Sunday, October 20, 2013

Canadian billionaires seek to take over European countries

Is it in the DNA of octogenarian Canadian billionaires to want their own European country?

Perhaps they are spurred on by friendly rivalry among billionaires.  Maybe they've heard the rumours that Dan Gertler already owns several countries in Africa and are jealous of the young Israeli upstart, or they see how Berlusconi has worked his ownership of Italy to his advantage. Whatever the motivation, two iconic Canadians have been pouring their resources into the Old World in recent years.

Team Stronach might seem like an odd name for a political party unless your name is Stronach, in which case it would be the most glaringly obvious name in history. Frank Stronach spent many years dabbling in Canadian politics, but it is in his home country of Austria that he finds his money can buy the most influence. Team Stronach rode Frank's pocketbook to a respectable showing in the recent general elections, which has inspired the Team, or at least Frank, to set sights beyond Austria.

"Team Stronach; today Austria, tomorrow the World" is the new motto.

Meanwhile, five hundred miles to the south, another Canadian is desperately working to leave a positive legacy in this world before he moves on to the next. One might argue that Peter Munk has legacies aplenty, but there seems to be some ambiguity in how they are perceived by the general public.

Enter Porto Montenegro. Mr. Munk clearly does not want to be remembered for displaced peasants and leaking tailings ponds. After an exhaustive world-wide search for a legacy project he decided that what the world really needs is an exclusive marina development for mega-yachts. Noticing on his own mega-yacht travels that the traditional Mediterranean ports like Cannes and Monaco were getting more and more crowded and going more and more down-market, he swung into action.

He found that the recently democratized country of Montenegro had some pretty waterfront available, so he bought the country. While the state has no legitimate economy to speak of, and a population less than that of Nashville, its rebirth as a destination for the super-rich promises to change the fortunes of the ancient kingdom. A Formula One race is under negotiation at this very moment and while it seems very much conditional on Bernie Ecclestone staying out of jail in the short term, the long-term prospects look great.

Montenegro authorities are making good progress in introducing Western values to what was until recently a communist backwater. Today's Pride Parade in Podgorica was a resounding success, as an estimated 2,000 riot police were able to protect several dozen revelers from rock-throwing mobs.

You might think that's not an environment that would attract the super-rich and their mega-yachts, but you'd be rushing to unwarranted conclusions. The biggest cohort of Euro super-rich today hails not from Europe proper, but from Russia.

They'll feel right at home.

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