To the victor goes the spoils.
The ink was not yet dry on the new European bailout accord for Greece before German companies started their plundering of Greek assets.
Per provisions of the “agreement” imposed on Greece, the Athens government awarded the German company that runs the Frankfurt Airport, Fraport, a concession to operate 14 regional airports, mostly on the islands like Mykonos and Santorini favored by tourists, for up to 50 years in the first privatization of government-owned assets demanded by the creditors.
The airport deal had been agreed upon last year by the previous Greek government and then suspended by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’s newly elected government this year as part of his pledge to prevent the fire sale of valuable public assets at bargain-basement prices.
The airport deal gives Fraport the right to run the facilities as its own for 1.2 billion euros over the 50 years and an annual rent of 23 million euros. The German company is also pledging to invest significantly in upgrades for the airports.
Under the terms of the new bailout accord, which provides 86 billion euros of new debt to a government already vastly overindebted, the country must sequester 50 billion euros worth of public assets to sell off at distressed prices to mostly foreign bidders — with German companies first in line.
In the end, Tsipras had no choice but to buckle under to the creditors’ demands if he wanted to fulfill his other pledge of keeping the country in the euro.
But the plundering that has now begun unmasks the whole euro charade for what it really is — a war of conquest by money rather than by arms.
Privatization is a standard feature of the neoliberal policy mix seeking smaller government, less state intervention and more free-market competition. (Privatization, of course, leads just as often to crony capitalism, while some services, such as electricity and trains, are arguably more efficient as government-owned monopolies.)
But privatization in the context of the bailout accord is tantamount to expropriation, like forcing a bankrupt to sell the family silver in order to pay off debts.
After piling more and more unsustainable debt onto the Greek government in two previous bailouts — most of which went back to banks in France and Germany — the victorious Northern European governments are now inviting their companies to partake in the spoils.
Fraport, which ironically is majority-owned by state and local governments in Germany, has cherry-picked among Greece’s network of regional airports to take over only those that make a profit. It is happy to leave the 30 other loss-making airports in the hands of a bankrupt state.
Greek Infrastructure Minister Christos Spirtzis told German television that this deal to take away the profitable airports and leave the ailing government with only those requiring subsidies “is more fitting for a colony than for an EU member state.”
The official memorandum of understanding approved this week specifically mentions the airport deal and that it must be made with the buyer already agreed upon, even though the bulk of the privatizations that Greece must make will be finalized only in March of next year.
Sven Giegold, a German member of the European Parliament who represents the environmentalist party, the Greens, called this isolated provision “bizarre.”
Even with the announcement of the concession by the Greek government, however, the German company indicated that it might seek better terms than those previously agreed upon.
This same pattern of taking over profitable assets at depressed prices will no doubt become evident in the other sales mandated by the agreement.
Other assets to be sold will include the ports of Piraeus and Thessaloniki and valuable waterfront properties for hotel and casino development. State-owned electricity and train operations are also targeted for privatization.
How anyone can view this blatant profiteering as furthering the process of European integration is a mystery. How any European can look at this naked German aggression with equanimity is also baffling.
The irrepressible Yanis Varoufakis, unbowed after his resistance to capitulation ended his brief tenure as finance minister, notes in an annotated version of the MOU that the Greek government in May had proposed an alternative path to privatization that would have leveraged the public assets to promote more investment and growth.
Under that plan, Greece would upgrade the public assets, fully utilizing aid available from EU sources like the European Investment Bank, to help drive growth and then privatize them at its own pace at a much higher price.
Like every other suggestion from the Greek side, this proposal was dismissed out of hand by the German-led EU negotiators.
The war is over; let the occupation begin.