But with time ticking on Greece’s bailout, and the country’s future on the shared euro currency ever more in question, the odds are stacked against him.
Greece owns large swaths of sectors like gambling that in other countries are in private hands. The arrangement helped derail Greece’s finances in the first place, with powerful unions bidding up workers’ salaries to unsustainable levels and money leaking to politically connected contractors. Now, few investors want to bet their money on these properties in the middle of what Samaras has called “our version of the Great Depression.” And it is not politically attractive to sell off Greece’s crown jewels at fire-sale prices.
If Greek leaders don’t hit it lucky, though, international officials are more ready than ever to pull the plug on the bailout that is keeping Greece from collapse. The consequences would be even worse than the recession that by year’s end is likely to shrink the economy by more than a fifth of its 2008 heights.
“We do all we can to bring the country back on its feet, and they do all they can so we can fail,” Samaras recently said, railing against unnamed foreign leaders who he said were jeopardizing Greece’s economy.
Without the bailout, Greece would probably be forced out of the 17-nation euro zone. European leaders would then themselves be gambling that they could contain the subsequent panic that would strike far larger economies such as Spain and Italy. If they lost, a global recession might return. If they won, they would have a smaller but potentially stronger currency union.
Shortly after his inauguration as prime minister in June, Samaras swore to speedily privatize some big targets: the country’s money-losing train network, the power company and a prime seaside stretch of land. But even some of his allies worry that he is setting himself up for public failure.
“There’s just no market,” said Konstantinos Kollias, who was the head of a previous privatization effort during the boom years under a government led by Samaras’s center-right New Democracy Party.
“Many of these companies have many problems,” he said. “They’ve had poor management for many years.”
That poor management helped stretch open Greece’s budget deficit to 13.6 percent of the size of its economy in 2009, setting off
the crisis, and it continues to hamper the country’s recovery. Some state-owned companies are profitable, but many are money-losers. Taking them off public balance sheets would help stabilize Greece’s finances, its creditors say, and encouraging private investment would help its economy grow in the long run. International officials have said that speedy privatization would be one of the biggest steps Greece could take.