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Greece sells off assets to tackle debt

A Greek riot police officer passes graffiti on the Bank of Greece, translated it says 'Here are the Thieves' on May 20, 2010 in Athens, Greece.

Kai Ryssdal: We interrupt this broadcast with another dose of very unpleasant economic medicine for the good people of Greece. There's been news of more deep cuts in public spending, as well as an accelerated plan to sell off state property to raise some much-needed cash.

What's being called the Sale of the Century is winning the government no new friends. From the European Desk in London, Marketplace's Stephen Beard reports.


Stephen Beard: The assets range from shares in the country's main telecom operator, a major savings bank, two of the biggest ports and the publicly owned power generation company. An extraordinary haul, says commentator John Psarapolous.

John Psarapolous: This is all among the prime, not only real estate assets of the public sector, but also business interests of the public sector. So they really are putting out the family silver.

And hoping to raise some $70 billion in the process to pay off some of the national debt. But the worry, says Matina Stevis of the Elefterotypia newspapers, is that the sales won't raise anything like that sum.

Matina Stevis: The question really is: how will the Greek government be able to effectively negotiate good prices for these assets while the potential buyers know the Greek government is desperate for cash?

Matina says the Greek people feel humiliated and are beginning to blame the rest of the Eurozone for their plight. They'd even prefer to see their national assets sold to the Chinese rather than their European partners.

Stevis: The prospect of these assets being owned by investors who have not participated in this shaming just feels more appealing. I personally don't share these emotions, but I know that some of my compatriots do.

The asset sales are last ditch attempt to prevent a default. Although politicians now tend to avoid that word. The talk is of "rearranging," "restructuring" or "reprofiling" Greece's debt. Whatever you call it -- and in spite of the asset sales -- that is beginning to look more likely.

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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