COMMENT

All that glisters...

By Alexis Papachelas

A few months ago, a former Greek prime minister, who is known for his cautious and sensible comments, expressed the view that “if the country eventually manages to pay off its debts, that may well prove to be thanks to its oil and gas deposits.”

I really hope his prediction comes true. It seems that over the past couple of years, a number of Greek politicians and state functionaries have pulled off a quiet, systematic effort which is now starting to bear fruit. But we should not take success for granted.

Rather, we have to keep our expectations in check and be very careful with the handling of the situation and any findings.

Several politicians and pundits have set the exploitation of the country’s mineral deposits as a top national priority and are calling on the government to get on with the job of delineating the nation’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

My own humble opinion, which however draws on the wisdom and experience of people with in-depth knowledge of the matters at hand, is that a flamboyant approach, as it were, is not necessarily in the country’s best interest.

Quite the opposite in fact. The situation calls for cautious, low-key handling and deft backstage negotiations in contacts with foreign firms and governments. Big talk, popular as it may be among local audiences, can only prove damaging to national interests.

We should not expect too much from a possible exploitation of Greece’s mineral wealth and, if it does happen, we can’t expect anything too soon. It will take many years, perhaps more than a decade, before the country could start to reap the benefits from such a project.

Some people like to portray Greece’s possible oil deposits like winning the jackpot; like a miraculous medicine that will cure all ills overnight.

This is not the case, of course. Greece may be a different country in 10 or 15 years but – too bad – that does not mean we can afford to relax our painstaking efforts at present. Greeks should not be made to believe that we have all of a sudden come up with the magic formula that will allow us to go back to the way we were.

To be sure, there are also people who like to claim that foreign governments were keen to lend us tons of money so that they would later be able to get their hands on the country’s supposedly massive oil deposits for peanuts. This is where reason stops and where unreason begins – an uncomfortably common kind of unreason that has found a lot of fertile ground in crisis-hit Greece.

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