ATHENS – With a deadline passing and no action from international lenders who threatened to cut off aid unless reforms were implemented, Greece’s new coalition government is expecting a deal to be reached before Easter to unblock delayed aid.
Economic Minister George Stathakis, stepping in during the curious retreat of Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis into the background after his combative stance, said he believes an agreement will come with the troika of the European Union-International Monetary Fund-European Central Bank (EU-IMF-ECB), some seven weeks after a bailout extension was given.
“I think talks will lead to a deal next week. The agreement will close on (Greek Orthodox) Easter week,” Economy Minister George Stathakis told Skai TV.
The government led by Prime Minister and Radical Left SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras has been accused of dragging its feet since the Feb. 20 agreement with the Eurozone and last week presented a list of reforms to criticism that the package, as did two vague outlines before that, was short on fiscal targets.
The troika is holding up a 7.2-billion euro loan until it is satisfied the reforms will stay in line with previous tough conditions set to insure bankers and investors get paid back first.
The list of proposed reforms Athens has presented to the troika, which it now calls The Brussels Group – even though the IMF is in the United States – after calling it The Institutions to avoid the use of the name “Troika,” projects revenues of 1.5 billion euros from privatizations this year, including the long-term lease of 14 regional airports and the sale of its largest port Piraeus.
Tsipras had said he would halt privatizations he termed the sell-off of state enterprises at fire sale prices but has relented to troika pressure to keep them going.
But Stathakis said the government had no plans to sell a majority 67 percent stake in Piraeus Port Authority and would seek a joint venture with investors in which it would retain a substantial stake, which could drive off prospects.
“The idea that prevailed is that we will not proceed with a privatization of the 67 percent stake, which would mean a full privatization of Piraeus port. We are not discussing this,” Stathakis said. “We are trying to find some kind of joint venture.”
Last week, Deputy Prime Minister Yiannis Dragasakis said during a visit to China that Athens would sell its majority stake in Piraeus Port, where China’s port operator Cosco Group is already an investor and short-listed for the sale but Stathakis contradicted him as Development Minister Panagiotis Lafazanis has bucked Tsipras and said privatizations would not proceed, leading to mass confusion about the government’s policy.
Asked about the tender to lease Greece’s regional airports, in which German airport operator Fraport has been named a winner, Stathakis said Athens would seek to revise the terms but not cancel the deal.
“[The tender] is at a stage where there can be a discussion on changing, revising or improving some aspects of the deal without cancelling the tender,” he said.