Greece Starts Its Fire Sale of State Assets

 

The deal to raise the US debt ceiling will reduce spending and slash budgets to programs. The austerity measures Greek Parliament (Vouli) voted on are far more draconian, as Greece is in a far more desperate situation.

Greeks face job loss, pension cuts and tax increases at the end of June: 20 percent of public sectors will lose their jobs in the next four years and those who still have a job face a 30 percent reduction in their salary. But that’s not the only way the country is seeking to pay its 350 billion euros of debt (about $498 billion), which is 150 percent of its GDP. With the country now “dependent on international handouts to pay public wages and pensions,” Prime Minister George Papandreou is charged with taking apart a “bloated public sector” created by his father, Andreas, in the 1980s. Greece has started a “fire sale of state assets” including the post office, the ports of Athens and Thessaloniki and utilities companies; if it is not able to privatize some of these properties, the country will not qualify for another trance of aid from the euro zone and the International Monetary Fund. The country hopes to raise 50 billion euros by 2015.

Finance minister Evangelos Venizelos 1.7 billion euros by the end of September and 5 billion euros by the end of the year, quite a bit to raise in such a short time (it is the second of August). The fear is that many properties will end up in the hands of those few able to buy them quickly, says the Guardian:

The appearance of For Sale and For Rent signs on everything from former Olympic venues to island locales, casinos, marinas and airports, has been met with unexpected acceptance by Greeks long weaned on state largesse. A growing majority appears to agree it is the only way of arresting soaring unemployment by attracting foreign investment. Experts estimate Athens could own around 300 billion euros worth of state property, almost as much as the total Greek debt.

“There has definitely been a shift in mood,” said Stefanos Manos, a former national economy minister in a centre-right government. “But that could easily change. It is very clear that the government is only doing this under great duress from [our] international creditors,” he said.

“With timetables being so pressing, I worry that the whole process is very ill-prepared. If it there is not enough transparency we may end up like Russia, where only a cast of oligarchs end up benefiting.”

Many Greeks are withdrawing their savings from banks and stowing them away elsewhere (overseas or under the mattress).

With the government running on emergency loans and taking orders from the IMF and European finance ministers about how to run its economy, things in Athens are looking more as they did in Buenos Aires in previous decades. In the Guardian, Christos Papatheodorou at the Democritus University of Thrace in the north, says that Greece, one of the poorest and most unequal societies in Europe, is now going to look more like a developing country:

That message has not been lost on workers either: one of the new nouns used by trade union members and others who oppose the cuts is kinezopeisi, or China-isation. The claim is that such large drops in wages will lead to a workforce paid barely more than their counterparts in Shenzhen.

Unemployment is 16 percent in Greece, and all-time high; it’s even higher for those in their twenties.

Distrust of the political class has only grown in Greece. The Guardian reports that people are refusing to pay road tolls, bus tickets and extra charges at the doctors. Organizers of the “We Won’t Pay” movement argue that “breaking the law by not paying small tolls or bus fares is far less serious than corrupt politicians and cartels which … ran Greece for decades with impunity,” according to civil engineer Nikos Noulas in Thessaloniki, Greece’s second-largest city:

The road-toll protest movement began more than two years ago outside Athens to counter what is seen as an extortionate and corrupt road toll system, with drivers expected to pay for stretches of road that have yet to be built. Some residents face paying more than 1,500/euros a year in tolls to get around their own neighbourhoods.

By the start of this year, the movement was flourishing and included refusals to pay for Athens metro tickets, with protesters covering ticket machines with plastic bags, as well as a long-running bus fare boycott in Thessaloniki after price rises by state-subsidised private firms. Others refuse to pay their TV licences.

Leftwing parties became involved, boosting the campaign’s visibility. By March, more than half of the Greek population supported the “We Won’t Pay” notion. The government heaped criticism on what it deemed an irresponsible “freeloader” mentality, warning that the non-payers would bring the country into disrepute and were starving the state of vital revenue from transport services. New laws were brought in on ticket evasion and police cracked down.

Other “Indignants” have continued to protest at the White Tower, a symbol of Thessaloniki, on its waterfront; the tower is surrounded by protest tents and draped in banners that say “For Sale,” in reference to the government’s plans to sell state assets. The “We Won’t Pay Movement” is a way for people who are understandably fed up to make their voices heard and reveals a deep division in Greek society. In a country that for years imported BMWs and exported tomatos, the debt crisis suggests that there’s a greater societal crisis already underway and changes need to be made at all levels.

 

Related Care2 Coverage

Debt Crisis in Europe Far Worse Than in US

EU Bails Out Greece for $157 Billion: A Marshall Plan with Haircuts

The Debt Crisis in Greece & Europe Drags On

Photo of Thessaloniki's White Tower taken in March, before the protests, by the author

20 comments

Past Member
Past Member 4 years ago

Dont sell State Assets.... DO NOT REPAY THE DEBTS...the amount is too large for such a small country...Euro politicians should understand...More/Less other countries are in similar position but everyones eyes are on Greece. The politicians should make sure there is room for growth in this poor economy and start planning for it...a bit... IF there is no growth then only debts and then poverty will creep in. That is for sure. I hope everyone supports Greece as it was not the common people who turned the country into this disaster but..the terrible self-centred politicians of the last 20-30years. Now George Papandreou is asked to pay for all that happened those years back, but is unable to do so and austerity measures are extremely severe. EU should appoint EU politicians to govern Greece, as the current and previous ones are not good enough and are only damaging the country and its people. Greeks deserve better leaders who give hope to them and to Europe in general...

Helena Plum Bowyer
Helena B.4 years ago

Perfect. Loan loads of money that can never be paid back and doesn't even exist, then collect the nations assets when they default. Theft, plain and simple. If they won't privatise like we in the UK did in the 80's (very few privatised industries have left us in a better position) they will get the assets another way. These people who want to own everything need some counselling for control and fullfilment issues.
The problem now is they gain in power, we lose more and more, become at their mercy and become slaves in everything but name only. We forget as national assets they belong to us collectively.
The first thing that happened when we got the conservatives back in is that they wanted to sell off our forests. Connection, the corps and individuals that would then buy this land wouldn't have to pay tax so where is the gain? None, just for those rich people who think they are entitled to more!

Dumitru Z.
Dumitru Z.4 years ago

Please TAKE ACTION, NOW OR NEVER !!! 15th October 2011 http://international.democraciarealya.es/

Dumitru Z.
Dumitru Z.4 years ago

It's time for another Social Order. The society needs to regain control over politics. Censorship of every move and every action made by politicians, MUST be supervised by social representatives. TAKE ACTION NOW !!!

Ernie Miller
william Miller4 years ago

I still think Greese shoule tell the EU to go *&%$ themselves and refuse to repay the loans the EU knew when they gave the loans that Greese could not pay them and made the loans any way. They are now using these same loans as a way to steel the heritage and assets of that country. Go broke and let the world eat their bad loans.

Robert Tedders
Robert T.4 years ago

@Bernadette P.;@Steven J.: AGREED!! *ANGRY* WHAT WE NEED IS A MODERN VERSION OF ELLIOT NESS!!

Anne H.
Anne H.4 years ago

Time to vacation in Greece!

Edward M.
Edward M.4 years ago

If America has not started a fire sale, then why should Greece?

Bernadette P.
Berny p.4 years ago

Thanks...again...to the bankers..wa...rs..

.they get big bonuses...after making a mess of things...

keep their jobs or go somewhere else to make a mess and as usual it is the individual who HAS TO PAY for HIS mistakes...

The world is paying for THEIR GREADY MISTAKES by price going up...people loosing jobs...family loosing their home....kids loosing their high education...people lifes been destroyed by BANKS and the regualtion is STILL not strong enough.....

AND...

Any bankers in jail...anywhere in the world for this....OF COURSE NOT!

Sandra Kravitz
Sandra K.4 years ago

This is so distressing, a pity what's going on and out of desperation greeks agree to privatization of important state assets. Desperate times call for desperate measures rings true I guess.