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Greece sells off assets in huge "yard sale"

Protesters attend a rally in Syntagma Square, in front of the Greek Parliament in Athens, Greece.

Tess Vigeland: Union workers walked off the job throughout Greece today in a two-day strike against proposed austerity measures. Dockworkers prevented tourists from boarding ferries to the Greek Islands, and a work stoppage by air traffic controllers forced airlines to cancel dozens of flights. A protest in Athens turned violent and police fired tear gas into the crowds.

The defining moment of the long-running debt crisis in that country could come tomorrow, as parliament votes on a package of taxes and spending cuts. If they pass, Greece will qualify for the next chunk of bailout money. If they don't, the country could be bankrupt within a month. And then there's the plan to sell off some $71 billion worth of state assets. A government fire sale, if you will.

Marketplace's Stephen Beard has more from our European Desk in London.


Stephen Beard: It might be easier to tell you what Greece is not intending to sell. Matina Stevis of the Eleftherotypia newspaper says the inventory of Greek assets earmarked for privatization is colossal.

Matina Stevis: Ranging from banks, state-owned banks, to the loss-making railways, water companies, energy companies, ports.

And a couple of airports, a state lottery, a horse-racing concession, a casino and -- among many other things -- a nickel mining and smelting company, prompting the question: what was the Greek government doing owning such a vast ragbag of assets?

Stevis: This was the dominant ideology in this country that it is a matter of national interest as well as social solidarity that these assets are managed by the state and the state claimed that it could do a good job managing them.

It didn't, in many cases. And selling off the loss-making companies at a decent price won't be easy. The government does have thousands of acres of real estate to sell, but developing it is another matter. Dogged public opposition can easily thwart the most promising project. And dogged opposition seems to be a Greek speciality right now.

Commentator John Psarapoulos says the privatization plan seems doomed to fail.

John Psarapoulos: I don't think it's realistic to expect Greece to raise €50 billion out of sales and privatization in a two-year period. I don't think it can happen.

Greece could be headed towards another humiliation: they put the country up for sale, but can't find enough buyers.

In London, I'm Stephen Beard for Marketplace.

About the author

Stephen Beard is the European bureau chief and provides daily coverage of Europe’s business and economic developments for the entire Marketplace portfolio.

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