BRUSSELS, Belgium — The Valley of the Temples in Sicily is one of Italy’s great archeological treasures. It’s small wonder then that the country has erupted in outrage over reports that a Russia billionaire wants to buy the spectacular array of ancient Greek ruins outside the town of Agrigento.
“Never, it’s not for sale, not even for 40 billion euro,” fumed the Major of Agrigento Marco Zambuto, referring to the amount Prime Minister Mario Monti is seeking to raise in his efforts to tackle Italy’s debt crisis.
Muscovite magnate (and Russian presidential candidate) Mikhail Prokhorov looks unlikely to get his hands on the temples, but hard-up Europeans had better get used to upstart outsiders zooming in on their assets.
The recent 3.5 billion euro purchase by China Three Gorges Corp. of the Portuguese government’s stake in the power giant EDP has shown how emerging economies, led by China, are on hunt for bargains in hard-up Europe.
Privatized assets which indebted European Union governments are being forced to put on the markets, as well as private companies hit by tumbling share prices, are high on the shopping list of the cash-rich Chinese and other emerging economies.
Chinese shipping giant Cosco is reportedly interesting in buying into privatized Greek ports, and the Greek government has been courting potential Chinese buyers for tourism, energy and mining interests being off loaded by the state
“These sorts of deals used to be unusual, but as the balance of economic power shifts to Asia it’s going to be happening more and more. The Europeans will have to get used to it,” says Shada Islam, an expert on EU-Asia relations at the Friends of Europe think tank in Brussels.
Investors from Portugal’s former colonies — booming Brazil and oil-rich Angola — are joining the Chinese in eyeing more energy, transport and media companies coming up for sale in Portugal, which is forecast to see its economy contract by 3 percent this year.
“In the past the EU has sometimes hindered inbound Russian investment,” Kirill Dmitriev, CEO of the Russian Direct Investment Fund, said in Brussels last month. “In the new economic environment … they need to understand that barriers need to be removed.”
As the BRIC economies continue their rise, the Europeans may not be the only ones who need to change mindset: China is reportedly planning to two new $150 billion investment funds, one to focus on Europe, the other on the United States.