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Privatization of "Eleftherios Venizelos" Takes Flight



An Aegean Airlines Airbus A320neo in full livery, taxiing to the runway at Athens International Airport. The sun is shining brightly on the aircraft, and the Greek flag is fluttering in the background.

The next chapter in the privatization saga of Athens International Airport, known as "Eleftherios Venizelos," is officially underway. The latest move, presented in a parliamentary bill, aims to propel the airport into the stock market spotlight while restructuring a longstanding contract dating back to 1995.

Contained within this succinct bill are pivotal agreements. One involves the ratification of a deal between the Greek State and Aegean Airlines, where the Vasilakis Group reclaims 10.4 million shares previously held by the State. This transaction, part of the state aid given in 2021 due to pandemic-induced losses, results in a 35 million euro loss for the State, a fact somewhat downplayed by the Ministry of National Economy and Finance.

The momentum for "El. Venizelos" privatization has been building, solidified by an early December agreement between the State and private shareholders, amending the original development and management contract from 1995.

The revised agreement's linchpin is the removal of the cap on non-Greek State shareholder participation, currently at 30%. TAIPED, holding the largest chunk at 30%, will entirely divest to the Stock Exchange. Meanwhile, the super fund retains 25%, the Canadian pension PSP Investments (through Avi Alliance Gmbh and Avi Alliance Capital Gmbh) secures 40% (+60 shares), and the Kopelouzo family holds 5%.

Crucially, the Canadian fund, via a strategic maneuver, secures full control over the airport by potentially acquiring an additional 10% beyond the initial 30% share offered by TAIPED. This cements their hold on the nation's foremost airport, which has seen record-breaking traffic and impressive financial growth recently.

The bill not only navigates the airport's transition into the stock market but also signals the state's retreat from direct management. The managerial reins pass to the airport's general manager, an executive move aligning with corporate governance norms. This shift limits the state's role to a dividend collector with a 20% share.

Furthermore, the bill grants the airport company the authority to enter long-term contracts extending beyond the airport's development contract lifespan, reaching up to fifty years, subject to the Minister of National Economy's approval. Critics suggest this move carries undertones of neo-colonialism.

The second facet of the bill finalizes the agreement with Aegean for the repurchase of shares acquired by the State in November, leveraging the right afforded by the 120-million-euro state aid in 2021. Despite concerns raised over the discrepancy in the amount recovered by the State, the ministry contends that the redemption price justifies the 35 million euro loss incurred.

The bill's explanations attempt to rationalize the State's apparent loss, citing the difference between share values during the aid agreement and the redemption price, albeit amidst criticisms akin to the previous administration's controversial conditions for the aid repayment.

In sum, as "Eleftherios Venizelos" takes a decisive step towards privatization, these agreements stand as testaments to the evolving landscape of Greece's key economic players, albeit amid concerns and debates regarding the State's financial strategies and engagements.


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