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Greece told to sell off islands and artworks

Guardian
Julia Finch

4th March 2010

The call for a Big Fat Greek Auction came on the eve of crucial talks between Angela Merkel and the George Papadreou

Greek island

Josef Schlarmann told Bild newspaper that Greece should consider selling its uninhabited islands for debt redemption. Photograph: Third Eye Images/Corbis

Two senior German MPs have demanded that Greece sell off some of its islands, historic buildings and art works as a condition of receiving a financial lifeline from the EU.

The call for a Big Fat Greek Auction – which would also include ancient artefacts and stakes in state-owned companies – to repay some of the country’s debt mountain came on the eve of crucial talks between the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, and the Greek prime minister, George Papadreou, in Berlin tomorrow and takes the mudslinging between the two countries to a new level.

Frank Schaeffler, an economics specialist and member of Germany’s Free Democrats, said Athens should sell stakes in companies and “assets, such as uninhabited islands”. Marco Wanderwitz – a member of Merkel’s conservative CDU party – went even further: “If the European Union, and therefore Germany, helps out Greece economically, it will need to give something in exchange … some islands, for example, might be a solution.”

The Bild tabloid newspaper put it rather more succinctly: “We give you cash, you give us Corfu … and the Acropolis too”.

Dimitris Droutsas, Greece’s deputy foreign minister, was not amused. “Suggestions like this are not appropriate at this time,” he told German television.

According to a poll published today, 84% of Germans think the EU should refuse to help Athens.

The Greeks are increasingly resentful of Germany’s hardline stance. Germany’s Nazi past has been dragged up and German car dealers and supermarket chains have been hit by boycotts.

There are some 6,000 Greek islands, scattered across the Aegean and Ionian seas, ranging from Crete, the biggest at more than 3,000 square miles, to tiny rocky islets barely big enough for a single sunbed. Only around 220 are inhabited. Many are already up for sale.

The Private Islands Online website, which specialises in selling island paradises and rocky outcrops across the world, says a little bit of land surrounded by sea in the Cyclades or Dodecanese is the perfect trophy asset: “Greek islands are the ultimate status symbol, evoking images of sunglass-sporting shipping magnates sipping champagne on the deck of enormous yachts.”

The price it insists, is really quite reasonable. The islands are “relatively affordable … costing as little as $2m – less than a ski chalet in Aspen or a walk-up on the Upper East Side”.

Currently up for grabs is St Athanasios island, just 2.5 acres, in the Gulf of Corinth, with an asking price of €1.5m. Those who need more space might be interested in St Thomas, a 300 acre isle in the Diapori chain, a water taxi ride from Athens and on the market for €15m.

This week Papandreou set out his third round of austerity measures, including public sector pay cuts and tax increases. Greek unions announced a series of strikes in protest.

The Greek treasury successfully raised €5bn in a make-or-break bond issue, but more than €50bn of Greek debt is due this year – €20bn in the coming weeks – and the country needs to borrow more to meet repayments. If it cannot it will be in default and European banks with Greek investments would be forced into vast write-offs. The problem could then spread to other countries with huge deficits.

View the original article at Guardian


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