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Issue #1699      August 26, 2015

Greece for sale

I’ve just had a look at the latest privatisation plan for Greece. It’s been issued by the Hellenic Republic Asset Development Fund – the vehicle supervised by the European institutions, which has been tasked with selling off an eye-watering US$55 billion of Greece’s “valuable assets”.

There were major protests in Greece when the closure of public broadcaster EPT was announced.
There were major protests in Greece when the closure of public broadcaster EPT was announced.

The fund was a real sticking point because the European institutions wanted to move it to Luxembourg, where they could keep a better eye on it. Anyhow, it’s still in Athens, and this document, dated July 30, details the goodies on sale to international investors who fancy buying up some of the country.

Fourteen regional airports, flying into top tourist hubs, have already gone to a German company; but don’t panic, because stock in Athens airport is still on the table, as well as Athens’ old airport, which is up for a 99-year lease for redevelopment as a tourism and business centre.

Piraeus and Thessaloniki ports are up for sale – the former case has caused the chief executive to resign and industrial action has begun. A gas transmission system looks likely to be sold to the government of Azerbaijan but there’s still a power and electricity company, the postal service, a transport utility which allows trains and buses to run, the country’s main telecommunications company, a 648-kilometre motorway, and a significant holding in the leading oil refinery, which covers approximately two-thirds of the country’s refining capacity.

Holdings in Thessaloniki and Athens water are both for sale – though public protest has ensured that a 50 percent plus one share remains in state hands. Nonetheless, the sale will mean that market logic will dictate the future of these water and sewerage monopolies. Finally, there are pockets of land, including tourist and sports developments, throughout Greece.

A second document details the short-term work program of various government ministers, detailing actions they must take in order to add value to these assets. This includes introducing toll booths on roads to licensing casino rights to declaring sites of archaeological interest. The document begs the question: why government ministers are even needed? It would surely be easier to cut them out of the equation altogether and let European Union (EU) institutions directly administer the country.

Why does this matter? First, because it makes no sense to sell off valuable assets in the middle of Europe’s worst depression in 70 years. Those industries could generate revenues to help the Greek government rebuild the economy. In fact, the vast majority of the funds raised will go back to the creditors in debt repayments, and to the recapitalisation of Greek banks.

So the privatisations aren’t to do with helping Greece. The beneficiaries are corporations from around the world, though eyebrows are particularly being raised at the number of European companies – from German airport operators and phone companies to French railways – which are getting their hands on Greece’s economy. Not to mention the European investment banks and legal firms that are making a fast buck along the way. The self-interest of European governments in forcing these policies on Greece leaves a particularly unpleasant flavour in the mouth.

Most important is the inequality this will entrench in Greek society for decades to come. Of course, the fact that the state currently holds these assets is no guarantee of democracy. Clientelism is rife in Greece. But the answer is transparency and democracy, just as German citizens are currently trying to take back energy companies into collective ownership in their own country because they see this as a prerequisite for fair pricing and supporting renewable energy.

What won’t help is flogging off monopolies to private corporations that have no interest in Greece’s people. Workers will be sacked and their conditions made worse, while the elite of Europe profits. Greece’s government will have lost the ability to make its society function in the interests of ordinary people.

But then, I suspect that’s the point.

New Internationalist

Next article – Miners’ killing marked with call for unity

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