50-bn-euro privatisations the government's decision, spokesman confirms

Despite sharp criticism of the "attitude" of European Union and International Monetary Fund officials during a press conference at the end of last week, government spokesman George Petalotis on Monday confirmed that the target for privatisation proceeds had been raised from an original 7 billion euro by 2013 to 50 billion euro by 2015. He stressed, however, that this was decision had been made by the government itself, not by the so-called EC-ECB-IMF 'troika'.

"The target set was indicative, there is no specific decision as to how this property will be exploited. The bar is raised high but we are the ones that raised it. It is high because the expectations that we have for the country's course are also high," Petalotis told reporters during the regular press briefing.

He rejected suggestions that the decision lacked legitimacy, noting that this was one of many targets set.

"The decision was ours and for this reason we said it clearly that the stance of the troika representatives was unacceptable," he added.

The spokesman also rejected suggestions that the government's response to the troika statements had been "delayed" and noted that in a subsequent 'troika' announcement and in talks with Prime Minister George Papandreou, they appeared to have "understood that they crossed the line".

Petalotis said the higher target for privatisations proceeds was "realistic" while stressing that it was "indicative rather than restricting", showing that the government was aiming at major structural changes in the exploitation of the country's wealth.

"We are not talking about selling things off but making use of them," he noted, adding that it was the government's duty to set about doing this immediately, based on a plan.

The spokesman pointed out that the Greek state did not currently even have a record of its substantial assets, which were languishing unused, and noted that procedures toward this end had already begun through decisions of the ministerial privatisations committee in December 2010.

He also quoted statements by the prime minister and other political leaders estimating that public property owned by the Greek state that might be economically exploited exceeded 270 billion euro.

Petalotis said the government did not intend to ask for the representatives of the EU and IMF in Greece to be changed nor to restrict their freedom to give press conferences but said that the finance ministry had repeatedly asked them to show more restraint when speaking to the press.

Prior to that, Petalotis had stressed that all political forces in Greece must understand that Greece's obligations under the Memorandum with the EU and IMF would end in 2013 but not the "national effort to reorganise the forces of the country," which he said would extend beyond the term of one government.

"It is a national obligation of us all in this period that there should be national understanding on a series of specific and important issues," he said.

An announcement by the trade union confederation General Confederation of Employees of Greece (GSEE) on Monday, however, said the government should declare troika representatives to be "unwelcome persons" and that both their proposals and the attitude in which they made them were rejected by workers and Greek society.

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