- By Cameron AbadiCameron Abadi is a Berlin-based writer for Die Zeit and Spiegel International.
If you’ve got a spare billion or so dollars lying around, and have ever dreamed of owning or operating a mid-size Mediterranean lottery system — let’s just say you may want to circle May 16 on your calendar.
That’s when the Greek parliament, troubled by loads of sovereign debt and a stalled economy, is set to pass a radical new financial program, complete with an itemized list of state assets to be sold off at cut-rate prices. It’s an audacious fire-sale, one that hopes to raise at least 15 billion euros over the next three years, and some 50 billion euros by 2015 – enough to get a new line of credit to pay off some of its existing creditors. The real goal is to prove to the country’s European neighbors that it is making a good-faith effort to get its books in order — the better to entice better terms on the next EU loan.
Of course, the Greek government is aware that even mass privatization doesn’t amount to a long-term solution for the troubled country: The IMF estimates that even if the privatization plans proceed according to the most optimistic scenario (which is a very optimistic scenario), that would only reduce the country’s debt to 134 percent of GDP — hardly enough to alter the country’s junk-bond status.
But, that shouldn’t deter anyone from attending Greece’s state auction after combing his couch cushions for stray billion dollar bank notes. Indeed, there’s plenty on offer.
If real estate’s your thing, you might consider purchasing newly-available government land near the Rio-Antirio bridge near the port city of Patras; or a stretch on the island of Rhodes that the government hopes can be turned into a golf course. The government is also looking for buyers for the stadiums it built for the 2004 Olympics — arenas that have since gone unused.
But most of the assets come in the way of state-held companies. The national electricity and sewage utilities are up for sale, as is the Greek railway, its postal service, its sole racetrack and horse-racing corporation, and the national lottery system. There are also a number of airports, ports, and marinas up for grabs, as well as the state nickel mining industry, and something called the “Hellenic Football Prognostics Organization”. A more comprehensive list can be found here.
In the abstract, the Greek public supports the privatization plans, with 74% of the country saying that the measures are “probably” necessary. But the question is how Greeks will respond when the measures begin to affect them personally. There, the signs are less auspicious. Locals have already vowed to block efforts by the Qatari government to build a new financial district on the site of an abandoned airport on the outskirts of Athens; the mayor says he wants to open a public park instead.