Hellenic business chief: ‘Crisis is European, not Greek’

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This article is part of our special report Jobs and Growth.

Greece's economy can only be revived when the crisis is recognised as one affecting Europe as a whole, says the board chairman of the Hellenic Federation of Enterprises (SEV).

Entrepreneur Dimitris Daskalopoulos is a member of the board of directors of the Mytilineos Group . He has served as the chairman of the Federation of Greek Food Industries (1999 – 2006) and was active as member of the European Round Table of Industrialists (ERT) from 1998 to 2008, the Young Presidents Organisation and the Chief Executives Organisation. He spoke to EURACTIV’s Jeremy Fleming in Brussels.

Is it causing concern in the Greek business community that Yannis Stournaras has been called in at short notice as finance minister following Vassilios Rapanos’ hospitalisation with stomach pains the day he was to take the oath of office?

Who the new finance minister will be is not the most important thing. There are many people who can do the job. The main difficulty is that he has a very complicated task which is firstly managing our economy, which is dead, and wedding that with a new set of priorities which has to be managed by a coalition government, which was the expression of the population recently in elections. That task will require a considerable effort and be very time consuming.

As the leader of a business organization, how concerned are you by the increasing social difficulties in Greece, is it likely to cause greater strains on the relationship between Greek business and unionised labour?

The biggest danger is more than one million unemployed and rising, rather than an internal problem between the employers and the unions, and attempting to apply a programme that will lead to recovery, and that is an issue for Europe as a whole as well. If European leaders fail to come up with solutions, then there will be little change to unemployment. However for the employed, I believe that there has been a lot of good will between employers and the unions. Special negotiations have taken place and difficult adjustments have been agreed in a spirit of generosity and co-operation.

How would you propose modifying the programme that Greece must honour under its commitments?

Any programme to be implemented cannot work on its own without being in the framework of the euro crisis as a whole. Greece was priced out of the markets and resorted to the EU bailouts, but the effect of the agreement with creditors has been destructive in the end. Greece has been priced out of the markets, but they are being singled out. There are now geographical considerations for the austerity that has pushed populistic political responses, affecting other Mediterranean countries such as Spain and even Italy. [The programme] is not working financially, it’s a message that all of Europe and Brussels needs to take on board.

And more specifically, how would you modify the programme?

I have to leave that to my government, but what a two-year extension to the programme repayments would do and is allow relief from austerity, and enable Greece to put more emphasis on structural reforms that could show some economic benefit. This way we could finally have success.

There is much pessimism built into the debate about Greece, but are there positive opportunities for business, do you know where the chances for growth are?

Because we have an economy that is not working, we have the highest degree of uncertainty, and we are being threatened by the lack of a speedy conclusion. We need a solution that will allow confidence, and a few words can do more than five meetings.

When this happens, business is eager to continue to invest in Greece. We know how, because we have a McKinsey study outlining those sectors where growth is most possible. That study forecasts that the sectors leveraged could generate €50 billion per year (within ten years) and 500,000 new jobs over the same period, and this study is being used by policymakers in Greece.

Are you optimistic that leaders at this week’s summit can deliver real change?

I am happy that the pan-European model of the crisis is more and more accepted, rather than Greece being viewed as the sole locus. But I think we are not yet at a time where we proclaim it as a problem and are able to seize the solutions as quickly as we want to. Now is the time for Europe to decide whether Europe wants the political union that has always been its longer term objective.

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