State can do business?

General Secretary for Tourism Costas Botopoulos said a dialogue between political parties and sector professionals about the scope and means of developing publicly owned property was necessary and urgent if Greece was to succeed in attracting foreign investment. He said current investment laws and practices appeared strange to prospective foreign investors, who generally avoided investing in Greece after tales of bureaucratic woe and a series of rulings by the Council of State which many see as having an anti-business flavor. Botopoulos, a constitutional lawyer by training whose late father, Vassilis, was president of the Council of State for over a decade, indirectly criticized the recommendation by a state councilor declaring the activity of Hellenic Tourist Properties (ETA) illegal. ETA was set up as a subsidiary to the National Tourism Organization (GNTO) to develop the GNTO’s dormant or underdeveloped properties. It has leased a number of them, including beaches and hotels, to private operators. It emerged on Tuesday that State Councilor Maria Karamanoff recommends that the transfer of GNTO property to ETA be declared illegal, since ETA is a «profit-seeking company.» Her argument is that public property is essential to a state’s sovereignty and survival and that they can only be transferred to companies like ETA by a special «delisting» procedure. Even after such delisting, the land must be transferred to its previous owners, if the State got it through expropriation, the argument goes. Botopoulos argued that the State’s right to conduct profitable business is enshrined in the Constitution and that any court decisions ought to take this into account. He warned against a «government by judges» and added that he expected the Council to hand its verdict in the autumn.