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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: "Seule l’Acropole n’est pas encore en vente"

by Rosa Moussaoui

Only the Acropolis Remains Not Yet For Sale

Translated Tuesday 5 April 2016, by Henry Crapo, Isabelle Métral

Athens is summoned to accelerate privatization, which can fetch 6.4 billion euros by 2017. This target, to pay off the loan sharks, must be met at all costs ... even if it means skirting the law and closing one’s eyes to conflicts of interest .

Athens (Greece), by special correspondent.

At Taiped, they privatize in joy and good humor. In the offices of the Development Fund managing property of the Hellenic Republic, which is in charge of the liquidation of the Greek public property, pranksters hijacked the poster for Wolfgang Becker’s "Good Bye Lenin". The poster is now titled "Good Bye Limani", in reference to the sale of the port of Piraeus to the Chinese public giant China Ocean Shipping Company (Cosco), whose headquarters is based in Hong Kong. Poster credits the script to the German finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, and names as director the Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras. In the role of hero, president of Taiped, Stergios Pitsiorlas, lawyer who has worked in the sectors of construction, tourism and renewable energy. "We have a sense of humor!", one smiles in the direction of Taiped. Humor, and heart also, to mount the big sale so dear to the creditors of Greece. To repay the debt and to recapitalize the four largest Greek banks (National Bank of Greece, Piraeus Bank, Eurobank and Alpha) drained by the recession, capital flight and financial strangulation by the ECB, Athens was ordered to put on sale 50 billion euros of state assets. Sheer folly, for a country whose GNP barely exceeded 185 billion in 2016. But this irrational requirement appears in black and white on the third austerity memorandum imposed last year on the country, among the retaliatory measures following the "NO" on the July 5 referendum.

The Chinese giant Cosco had already obtained, seven years ago, the concession for two container terminals

The sales catalog of Taiped has thus thickened. This is Greece sold by the slice: beaches, islands, peninsulas, water sources, agricultural land expropriated from peasants for highway projects, the Olympic facilities, hotels, buildings, two Airbus airplanes, marinas ... and, of course, most public enterprises and infrastructures: electricity, gas, railways, station, refinery, national lottery, water, ports, airports ... "only the Acropolis is not yet up for sale, ... but just wait", one sighs frequently in Athens.

Among the transactions already concluded, the sale of the port of Piraeus should be completed by the month of June. Cosco does not advance into uncharted territory: the Chinese company has already obtained seven years ago the concession, for thirty-five years, of two container terminals. The office of Taiped approved unanimously earlier this year, the sale of the port, to 368.5 million euros. The Chinese company, which aims to make from Piraeus a "hub" of maritime trade between Asia and Europe, is committed to make investments amounting to 350 million euros. The revenue from this concession would bring the total to the Greek state € 410 million over forty years. [1] "This privatization makes Greece a gateway for Asian goods into Europe, strengthens the economy and the strategic importance of the country in the region," argued the head of Taiped, Stergios Pitsiorlas. In fact, the transfer will be done in two stages. Cosco will acquire, for 280 million euros, 51% of the company Piraeus Port (OLP) on signing the contract, and an additional 15.7% in 2021, once the promised investments have been made. "Imagine renting a company for 1000 euros a month, before purchasing the entire building for 10 000 euros. For the Chinese giant, it’s a bargain. Cosco paid the Port Company of Piraeus, in 2015, 38 million for only two terminals. If we multiply this sum by forty years, the duration of the concession, it comes to 1520 millions. In this affair, the Greek State loses 1,240 million", calculates economist Leonidas Vatikiotis, screenwriter of the documentaries Debtocracy and Catastroïka.

In 2014, the State Council blocked the acquisition of the water company of Athens, ruled illegal

Another privatization, that of 14 of the 39 regional airports, a concession for forty years to a consortium of German Fraport and Greek society Slentel. Cost of operation: € 1.23 billion, plus an annual rent of € 22.9 million and a promise to invest € 330 million in infrastructure. Again, this is a foreign owned public company that seizes the assets of the Greek state, since Fraport is majority-owned by the Land Hessen (31.49%) and by the city of Frankfurt (20.11%). Another shareholder of the German airport operator is the airline Lufthansa (9.92%), of which the subsidiary Lufthansa Consulting GmbH has taken an active part in this privatization process, as "technical advisor". Another illustration of this mix, the presence among the members of the Taiped Executive Board of personalities from the business world and the banking sector. Executive Director of the Fund, Evangelia Tsitsogiannopoulou, thus passed through Lamda Development, a subsidiary of the sprawling group ruled by the Greek billionaire Spiros Latsis (banking, real estate, petroleum, shipbuilding). Now this oligarch has bought, at discount, the site of the former Elliniko airport, which, on the sea coast, is now destined to be covered with concrete and subject to property speculation. The Greeks have a very vivid expression to describe these arrangements between friends: they speak of "entangled interests" cultivated by the oligarchy.

On the threshold of power, Syriza promised to put a stop to these privatizations. After the victory of the left, 25 January 2015, some were even "suspended", such as Piraeus and the public electricity operator DEI. Social and environmental clauses were set up to protect the public patrimony. Alas, the signing of a third austerity memorandum last July 12 has dealt a serious blow to the political opposition, trade unions and citizens. To annihilate the Greek reluctance, creditors have even once demanded, through the voice of the German Finance Minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, the relocation to Luxembourg of the Greek privatization fund. This option was warded off, but the establishment of a "super Taiped" is still on the agenda. Based in Athens, it will however be under the close supervision by the creditors. Objective: to accelerate privatization, which should bring 6.4 billion euros by 2017, a target that must be held to at all costs to repay the usurers, even if it means evading the law. it is thus that the Athens Water Company (Eydap) is included in the portfolio of Taiped. On 26 May 2014, however, the Council of State, seized by the citizens, blocked this privatization, deemed illegal. "The transformation of a public company into a private company aiming at profit poses uncertainty about the continuity of supply of affordable public service and of quality," stated the judgment.

"Everyone still wants his piece of the pie, and relies on Greek complicity"

"We expect, in the coming weeks, positive developments in this matter, which concerns the Athens and Thessaloniki water system (Eyath)" they happily say at the head of Taiped: Suez Environnement, owned 35% by Engie (ex-GDF-Suez), whose main shareholder is the French state, is in the running. The "partly public" character of this candidate permits it to bypass the "legal impediments" to the privatization of water in Athens and Thessaloniki, Taiped suggests. An argument inadmissible for Maria Kanellopoulou, of the coalition Save the Greek Water. "Greece is carved up, everyone wants his piece of the pie, still relying on Greek complicity," explains this militant. In this affair, Suez Environnement, which already holds a 5.46% stake in Eyath, has formed a consortium with the Greek group Aktor (construction, highways, waste management), property of Leonidas Bobolas." The name of the oligarch and her brother, Fotis Bobolas, appeared on the famous "Lagarde list" of those rich who lived in the Greece, with bank accounts in Switzerland. Last spring, an arrest warrant was issued against Leonidas Bobolas for "tax evasion" and money laundering. Arrested, he was finally released at the end of a brief period in custody, after paying bail of 1.8 million euros.

Suez Environnement is not the only French company benefitting from these privatizations. EDF, already present in Greece in the renewable energy sector, is interested in the electricity operator DEI. The SNCF covets its Greek counterpart TRAINOSE. And during his visit to Greece last fall, Francois Hollande was accompanied by a plane-load of French bosses determined to seize the opportunities offered by this vast privatization plan. Paris scrutinizes closely the liquidation of the Greek public assets. Among the "observers" who assist in the work of the Board of Directors of Taiped we find, alongside the representative of the European Commission ... the head of the Economic Service of the Embassy of France, Philippe Boin. The Philhellenism exalted by François Hollande on 22 October at the University of Athens, has for the Greeks the bitter taste of dispossession ...

My apologies for the delay in translation of this fine article, which appeared in l’Humanité on 15 March. HC

[1Translator’s remark: Ten million euros a year for the proceeds of the port of Piraeus! And what will ten million euros be worth forty years from now?

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