Technical assistance experts join the battle for growth

Officials from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) who are in Greece to provide technical assistance have made a depressing finding: in most countries, it takes just one day for a simple cross-border transaction. In Greece it takes five. The European Commission?s Task Force for Greece made an even sadder finding: for a single export, businesses have to deal with up to 10 different ministries and 30 departments.

It is certain that EU and OECD officials on technical assistance missions, besides such instances in their official reports, have many other maddening stories to tell about red tape, tax evasion and empty offices in public departments that are supposed to serve entrepreneurship and development. All these make up a system that actually undermines growth — for which there is so much talk.

The cooperation of the Greek authorities with the foreign experts whose help the government asked for seems indispensible for the realization of the anticipated investment.

?The commitments included in the new package agreed with international creditors include reforms that should have been implemented many years ago,? Anna Diamantopoulou, who was appointed development minister earlier this month, told a separate press briefing on Thursday.

A second necessary condition is the financing of investments, according to Diamantopoulou, who noted that firms whose projects have received investment subsidies do not go ahead with implementation because they have not secured additional bank loans. However, the recent success of Greek debt restructuring is expected to make a positive contribution in this direction. On Thursday, moreover, an agreement was signed between Greece, the European Commission and the European Investment Bank (EIB) for setting up the Guarantee Fund for Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SME?s) which will disburse investment funds and operating capital of 1 billion euros by the end of 2013. Such capital is seen kickstarting important investments and a series of Public and Private Sector Partnerships.

The Task Force chief, Horst Reichenbach, said in his second quarterly report last week that European investment subsidies available for Greece total 14.5 billion euros, and of this 4 billion can go to SME?s.

The newly appointed development minister ascribes particular importance to venture capital, and sites Israel as an example where many such ventures are flourishing in innovative technologies in a mini-Silicon Valley. Greece, moreover, is not short of brains in this sector, as attested by numerous successful entrepreneurial initiatives and distinctions.

Another important aim for Greece is reviving the agricultural economy and the food industry with the use of modern practices.

?In the 1950?s people left their villages to find work and study. Now, we want people with degrees to go back to the villages,? Diamantopoulou said.

A third sector with potential for growth is the environment and energy, particularly in renewable sources and waste management, where there is room for a great deal of improvement

Naturally, however, the emphasis has to continue being placed on the country?s so-called ?heavy industry,? that is, tourism.

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