Greece’s gamble that the only bidder for the abandoned and neglected former Hellenikon Airport site on Athens’ coast wouldn’t walk away after the government insisted on a higher bid has paid off.
The country’s state privatization agency said that Lamda Development, the company Greece’s highest court ruled had unlawfully built the profitable Athens Mall in Maroussi, submitted a 25 percent higher offer of 915 million euros ($1.26 billion) after its backers, the Chinese Fosun Group and Al Maabar of Abu Dhabi agreed.
The 1482-acre site is the most valuable for development in the country and was supposed to be the largest urban park in Europe before Greece’s crushing economic crisis led the government to decide instead that it should be turned into commercial use. The area is across a highway from some of the most favored beaches in Athens and last year a Metro stop was opened there.
Parts of it had been used for the Athens 2004 Olympics but it has fallen into disrepair since. The project now would include the creation of a 200-hectare (494-acre) park, sports and recreation facilities and other commercial areas.
Despite bargain basement prices for state enterprises, the government has struggled to attract investors to its troubled privatization program, a criticism often made by bailout lenders who are now pressing Greece to maintain high taxes until public finances further improve.
Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras said that an unpopular austerity tax known as the solidarity surcharge would be extended for “as long as needed” to keep the budget deficit within limits set by rescue creditors.
The levy was due to end next year, but Stournaras told private SKAI radio it would be imposed until budget improvements become “permanent and sustainable.” Critics have said the tax itself would become permanent and doom Greeks to unrelenting higher taxes to pay for a crisis successive governments created by hiring hundreds of thousands of needless workers for generations in return for votes.
Protests, meanwhile, continued against a new austerity deal reached this month between Greece and lenders from Eurozone countries and the International Monetary Fund, which, along with the European Union and European Central Bank makes up the EU-IMF-ECB Troika which put up 240 billion euros ($330.7 billion) in two bailouts that run out this year.
Those came with the conditions of big pay cuts, tax hikes, slashed pensions and worker firings that have worsened a seven-year-old recession and created record unemployment and deep poverty.
The Troika had estimated privatization could bring in 50 billion euros ($68.75 billion) but so far has realized only about 3.5 billion euros ($4.8 billion) as buyers just aren’t interested.
Meanwhile, pharmacies around most of the country closed in protest at new licensing rules that would remove their monopoly on guaranteed profits and the sale of non-prescription medicines which could now be sold in supermarkets. And in central Athens, riot police forcibly removed protesting cleaning staff affected by recent state job cuts from inside the Finance Ministry.
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