Greece is mulling bringing forward the sale of the country’s main ports, Piraeus and Thessaloniki, and the state railway, to cover a shortfall in its privatization budget.
The head of the privatization agency, Stelios Stavridis, has said divesting the government’s 74 percent stake in the port of Piraeus, Greece’s biggest port, which was slated for 2014, could be shifted to this year.
Piraeus was partially privatized when China’s Cosco Pacific secured a 35-year concession to run container operations at the Pier 11 and Pier 111 terminals.
The investment, China’s largest in Europe to date, has been a success, with traffic exceeding two million 20-foot-equivalent units in 2012 and growing much faster than other European container terminals.
Cosco Pacific, which is boosting the annual capacity of the two terminals to 3.7 million, is reportedly interested in increasing its investment to bolster its bid to transform Piraeus into a European transshipment hub for Chinese exports to Europe.
Earlier this year, finance minister Yannis Stournaras said Cosco Pacific had “shown an interest” in increasing its involvement in Piraeus.
The sale of a stake in Piraeus is believed to have been raised during a recent visit to China by Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras.
The planned sale of Thessaloniki has attracted foreign interest as well, with Russian Railways saying it plans to bid for Greece’s second largest port, possibly in partnership with Reseau Ferre de France. The company also is interested in acquiring two Greek rail companies that are being sold.
The Greek privatization agency is expected to reach a decision on the sale of the two ports by the end of July.
Privatization of state assets, from ports and oil refineries to water utilities and a nickel producer, is a key part of Greece’s bid to pay down its debt under the terms of a bail out by the European Union and the International Monetary Fund.
But the sales program is behind schedule, with very few state assets passing into private ownership, and there is widespread scepticism over the government’s pledge to speed up privatizations, including those of the two ports.