Greece slams EU-IMF asset sale call

Reported by AAP
Sunday, February 13, 2011
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Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou has accused EU and IMF officials of "unacceptable behaviour" over demands for a 50 billion euro ($A67.74 billion) asset sale to ease Greece's crushing debts.

Papandreou's office said on Saturday he has personally complained to International Monetary Fund director Dominique Strauss-Kahn over the "unacceptable behaviour" of European Union, IMF and European Central Bank experts monitoring Greece's economic reforms.

Papandreou also called EU economic affairs commissioner Olli Rehn, the prime minister's office said, and is also reportedly planning similar protests to European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and ECB President Jean-Claude Trichet.

After a quarterly audit found a revenue shortfall and reforms at risk of slowing down, the EU, IMF and ECB on Friday told Athens to start selling state assets and speed up reforms to keep its tortuous recovery on track.

"It is well known that there is huge potential for privatisation," European Commission representative Servaas Deroose told a news conference.

"A comprehensive plan through 2015 will be finalised... aiming at proceeds of 50 billion euros between 2011 and 2015," he said.

Out of that total, to be used for debt reduction, 15 billion euros ($A20.32 billion) is to come in the next two years, the EU official said.

"The behaviour of the European Union, International Monetary Fund and European Central Bank representatives... was unacceptable," government spokesman George Petalotis said in an earlier statement.

"We asked them to help and are fully meeting our obligations. But we did not ask anybody to meddle in the internal matters of the country," he said.

Greek newspapers and opposition parties were equally scathing but many also took a swipe at the ruling Socialists for bargaining with the EU, the IMF and the ECB, the 'troika' supervising Greece's recovery from near bankruptcy.

"The troika demanded and is taking away whatever it wants in (terms of) companies, water and land," said the centre-left Eleftherotypia daily, while pro-government Ta Nea was headlined: "The 'bosses' have gone crazy!"

"State property on debt altar," commented the liberal Kathimerini daily, while conservative Eleftheros Typos said Greece is "On Sale".

The main opposition New Democracy party accused the government of "hypocrisy", noting that the finance ministry had initially released a document approving the 50 billion euro sale plan, and it called for the finance minister's removal.

The Greek government had originally planned to privatise state assets worth seven billion euros ($A9.48 billion) over three years.

It announced in November a sale list including four Airbus A340 jets and stakes in one of the country's top casinos and in public-owned defence, train and mining companies.

"We are in need but we also have limits," Petalotis said on Saturday.

"We will not bargain the limits of our dignity with anybody. We only take orders from the Greek people," he said, adding that no state land would be sold.

Greece's public debt stands at around 300 billion euros ($A406.45 billion) after years of large public deficits that in 2009 stood at 15.4 per cent of output, more than five times the allowed EU level.

The government has already endured a wave of social anger over unprecedented wage cuts and tax hikes last year to reduce the public deficit by six per cent of output, a huge correction by any standards.

Its objective is to bring the deficit to below three per cent of output -- the level mandated under EU rules -- by 2014.

A planned extension of austerity reforms to 2015, two years after the government's current mandate, has prompted speculation that the government could call early elections.

According to Ta Nea, one key factor is an EU summit in March that will determine whether Greece will secure a repayment extension on its rescue loan.

"Early elections are high in Papandreou's agenda... Much will be decided in the next 45 days," Ta Nea said.

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