As a measure to revive a state-asset sales plan, important for receiving international funds, Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, suggested today a plan to sell or lease some of the country’s islands.
The Prime Minister, who is to travel Paris and Berlin this week to garner support for the struggling economy, said in a newspaper interview that some of country’s uninhabited islands can be used for commercial purposes, provided it doesn’t pose a national security problem. “On condition that it doesn’t pose a national security problem, some of the isles could be used commercially,” Samaras said, as quoted by the newspaper. “It would not be a case of getting rid of the isles, but of transforming unused terrain into capital that can generate revenue, for a fair price.”
Greece is running behind schedule on raising funds, now totaling 240 billion Euros ($301 billion) for rescue packages in the past two years. Samaras committed yesterday to speed up asset sales and structural revamping, like changes to labor markets, after meeting Luxembourg Prime Minister, Jean-Claude Juncker, who heads the group of euro region finance ministers. The troubled nation is expected to raise 50 billion Euros from state- asset sales by 2020 as a condition of its bailout, with half each coming from company-stakes sales and real estate. But till now it could only mobilize about 1.8 billion Euros
Samaras, who is set to meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel tomorrow in Berlin, and French President Francois Hollande, a day after in Paris, told one of the German newspapers yesterday that Greece requires some more time to overcome its debt woes. “Let me be very clear: we are not asking for extra money,” Samaras told the German daily Bild. “All we want is a little air to breathe to get the economy going and increase state income,” he said.”More time does not automatically mean more money,” he added.
“The state asset sales process must be re-launched,” Juncker told reporters. “I do not ignore that this privatization process is swimming in difficult waters, given the fact that the rumors of the exit of Greece from the euro area are spread around day after day.”
It’s strange for the prime Minister to come up with such a suggestion as that of selling islands, as it is a politically sensitive issue in Greece. A similar recommendation to boost revenue by selling property from members of the troika, who represent the European Commission, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund, faced stiff opposition from Premier George Papandreou in 2011. The importance of islands can be drawn out from the fact that Greece and Turkey almost went to war over the ownership of the uninhabited islet of Imia in the Aegean in 1996.