As Greece struggles to avoid default despite repeated attempts by George Papandreou’s government to restructure the country’s debt, business leaders and policymakers meeting in Athens last week voiced their concern about ineffective policies and political corruption. EurActiv reports from Greece.
“The challenge is not only the financial crisis, but moral bankruptcy,” said Harris Oikonopoulos, president of the British Hellenic Chamber of Commerce, during an event organised by the European Business Press (EBP) association in Athens on 8-10 June.
Public concerns about Greek defaulting on its debt have increased significantly across Europe and on the streets of Athens recently.
Greece has just become the lowest-rated country in the world, according to Standard & Poor’s, which downgraded the country on Monday (13 June) and warned that any attempt to restructure its debt would be considered a default. The burning issue was discussed at an emergency meeting of EU finance ministers last night (14 June).
Oikonopoulos points out that there are 34 laws and draft laws to speed up justice, but nobody was ever condemned following well-known scandals.
Many Greek conference participants realise that their society and not just their economy has to change radically. Some say the bankruptcy of Greece could have a huge damaging effect, but they underscore that no minister has been convicted of corruption since Greece joined the EU, due to a combination of statute of limitation and immunity.
For them, to change the culture of the country, one cannot just write off debts. Oikonopoulos blames the EU for not having properly monitored the country’s data.
“The EU didn’t monitor funds sufficiently. And when it knew [of corruption or waste], it didn’t follow up properly,” he said.
According to Alexandra Vovolini, publisher of business media Oikonomia, EU money has transformed Greece in the past 30 years: roads, ports, museums and small businesses simply would not exist without EU money, she told EurActiv.gr in an interview.
“There is always a percentage [of that infrastructure money] that was wasted and turned into corruption. But in my view this is the smallest part […] What is needed though is stricter control. Europe should control better – and in time – how EU funds are spent,” she added.
Alexander Singros, executive chairman of Invest in Greece, went further, saying that “as long as the common currency is not backed by common fiscal policies the same problems will appear again and again”.
To face down the current crisis, business people are calling for privatisations to be accelerated.
According to some analysts, Greece has saleable assets in excess of its public debt. Auctioning these decisively could replenish the cash-strapped country’s treasure chest. But that would require foreign buyers to regain confidence first.
The government is currently selling 10% of telecoms operator OTE to Deutsche Telekom, and this is just the beginning, say businesspeople.
Many believe privatisation must be more aggressive, as not only is it the only viable way to find cash quickly, but also a means of modernising the economy by reducing bloated payrolls and limiting political interference.
Experts do acknowledge, however, that this would come at a great social cost, including prompting the governing centre-left party to lose its majority at the next elections.
Speaking to EBP members as president of PPC, Greece’s main electricity utility, Arthorous Zervos discussed green investments and externalising services, but was short of privatisation plans.
Trade unions clearly back such reticence. Citing as an analogy East Germany’s post-revolution shake-up, experts are calling for a Treuhand-like structure to take over companies and sell them, thereby reducing meddling by politicians.