Greece slams EU, IMF officials after inspection visit

ATHENS Sat Feb 12, 2011 3:19pm EST

ATHENS (Reuters) - Greece accused the EU and IMF of interfering in its domestic affairs on Saturday after the international lenders said Athens must speed up reforms and sell more public assets.

On Friday, EU and IMF inspectors visiting Greece to monitor the implementation of a bailout plan that saved Greece from bankruptcy, approved more aid for the country but adopted a more critical tone than on previous visits.

In rare harsh words, the Greek government said the inspectors' approach was unacceptable, after coming under fire from local media for not reacting to criticism of the pace of reforms and the call for privatizations.

Prime Minister George Papandreou talked with both IMF head Dominique Strauss-Kahn and EU Monetary Affairs Commissioner Olli Rehn on Saturday to complain, his office said.

In his telephone conversation with Strauss-Kahn, Papandreou "conveyed the message of the Greek government about the unacceptable behavior of the representatives of the European Commission, ECB and IMF during yesterday's news conference," Papandreou's office said in a statement.

Earlier in the day, government spokesman George Petalotis said: "We asked nobody to interfere in domestic affairs ... We only take orders from the Greek people."

The inspectors were in Athens to monitor fourth quarter progress on the 110 billion euro fiscal consolidation plan. They commended Greece for being broadly on track with the plan and approved a 15 billion euro aid installment.

But they said the government must sell far more assets to come back on its feet and not be slowed down by those who oppose reforms.

The lenders set an ambitious target for privatization proceeds, saying that 50 billion euros should be raised in 2011-2015. The government's previous target was for 7 billion euros in 2011-2013.

International Monetary Fund mission chief Poul Thomsen urged Greeks during the news conference not to let "those who have vested interests" prevent the many from benefiting from privatizations.

Referring to groups opposing plans to open up highly regulated professions, he said: "Some of the groups who are out on the streets, truck drivers, pharmacists ... They are hiding behind their privileges that allow them to extract high prices, impose a big burden on the rest of society."

Pharmacists, bus drivers and doctors have been holding on and off strikes for weeks over reforms of their professions, creating massive traffic jams in central Athens.

In another sign of tension over cooperation with the IMF and Greece's euro zone partners, who allowed the country to avoid default but imposed unpopular public wage cuts and tax rises, a minister said the new privatizations target was unrealistic.

"Revenues of 50 billion euros by 2015 from privatizations of state assets are not possible," Infrastructure Minister Dimitris Reppas told state TV Net on Saturday, the day after the EU and IMF officials ended their visit.

A finance ministry official, however, had said on Friday that Greece had agreed to the new target of 50 billion euros.

An IMF spokesperson said that during his conversation with Papandreou, Strauss-Kahn said the fiscal program was on track and "reiterated his deepest respect for the Greek government and people in their efforts to meet the economic challenges facing their country."