What do Rome's 2020 Olympic bid, Portugal's Shrove Tuesday carnival, Greece's sunlight, Ireland's National Stud, Spain's national lottery and Britain's national air traffic control service have in common? Answer: they are all being either sold or cancelled by European governments desperate to whip their public finances back into shape after a decade of living beyond their means.

Such measures would once have suggested incomprehensible panic. Now everyone's at it. It would have been more surprising if Mario Monti hadn't called off an Olympic bid that could have swallowed up €9.5bn (£8bn) that his near-bankrupt nation didn't have.

But it's not just radical belt-tightening that we're seeing. A remarkable number of nations are also doing the equivalent of selling the family silver, in a Europe-wide fire sale of state assets with no obvious precedent.

Greece is probably the Continent's biggest auctioneer, with an estimated €50bn of assets up for sale (see far right). But others have had the same idea. Ireland, for example, is considering the sale of billions of euros of assets, from Dublin's historic port to the Irish National Stud horsebreeding operation.

Spain is looking to raise cash by offloading, among other things, two major airports and a large chunk of its most famous lottery ("El Gordo", or "The Fat One").

Britain is hoping to convert the Government's 49 per cent stake in National Air Traffic Services into ready cash, along with the BBC's "doughnut" Television Centre, in West London, and the iconic Admiralty Arch. The latter, on the edge of Trafalgar Square, is expected to fetch £75m and be turned into a hotel. The Ministry of Defence and the Foreign Office are also planning spectacular disposals of assets to plug holes in their finances. (And that's without mentioning the sales that have already taken place, such as that of the high-speed rail link from London St Pancras station to the Channel Tunnel, which went to a pair of Canadian pension funds for £2.1bn in November 2010.)