National Bank of Greece’s purchase of Turkey’s Finansbank, and other cross-border deals, counter continent’s protectionism adherents.

National Bank of Greece’s acquisition of a 46% controlling minority stake in Finansbank, Turkey’s eighth largest bank, is not just another development in European cross-border bank consolidation. It is much, much more.

In a European environment of increasing nationalism and protectionism in countries such as France and Poland to name a few, it is important to note that banks from two recently hostile neighbours have been able to see beyond their former enmities and grasp the real meaning of south-east Europe.

Just as foreign banks like HSBC, Unicredit and Fortis have seen the potential in Turkish acquisitions, Greek banks have also realised the synergies and opportunities in the region. And the governments of both sides have not placed political obstacles in the way. In fact the acquisition by state-owned NBG helps ease Turkey’s planned admission into the EU while adding a further dimension to Greek banks’ expansion in the Balkans and further east.

In fact, (as features on pages 70 and 78 explain) two private Greek banks, Alpha Bank and EFG Eurobank, are expected to follow NBG into Turkey with possible purchases of Deniz Bank and Alternatif Bank respectively. And 320 Greek and 150 Turkish businessmen have applied to the Central Bank of Greece to establish a new bank in Athens, Business Aegean Bank.

“We aim to develop our ties with the world, starting with our near neighbours,” commented Turkish deputy prime minister Abdulatif Sener, after the acquisition. This open attitude, especially in relation to former enemies, is a breath of fresh air in both political and economic terms, and shows what can be done when bankers and politicians share a common vision.

This is in sharp contrast to the recent role of the Polish prime minister, Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz, in the merger of the banks in the Polish market belonging to the Unicredit Group (Bank Pekao and BPH Bank). Early in April Unicredit agreed, after long negotiations, to sell 200 of its BPH Bank branches. Outsiders believe, however, that the Polish government, for nationalist reasons, forced Unicredit to sell the BPH branches so state-owned PKO Bank Polski would not lose its number one status when the Unicredit subsidiaries were merged.

Overt nationalism is always going to be a threat to globalisation. It is a pity the Polish government does not seem to have shown the vision that the Greek and Turk administrations have exhibited in their recent landmark deal.


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