2015 | Dec
The sovereign debt crisis in Greece from 2009-2010 has been instrumental in strengthening trends of public land seizure. The country’s debt contributes to the political weakening of the debtor-State and the impoverishment of the population and the state. The pay-off terms imposed by the Troika on Greece ignore its national social needs and dictate ways of settling the debt, which go against the existing legal and constitutional provisions. Among these, the sale of national assets holds a dominant position.
The two main means of usurpation of public land after 2010 are the Hellenic Republic’s Asset Development Fund (HRADF), also known as the “sell-out Fund of Greece” and the privatisation of public bodies, infrastructure and public entities, who hold large pieces of land (PPC, Hellenic railways, ports, airports, etc.). All forms of real estate belonging to the State and to public sector organisations with large real estate asset portfolios have been forcibly transferred to the HRADF without any possibility of being re-transferred to the Greek state in the future.
The crown jewel of the privatisation program implemented by the HRADF in Attica is the 620 ha plot of land that includes the former Athens International Airport in Ellinikon and the beach of Agios Kosmas, on the coastal front of Attica (Figure 1). Despite the low sale price, the variety of development plans and the unique location of this large estate, the Ellinikon site attracted few investors. Lamda Development, owned by the Latsis family of ship owners, made an offer for 75 euro/sq.m. which the HRADF accepted, although adjacent plots’ nominal price for tax purposes is 1,110 euro/sq.m. Neighbouring municipalities, numerous organisations, citizens’ initiatives and the Left have been strongly resisting and mobilising against privatisation and the lack of public access to the seashore, envisaged in the investment plans.. The Court of Auditors recently froze the sale (Act 197/2014), considering that it violated the principles of transparency, equal treatment and competition, as highlighted in the Parliament by the opposition parties at the time.
Figure 1: The coastal front of Attica: the former Greek airport and the beach of Agios Kosmas
The founding of HRADF itself, the manner in which public property was transferred to it and the procedures it follows have been critiqued as illegal and unconstitutional (Marangopoulos Foundation 2014, Kasimatis 2014, Hadjimichalis 2014) but will not be described here systematically. The following table and map 1 present the categories of properties for sale by the HRADF in Attica, which do not include infrastructure (airports, ports, Hellenic Railways). Apart from the former airport of Ellinikon and 48 other buildings, nothing has been sold yet.
Table 1: Categories and real estate land for sale by the HRADF in Attica
Source: HRADF, properties posted in the tables until October 2014, processed by author.
Map 1: HRADF properties for sale in Attica
However, the seizure of public land in Attica did not commence in 2010 following the bail-out agreements. In the brief period between 2010 and 2015, the public property assets seized are larger, with high rents and include locations with unique natural and ecological features. In addition, they are accompanied by dramatic planning framework changes in favour of Capital. However, public land seizure begun when the Greek state was established and is a long-standing feature of Greek social structure. One could count thousands of violations by individuals, entrepreneurs, monasteries, the church and municipalities using all kinds of illegal construction and land title forgery combined with a lack of interest in securing the State interests in public property. The seizure of public land and public spaces is realised in multiple levels: from vast stretches of land for mining and illegal quarrying, to tourist real estate with golf courses and encroachments of the coastline, to illegal land clearing of forests for crops, thousands of illegal buildings, the occupation of squares and pavements by tables and chairs or sunbeds on the beaches.
The main reason for land-related abuses and illegal activities, but also for the delays in privatisation and sell-off by the HRADF, is the lack of a National Land Register. Essentially, due to a variety of factors, the state is not fully aware of the actual size and location of its real estate assets. Other than the lack of a land register, other important factors are the fragmentation of public services dealing with public land, the weakness or indifference of civil servants and the combination of political expedience and corruption.
Public land in Attica has been the victim of development in the capital, small plot seizures for private use and small-scale commercial utilisation by all social classes and social groups (figure 2) were not exceptional historically. Speculative large-scale land seizures; appeared sporadically since the 19th century and en masse/aggressively much later, in the 1990s, prior to and following the preparations for the Olympics and via mass privatisations following the bail-out agreement of 2010. .
Figure 2: Settlements in beaches of Eastern Attica
- ΙΜΔΑ (Ίδρυμα Μαραγκοπούλου για τα Δικαιώματα του Ανθρώπου) (2014) ΤΑΙΠΕΔ: Όργανο Εκποίησης της Περιουσίας και Κατάργησης της Εθνικής Κυριαρχίας της Ελλάδας. 2ο έκδ. Σαγκουνίδου Δασκαλάκη Η (επιμ.), Αθήνα: Νομική Βιβλιοθήκη.
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