Sell the Acropolis and some of your islands, Germans tell Greeks

Two German politicians bolster relations with Greece by suggesting it starts flogging its prime assets...

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou will apparently meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel today after relations between the two countries took yet another turn for the worse: two German politicians (including a member of Merkel’s own party) have suggested that Greece needs to start selling off some of its islands to pay its massive debts – or, indeed, some of its world-famous buildings, like the Acropolis. We’re not quite sure whether they’re suggesting the Germans would buy any of these islands (we suppose it’s a novel solution to the difficulties of getting a towel on a sun lounger in Corfu) – but it’s not going to do anything for the hostility that seems to be simmering between Greece and its most likely benefactor…

The two politicians – Josef Schlarmann, a senior member of Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats, and Frank Schaeffler, whose Free Democrats is also part of the ruling coalition – made their comments in an interview with newspaper Bild, which published them under the terrifically insensitive headline: ‘Sell your islands, you bankrupt Greeks! And sell the Acropolis too!’ Their theory is that since the Greeks are so deep in hock, austerity measures won’t be enough to curb its crippling deficit: they also need to be taking radical steps, like selling off some its islands (only 227 of the 6,000 it owns are inhabited apparently, so the argument is presumably that they have plenty going spare). Its buildings and companies could also be sold, they say – leading some wags to suggest that the Acropolis might be first on the block.

We’re not totally sure how serious they are; obviously it’s true that when people are insolvent, they have to flog any assets they own, but the chances of Greece flogging its land and its main tourist attractions are non-existent. But it does indicate the strength of feeling in Germany against any kind of Greek bail-out (for which German taxpayers would end up footing most of the bill). That said, Papandreou insists he doesn’t want the Germans’ cash: he just wants their support, so he can borrow money at cheaper rates while he pushes through reform (and he had some good news on that score yesterday, when a €5bn bond issue was oversubscribed). And he’s got enough problems on his own doorstep: if the furious Greeks aren’t busy boycotting everything German, they’re protesting at his latest round of austerity measures.

Still, it’s a warning for other countries with a weak economy and a huge deficit. Perhaps in a few years’ time, international creditors might be demanding that the UK starts trying to auction off Buckingham Palace and the Channel Islands.

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