens.

Lafazanis added that "honestly, I haven't understood why for some schools of thought, privatizations have become synonymous with reforms."

He argued that what he called the "neoliberal deregulation in the energy market, which occurred particularly during the recent (bailout) years with the insistence of the (European) Commission and the troika" had prolonged and exacerbated Greece's financial crisis and energy poverty in the country.

"Troika" refers to the Commission, International Monetary Fund and European Central Bank, who together oversee the 240 billion euro rescue loans Greece began receiving in 2010.

The word "troika" got a bad name in Greece after mid-level officials from those institutions would visit Greece to carry out debt inspections. The new government has refused to deal with those officials, saying they are not welcome in Greece. On Wednesday, it said the team of lower-level technical experts with whom Greek officials would be negotiating on reforms would now be known as the 'Brussels Group.'

Greece's new radical left government, voted in on Jan. 25 on promises to abolish budget austerity measures, has pledged not to take any unilateral action without consulting its European creditors and those overseeing the country's bailout, and to adhere to a series of policy reforms.

It made the pledges in February in return for a four-month extension to the European part of its bailout, which was to have expired at the end of February.

But some ministers and party members have insisted the governing Syriza party's pre-election promises must be adhered to.

Lafazanis has frequently repeated his opposition to privatizations. Last month, he said the privatization of the country's power grid and power utility, DEH, would be halted as final binding bids had not yet been submitted.

In his speech Wednesday, Lafazanis said his country wanted diverse energy sources but would not be dependent on "any large power and of any coalition of countries."

"Greece is too small a country to remain a type of dependent 'troikan' economic protectorate ... with the status of an energy banana republic."