Changes brewing and surprises likely in Greek banking

Extensive deliberations and discussions are under way in the Greek banking sector, capable of leading to a spectacular realignment of forces in the next few months, sources say. The intensification of competition and institutional reforms in international banking under the Basle II agreement are accelerating the trend. The interest of Credit Agricole and Greek banks in Emporiki, the country’s fourth-largest lender, is seen as creating a chain reaction. Sources insist that another French group is said to be preparing a further surprise move. The trend is fueled by intensifying competition among the large domestic players, who realize that growth is essential to their expansion as well as a strong presence in the Balkans and beyond, including Turkey and Egypt, and for withstanding the pressure of the incoming European «giants.» Economy Minister Giorgos Alogoskoufis has come out against the prospect of mergers among the big banks, but their size, even National’s which is the biggest, is relatively small in comparison even to that of Austria’s. Analysts are also noting that mergers are a worldwide trend.