You know your country is in bad shape when austerity cuts and increased taxes are not enough. For the past decade, Europe has been forced to sell off bits and pieces of its remaining prestige. Countries throughout the Old World aren’t recovering fast enough from the 2007 crisis, and governments have been selling off historic properties and strategic assets to bring in much needed cash.
1. UK: Majority Stake in Eurostar
Image Source: Cnet
It took them nearly two years to get rid of it – Britain’s minority stake in ailing Eurostar, the company that operates the Eurotunnel. In March 2015, the UK government finally got it done and announced that it sold its 40% stake in the cross-Channel train operator Eurostar to an Anglo-Canadian consortium, netting £757.1m ($1.17bn) in the process, more than twice from what it initially expected.
The current ownership structure of Eurostar International is SNCF (55%), Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec (30%), Hermes Infrastructure (10%) and SNCB (5%).
2. Sweden: Nordea Bank
Image Source: Bloomberg
In 2013, the Swedish center-right government has decided to terminate its involvement with Nordea Bank. The government acquired this large bank when it was at risk of bankruptcy in the 1990s. The state had gradually reduced its ownership of the bank since 1995.
Officially, the final sale was done to pay down state debt and reduce exposure to risky assets, helping the center-right government raise 21 billion kronor ($3.4 billion). Yet, the fact that Sweden boasts one of the lowest debts in Europe (30%) had led critics to argue that the exit was motivated by pending elections and was a way for the unpopular government to have cash in hand to invest in consensual projects.
3. France: Lavish Properties
Mr Englander’s ‘pied-a-terre’-Image Source: Atlantico
This one stirred a controversy, largely because the country has been actively getting rid of its Embassies around the world since François Hollande took over as President. 2,150 state-owned properties all over the world have been put on the market a couple of years ago to pay off debt, including its imposing NYC real estate assets.
Among the set of properties are a lavish duplex that sold for $70 million in 2013 to American businessman and billionaire Israel Englander. Englander declared that the apartment will serve as pied-à-terre for his children and grandchildren visiting the City.
Article Continues Below
4. Italy: Over 300 Castles
Castle at Piedmont-Image Source: Stuff
Ever dreamt of living the nobleman’s life in Tuscany? This could be your chance. Since 2013, the Italian government led by technocrat Prime Minister Mario Monti has embarked on a mission to bring its balance sheet back in the green once and for all. Plagued with one of the highest debts to GDP in the world, the Italian government has engaged in a massive sale of its most valued assets, which comprise of medieval castles, convents and even islands.
Italy hopes to raise about €1.5 billion ($1.7bn) through the property sales which would reduce its debt ($2.5 trillion, 130% of GDP) dramatically. Properties include army barracks in Bologna and the majestic Orsini Castle in the Lazio region, which was built for Pope Nicholas III in the 1270s. Sounds like a dream come true for you? Know that property taxes for castles are through the roof in Italy, that there will be zero maintenance subsidies involved and Italy is a complex bureaucracy to navigate.
5. The Netherlands: Churches
Church in Amsterdam turned into a Skate Park-Image Source: Wsj
The result of declining faith and the rise of secularity throughout Europe, Western Christian leaders have been forced to sell off their places of cult to trade in precious cash. Among the most affected of all countries is the Netherlands, where Catholic leaders estimate that two-thirds of their 1,600 churches will be out of commission in a decade, with 700 of Holland’s Protestant churches expected to close within four years.
A recent poll by Pew Research Center illustrates that 42.1% of Dutch are unaffiliated with any religion, the highest rate amongst the Western world and a figure well ahead of France (28%), Germany (24.7) and the U.K (21.3%). For over a decade now churches throughout the country have been changing hands and have been sold as both private and commercial investments.
6. Greece: Piraeus Port
Image Source: Wikimedia
After selling islands to honor off its debt, the Greece government has announced recently that it will proceed with a somehow more controversial nationalization per its agreement with the UE austerity plan: the sale of its majority stake in the Piraeus Port, a strategic asset. Located just a few miles south of the Greek capital of Athens, the Port is one of the largest ports in the Mediterranean and the de facto home of Greece’s shipping industry. The move, already controversial, wouldn’t be so hard to swallow for Greece if it weren’t for the fact that the port could end up in the hands of Chinese or Phillipino investors. A sign of what’s yet to come?