The other side of attracting investments in Greece

Thursday, 25/09/2014

By: Laopodis Nikiforos T., Associate Professor of Finance

Greece is still in a vicious circle of economic, political and social disarray that does not seem to break. The government keeps announcing and implementing new measures to reduce unemployment, attract investments and spur economic growth but these measures are often incomplete or confusing. In this short article, I will not discuss the much-debated impediments to attracting investments in Greece such as taxation, regulation, bureaucracy, corruption and inadequate infrastructure but other, attitude-related dislocations that may seem unimportant yet disrupt the normal flow of every-day life and drive away existing businesses or deter new investments.
Take tourism, for example, Greece’s main industry. The country fell behind its main competitors, Spain and Turkey, and has not improved its position in the world ranking of tourist arrivals in the 2009-2012 period. What other reasons could have been responsible for this lag in tourism competitiveness? Obviously, poor service, the frequent and unannounced dock blockades, and the closures of major archaeological sites, museums and hotels. To top it off, white- and blue-collar workers alike, led by hard-core union leaders, resorted to strikes and protests, often intentionally, thus politicizing their problems instead of looking at the problems from within. Who, in his right mind, would want to do business in a country whose unionized workers spend vast amounts of human, financial and real resources just to stage such acts demonstrably without real solutions? Prospective investors are routinely driven away simply because unions do not want others to mix with their business and end up compromising their hard-earned rights.
Needless to say that Greece sells abroad! The rest of the world yearns to come to Greece and taste its food, know its culture, touch a piece of its history and do business with its people. The country also offers unique seas, landscape, air, sun and much more all of which translate into an infinite number of investment opportunities! Yet, we do anything in our power to drive people away through our mindless acts including work stoppages, protests, traffic blockades, building sit-ins, riots and other innovative forms of confrontation with the government. Every single day in Athens, any number of the above takes place. Athens was closed almost 500 times in 2010 and approximately 6000 protests were counted in 2011 alone!
So, how can Greece attract more investors, tourists, students and other passersby that can help it jumpstart economic growth? The answer may be simpler than we think. If we change our mentality and realize that reforms are essential in a rapidly-changing world we can then begin viewing our country as special. A simple introspection would not hurt to understand we are all in this together and cannot always blame the government for our misfortunes. Every citizen should concentrate on his/her core competence and not on politics often with counter-productive results for all. What we need are new, innovative, investment-friendly ideas that can move the country forward. We should learn to appreciate our country’s position in the world and regard it as the meeting point for the rest of the world. We can then all work to making Greece a must-see country for tourists, core course for international students, and a hub for international investments.
I end this article with a passage from John F. Kennedy, a former United States president: Ask not what the country can do for you, but what you can do for your country. Our country has given us plenty but we have never returned the favor. The time is ripe to act.

[1] SETE, ‘Greek Tourism: Facts & Figures’, various editions.

Business Partners, July-August 2014 issue