Stournaras focuses on privatizations, more time to meet targets

Greece's new finance minister on Saturday pledged to carry out reforms and privatisations demanded under its latest financial rescue in an attempt to regain credibility with international partners stumping up money to keep the country afloat.

In his first policy speech since taking office, respected economist Yannis Stournaras reiterated the government's plan to ask lenders for an additional two years to implement deficit cutting measures, citing a deeper-than-expected recession.

But he also warned of a tough road ahead in convincing the so-called troika of European Union, International Monetary Fund and European Central Bank lenders to give Greece more time and money.

He cautioned that Greece could not launch a renegotiation without first «taking the measures delineated in the adjustment plan."

"We must adopt the measures included in the second loan in February so that we do not threaten the release of this loan,» he said.

"The negotiations will not be quick - they will be long and arduous,» he told parliament during a debate ahead of a confidence vote on the government on Sunday.

"Additional time is required because the recession was bigger than expected. The extension means someone will have to give us more money and this is not simple."

He warned the near-bankrupt country risked a great deal if it failed to hit the targets it had signed up to.

"Greece must carry out the measures that it has already voted on as part of its 2012 budget so that it moves towards the targets it has committed to and to avoid losing more of its credibility and risk the next aid tranche,» he said.

Athens, due to run out of cash in weeks without further aid, has already conceded that it has fallen behind agreed targets and euro zone officials have warned the country will get no further aid until it gets back on track with reforms.

Seeking to soothe some of those concerns, Stournaras said Greece was committed to carrying out an ambitious privatisation plan, albeit with a delay due the elections, as well as structural reforms including cutting red tape, liberalising the economy and improving efficiency in the justice system.

The privatisation agency will accept Greek government bonds as payment in a bid to encourage investment, he said.

"Privatisations are the main pillar of structural reforms and a central lever of growth for the economy through investments, and hence a top priority for the government."

He also pledged to turn around the economy through use of EU funds and efforts to boost competitiveness. He also noted some initial signs of hope for Greece's tottering banking system, confirming a «significant» return of deposits since the June 17 election.

Greeks had withdrawn billions of euros in the run-up to the vote on fears that a leftist victory would push the country of the euro zone.

Evangelos Venizelos, whose socialist PASOK party is part of the new coalition, earlier said Greece must seek new terms to its bailout and extend a deadline to balance its budget by three years.

"It is not possible to make such a huge budgetary adjustment in such a short period,» Venizelos said.

"It is absolutely necessary to renegotiate the programme according to the very important decisions from the European summit of June 29,» he said.

"We need to design a new programme in the medium-term... we need a extension of the budgetary adjustment of three years to 2017,» he added.

Venizelos, who helped negotiate the second bailout as finance minister, met earlier with the EU-IMF auditors who are visiting to review government books and gauge Greece's progress towards meeting its rescue terms.

A party statement said Venizelos had asked for a «renegotiation» of loan terms based on «macroeconomic data and especially a 2012 recession that will be deeper than forecast."


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