For sale: Coastline, ports, Olympic venues and banks

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The Independent Online

What began earlier this month with the modest sale of a 10 per cent stake in Greece's state telecoms company is set to accelerate over the next four years into an unprecedented auction of public assets. In return for the loans it needs to avoid bankruptcy Greece has been forced to open its national car boot and start an extraordinary sale.

Items for consideration include: vast stretches of the country's famed coastline, mountain-top casinos, the rail network, power generation, former Olympic venues, four airbuses, stakes in several banks, the betting monopoly, ports, airports, highways, racecourses and the post office.

All this in a country that took more than a generation, and several political crises to find a buyer for its costly and then ailing state airline, Olympic. What the country will get in return could be described as a lottery if it weren't for the fact that the national lottery is also up for sale.

Greece's Prime Minister George Papandreou, whose Socialist party nationalised many of the assets now being sold off and whose support base is among the trade unions who implacably oppose privatisation, has committed himself to raising €50bn from the sale. To reach its targets and meet its timeline the government must find a new buyer at a rate of one every three days.

Critics of the scheme complain that its insistence on selling to the highest bidder means it will do nothing to break up existing monopolies or reform poorly performing sectors. Much of the attention has focused on the state power company where employees have already gone on strike.

Even proponents of privatisation point out that the company will be worth more to buyers as a monopoly and that the sale will do nothing to encourage further diversification of generating capacity which relies heavily on the environmentally damaging mining and burning of lignite – Greece's only source of fossil fuel.