The strongest hand of the tripartite government of New Democracy, PASOK and the Democratic Left is the privatisation programme, which is expected to bring about 50 billion euro in revenue within 10 years. In addition, statesmen hope that new investors will develop lifeless yet potential projects such as ports, airports and other infrastructures and will thus revive the dying Greek economy. Not all players on the political scene share this view and the main opponent to the privatisation processes is the opposition radical left party SYRIZA. Its long-time member and an experienced politician Dimitris Papadimoulis agreed to present to the readers of GRReporter SYRIZA’s alternative for avoiding privatisation.
How do you assess the privatisation programme of the ruling tripartite coalition?
We are totally against the sale and privatisation of state property for two reasons. The first is that public ownership in Greece is one of the smallest in Europe as a ratio to the GDP. From 1991 to 2008, according to official figures of the European Union, Greece made twice as many privatisations than the average for the Euro area countries. The second reason for SYRIZA to oppose the privatisation process is that currently, the market price of the property in the country is very low. If public companies and public property are sold now, when the stock and domestic market values are significantly reduced, Greece will lose. The funds that will be accumulated would be minimal and they will not correspond to the sale of some of the largest public values.
What is the alternative to the privatisation programme presented by the government, according to SYRIZA?
We support the idea of making business cooperatives between the Greek state and other organisations in order for them to develop projects and utilize the assets included in the privatisation list together as associates. The organisations with which the Greek state will work can be other foreign state-owned companies and private enterprises that will be approved after winning an auction. The state can participate in these cooperatives with a real estate in a tourist area, for example. The other side will provide the investment under the development agreement for the relevant asset. In this way, both sides will benefit and have a long-term profit without the public sector losing its property.
The same can be applied to other sectors, not only to tourism. Such practices can come into force in the energy sector, where new opportunities can be developed based on the cooperative principle.
Your idea of a cooperative between the state and other organisations with the aim of project development is very interesting but it is not new. A large part of the privatisation programme is based on public-private partnerships and concessions of certain sites, but not on their final sale. Why don’t you accept the government privatisation plan, provided that it largely coincides with your suggestions?
We are talking about cooperation, not about concession; not about giving the right of use without the state’s participation in the decision-making process. A concession contract gives all rights to the private owner.
The concession gives him the right to dispose of an asset, whereas a cooperative means collaboration.
So, do you think the state should not give up the activities and services, which may be rendered by private owners, right?
An example is Deutsche Telekom, which bought the national telecommunications company OTE in Greece and the major shareholder of which is the German state (holding 32% of shares – author’s note). We are totally against the theory, which argues that the state should not have any property and everything should be in private hands. Moreover, this is not the example that the rest of Europe follows. This can be a suitable model for Africa or some countries in Asia, but not for Europe or Greece.
Let us return to the case of the telecommunications company OTE, which was privatised during the government of Kostas Karamanlis. Some say it was a successful deal for the Greek state. Do you share this opinion?
Of course, we do not think of it as a success. It could be a success for the German state, but not for Greece.
As the main opposition party, do you have any tools to ensure transparency of the deals the government is expected to make within the privatisation programme?
No, this is the work of the consultants of the government, who among all other things are very well paid. We oppose the privatisation process itself. This does not mean we will not examine the observance of the law and the public interest in the projects that the government will prepare for sale.
How long will the current government survive in your opinion?
The official position of the government is that it will survive the full four-year term. The way it has started acting shows something different, though. Both New Democracy and PASOK together with the Democratic Left broke at the outset their campaign promises to renegotiate the bailout agreement. It will become clear very soon how long they will survive.