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As reported today by Athens-based daily Kathimerini, the transfer of 100 percent of the previously state-owned national railway TRAINOSE to Ferrovie Dello Stato Italiane S.p.A. has been finalized.
This privatization had initially been announced during the summer of 2017, and represents one of the many public assets which the “leftist” SYRIZA-led government has pledged to sell, as part of its commitments under the third memorandum agreement, passed by the SYRIZA-led coalition in August 2015.
The news was greeted with an ironic retort by former transportation minister Kostas Hatzidakis of the New Democracy party, itself no stranger to privatizations. In his statement, Hatzidakis questioned whether Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras and Greek transportation minister Christos Spirtzis transferred ownership of TRAINOSE “with joy, or with ‘tears’ in their eyes.”
The entire national railroad, including trains, stations, and all accompanying infrastructure, was sold for a mere €45 million, less than the cost of a luxury yacht. In his statement, Hatzidakis called out SYRIZA’s opposition to the proposed privatization of TRAINOSE while New Democracy was in government, at a price of €300 million, only to sell off the national railway for much less today.
This transfer of ownership comes after TRAINOSE’s debts were written off. It seems that while the debts of companies which were previously publicly owned can be written off at will to make them more attractive to foreign investors, the same cannot be done for Greece’s odious national debt, which the current government has repeatedly pledged to repay in full.
Of course, such pledges are being made now, whereas prior to SYRIZA’s electoral victory in January 2015, when it was still the main opposition party in Greece, SYRIZA continuously campaigned on an anti-memorandum line, pledging to do something about Greece’s debt once in power and to put a stop to the privatizations of Greek public assets.
Today’s privatization of TRAINOSE was finalized on the Ionian island of Kerkyra (Corfu), as part of a meeting of the High Level Cooperation Council of Greece and Italy, between representatives of the Greek and Italian governments, and under the aegis of the president of the Greek privatization fund (TAIPED) Lila Titsogiannopoulou and the executive director of Ferrovie dello Stato Italiane Group, Renato Mazzoncini.
Notably, while many proponents of privatization in Greece often argue that Greece’s “bloated” and “ineffective” public sector, full of partisan and patronage hires, could not effectively manage such important assets and that private initiative is preferable, Ferrovie Dello Stato Italiane S.p.A. is itself a state-owned entity, owned by the Italian state. Similarly, 14 Greek regional airports which were recently sold by the SYRIZA-led government, are now operated by the German publicly-owned entity Fraport.
These arguments, of course, also ignore the laughably low prices and ridiculous terms at which these assets have been sold off, as well as the possibility that Greeks could conceivably demand better governance, management and stewardship of public assets, rather than fatalistically accepting the “incompetence” of the Greek state and the subsequent selloff of these assets.