When you hit hard times, it is time to pawn or part with the family silver — and an unprecedented clearout is now under way in Athens.
Greece has announced it will sell anything it can do without — and in the case of the debt-choked nation that means letting go of islands, royal palaces, prime real estate, marinas, airports, roads, the state-owned gas company, lottery and post office. Indeed anything, really, that can be sold.
The government on Wednesday announced downsizing of diplomatic residences abroad — starting with the Victorian townhouse that was once the Greek consul general’s residence in London.
“There is a decision to lease and sell properties that for various reasons are not being used,” said Gregory Dalevekouras, spokesman at the foreign ministry. The finance department, he said, was hard at work evaluating “market conditions”.
The sell-off emerged just a day after Athens's finance minister Yannis Stournaras revealed what most Greeks feared but had never been officially told - that with national income projected to fall 25% by 2014 their economy is not just shrinking but slipping inexorably into a 1930's-style Depression. And officials are now working frantically to get the mother of all firesales off the ground.
High-end estate agents are already being sounded out to sell the 920 sq-metre consular residence in London’s upscale Holland Park.
Property experts say homes similar to the 115-year-old stucco-fronted townhouse could sell for as much as £12 million. Richard Branson, a neighbour, put his own home on the market for £17 million last year.
In what will be surely be sad news for another UK resident, Constantine, the former king of Greece, officials have also let slip that the Tatoi palace, the royal family’s historic estate at the foot of Mount Parnitha, will be sold off too.
The sell-off is part of a privatisation campaign that may well be the most ambitious ever conducted in the continent of Europe.
With Athens’ debt load still at a whopping 166% of GDP, the country has agreed to raise €19 billion by 2015.