Finmin confirms privatisations goal, rules out sale of public land

Finance Minister George Papaconstantinou on Tuesday confirmed that the government is planning an ambitious privatisation programme to raise 50 billion euro but stressed that this would not mean selling off public land.

He was speaking to reporters after a Eurogroup council meeting in Brussels that agreed to double funds available to a permanent eurozone bailout mechanism to 500 billion euro.

Referring to the need to reduce Greece's very high public debt, Papaconstantinou said that this would be achieved by generating primary surpluses and through higher growth rates resulting from the major structural changes being carried out by the government. In addition, a programme to privatise and make use of publicly owned real estate would raise 50 billion euro over the next four years that would be used to pay down debt.

He clarified, however, that this did not mean the sale of public land, such as beaches, mountains or forests.

"We are talking about exploiting assets that will generate revenue for the public sector and operate efficiently," he said.

The finance minister was highly critical of the stance adopted by main opposition New Democracy on the issue of privatisations, noting that ND leader Antonis Samaras had himself spoken of generating 50 billion euro from privatisations in two years within the framework of the memorandum.

Papaconstantinou said that both the European Commission and the European Central Bank had made a positive assessment of the government's efforts for fiscal and structural reforms. He stressed that this would allow the country to reduce its deficit from 17 billion euro at the end of 2011 to six billon euro at the end of 2014.

Concerning the Greek economy's recession in 2010, the minister admitted that this had been greater than expected but noted that the rate of recession had slowed in each quarter, from -1.9 percent in the first trimester to -1.4 percent in the last quarter, while exports had increased 8 percent in the last year.

He also welcomed Greece's successful three-month treasury bill auction on Tuesday, which raised 390 million euro at an average interest rate of 3.85 percent, down from 4.1 percent for the previous T-bill auction, while 60 percent of the interest was from foreign investors.

Commenting on the Eurogroup's decision on Monday, Papaconstantinou said that this should convince markets that Eurozone countries have the means to deal with possible problems. The Greek government would like the permanent bailout mechanism to have more funds and greater flexibility and better borrowing terms, he added.

He repeated that extending repayment of the 110 billion euros given to Greece would be part of a comprehensive solution for ensuring the stability of the euro and that the extension would concern harmonising the maturation of the Greek loans with those of Ireland.

European governments would have time to agree on a comprehensive solution before the EU summit in March, the minister added.

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