Date: September 21 2012
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 downsizing now also includes diplomatic residences abroad. ''There is a decision to lease and sell properties that for various reasons are not being used,'' said Foreign Ministry spokesman Gregory Delavekouras. He said the ministry's finance department was hard at work evaluating ''market conditions''.
The sell-off emerged on Wednesday, a day after Athens' finance minister revealed what most Greeks feared but had never been officially told: with national income projected to fall 25 per cent by 2014, their economy is slipping inexorably into a 1930s-style depression. Officials are now working frantically to get a fire sale off the ground.
For potential buyers of ambassadorial homes and consul's quarters, the good news is that the Foreign Ministry is fully aware of what and where the properties are, unlike the Greek state, which until recently was struggling to attain an inventory of what it owned given the lack of a proper land registry.
Estate agents are already being sounded out to sell a 920-square-metre consular residence in London's up-market Holland Park.
Since the outbreak of Greece's economic crisis in late 2009, the country's diplomatic presence abroad, like so much else, has been dramatically scaled back to cut expenditure. In what will surely be sad news for 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. The property, acquired by the family in 1871, was originally set in gardens laid out to ''provide the typical charms of both the Greek and English countryside'' and, as such, comes with some 40 outbuildings, stables, a swimming pool and several royal graves.
The sell-off, which will include buildings in Brussels and Belgrade, Rome and Nicosia, is part of a privatisation campaign that may well be the most ambitious ever conducted on the continent of Europe
With Athens' debt load still at a whopping 166 per cent of GDP, the country has agreed to raise €19 billion ($A23.7 billion) by 2015. Earlier this year, the cash-strapped Culture Ministry even announced it would make the Acropolis more ''readily available'' for photographers and film crews.
Previously, the ancient site had been regarded as ''too sacred' to rent out or besmirch with commercial use.
For many Greeks, the new drive is the most humiliating development yet in a process of brutal fiscal realignment that has caused poverty and unemployment to hit record levels.
''Foreigners have been allowed to occupy our country and now they are going to buy up our country at rock-bottom prices,'' Notis Marias, the parliamentary representative of the vehemently anti-bailout Independent Greeks party railed in parliament.
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