Giorgos Stathakis: “Taming Greek oligarchs is priority for Syriza”
Any move against the tycoons that dominate large parts of Greek business is likely to be contentious but could be welcomed — both by ordinary citizens and the country’s international lenders.
“The oligarchs are high on our agenda,” George Stathakis (MP of Syriza in Chania) the shadow development minister and Syriza’s senior economic spokesperson said in an interview with the Financial Times. “They will be a priority for action.”
A victory by Syriza, which is leading in opinion polls before a snap parliamentary election on January 25, could usher in months of uncertainty in the eurozone and even revive fears of a Greek exit from the currency union.
Syriza is led by lefwing firebrand Alexis Tsipras, who wants to write off some of Greece’s debt — a position strongly resisted by Germany and other eurozone partners that have lent money to Athens.
Syriza has long sparred with the “troika” of international bailout monitors — European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund. But the idea of a crackdown on the tycoons could get a sympathetic hearing from the EU and the fund.
The term oligarch refers to a small group of powerful Greek businessmen who have exploited political connections to win contracts and exclude potential competitors, including foreign investors.
Analysts said politicians have been reluctant to loosen the tycoons’ grip on the economy, since they rely on their handouts to finance election campaigns and pay party workers.
Among the criticisms of prime minister Antonis Samaras’ handling of the bailout by troika officials has been his reluctance to go after the vested interests of his centre-right New Democracy party.
Some in the troika feel that there has been too little burden sharing of Greece’s austerity programme, with the working classes bearing the brunt of spending cuts and tax rises while wealthier citizens and politically connected businesses were shielded by New Democracy.
There have also been concerns within the troika that the party has shown Greek governments’ traditional lenience towards friendly media companies, a practice that they had pushed leaders to abandon early in the bailout amid concerns about sweetheart loans.
A UK-educated political economist who teaches at the University of Crete, Mr Stathakis is seen as more market friendly than colleagues in Syriza’s disparate group of economic policy makers.
But he came under fire from fund managers in London last year when he presented Syriza’s plan for debt restructuring — a scheme that they considered unworkable.
Mr Stathakis said in the interview a Syriza government would scrutinise three sectors of the economy where oligarchs are particularly active: the domestic media, state procurements and real estate.
A Syriza administration would end the practice of governments handing out television licences for free to their political friends.
“Media ownership, television in particular, will be the first priority,” Mr Stathakis said. “Greece has never offered a nationwide commercial television licence for sale . . . So the [half-dozen commercial] channels are all operating without any legal basis and the state has lost large amounts of revenue.”
Syriza would also place Greece’s privatisation programme on hold while contentious sales were reviewed. Two big recent deals could be at risk: a €950m sale to Greek, Chinese and Gulf investors of a concession to develop the sprawling coastal site of the former Athens international airport and a €1.2bn operating concession for 14 regional Greek airports, which was won by a Greek-German consortium.
“Both these deals still have to be ratified by parliament and if we are in power, that may not happen,” Mr Stathakis said.