Thessaloniki water utility sell-off draws call for referendum

City's municipal council wants citizen vote on privatisation as four companies prepare bids

The Thessaloniki municipal council called on Monday night for a referendum on the planned sell-off of the city's water utility, noting that water companies are a 'social resource that cannot be sold or transferred'. Meanwhile, four bidders are expected to be announced by the state's privatisation agency

Four bidders are expected to be challenging to acquire a majority stake in the Thessaloniki Water Company (EYATH) amid calls by the city's municipal council for a referendum on whether the sell-off should proceed.

The sale 51% of EYATH is another in a line of privatisation deals the government is keen to proceed with as part of the country's bailout commitments. The utility is currently 74% state-owned.

France's Suez Environment Company, which already has a 5% holding, is expected to submit a joint bid with local construction company Actoris, as are Greek construction and energy enterprise Gek-Terna and Israeli national water company Mekorot,

Ivan Savvidis, the Greek-Russian businessman and owner of local Super League football club Paok, is also expected to be among the bidders.

As is Motion 136, a citizen's initiative which opposes the utility's privatisation and proposes instead a form of social management through cooperatives at a neighbourhood level.

The state's privatisation agency HRADF is expected to announce the bids imminently. A second sell-off will follow, with the state preparing to offload its remaining holding.

Meanwhile, Thessaoliniki's municipal council called on Monday night for the city to hold a referendum on the sell-off, noting that European cities are increasingly opting to reverse the privatisation of water utilities.

The president of the municipal council, Panayiotis Avramopoulos, said that Vienna was the last such city to do so. He noted also that water is a social resource that "cannot be sold or transferred."

The call for a rerendum is reported to have the backing of the city's mayor, Yiannis Boutaris.

It was not made clear, however, what the legal standing of such a referendum would be.

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