The news last week that Austrian authorities were trying to sell two Alpine mountains drummed up plenty of interest, from irate locals and dismayed nature-lovers to around 20 real estate speculators prepared to put up the 121,000 euro asking price. Now the deal is off.
Faced with a furious public backlash, the Austrian government has backed down and suspended the sale pending a review. Ernst Eichinger of the federal real estate company overseeing the deal claimed his office had received an avalanche of calls and e-mails that went from “indignation to abuse.”
The sale is suspended rather than cancelled, meaning it could still go ahead. Although 121,000 euros seems like peanuts for more than a million square metres of Alp, the buyer would not have carte blanche to do whatever he or she wanted with that space. Hikers would still have access to the slopes and buildings, billboards and other displays deemed out of keeping with the natural environment would not be allowed. Still, if people are willing to part with 150 million dollars for a house then there’s a good chance someone would pick up two Tyrolian peaks for a thousandth of that price.
Austrian industry magazine Solid quotes observers who say “Tyrol is not Greece” and that selling the mountains is the sort of idea one might have after one too many glasses of Schnaps. Before the sale was put on hold, locals were already comparing Austria selling mountains to Greece selling islands. That comparison may well have come from German tabloid Bild, which late last year exhorted Greece to “sell your islands…and the Acropolis too”.
The Acropolis alone would fetch 100 billion euros, claims Bild. The chances of Greece actually parting with the Parthenon or any other ancient ruins are close to zero thanks to laws that prevent that happening. But its islands? Anyone wanting to buy a Greek island only has to pick one up online.. According to Private Islands Online, “Greek islands are relatively affordable, costing as little as two million dollars.” Greece counts around 6,000 islands and islets, says the country’s tourist board. If for the sake of argument each one was put on the market at an average of five million euros, Athens could rake in 30 billion euros which, although being nowhere near enough to pay off its debts, would at least keep the wolves from the door.
But then the notion that Greece could sell its islands just to stay afloat and Austria could sell its mountains to climb back into the black is surely absurd. Next they’ll be telling us Lehman Brothers might go bankrupt.