ECONOMY

Simitis meets SEV executive, tries to patch up differences

In an attempt to restore recently troubled relations, Prime Minister Costas Simitis yesterday met with the head executive of the Federation of Greek Industries (SEV) for about an hour and a half. «We had a very good, very constructive meeting with the prime minister… Our common goal is the growth of the Greek economy, the improvement of competitiveness and, of course, the creation of jobs,» SEV Chairman and Executive President Odysseas Kyriakopoulos told reporters after the meeting. Relations between SEV and the Socialist government have gone through successive phases of hostility, coolness and accommodation. The latest disturbance was caused last month after a foreign garment manufacturer shut down its Athens factory and several Greek firms filed for bankruptcy. The outspoken Kyriakopoulos said then that unless many bold changes were made to deregulate the labor market and attract investments, unemployment, which is just below 10 percent, could rise to 18 percent. The government, along with the unions, had attacked Kyriakopoulos’s «unfounded» prediction, saying that it was a devious means to push SEV’s agenda of less government intervention in labor relations. The meeting was reportedly set up by Economy and Finance Minister Nikos Christodoulakis and Ghikas Hardouvelis, Simitis’s chief economic adviser, who also attended it. In the end, both seemed to agree on several issues or at least tried to put their differences behind them. Asked if the meeting had helped to lift the cloud hanging over the relationship between the industrialists and the government Kyriakopoulos said, «There were no big clouds to begin with.» «The message of this meeting between the prime minister and the leadership of SEV was clear: We will cooperate with all productive forces in order to create better conditions for growth, competitiveness and employment in our country,» Christodoulakis said. Christodoulakis admitted that a series of bureaucratic obstacles discourage investment and promised that he would do everything to lessen them in the new law on investment – the so-called «development law» – which is at the draft stage and will soon be submitted to Parliament. Kyriakopoulos said that SEV would do what it could to help the miners in Halkidiki retain their jobs. «We are cooperating with the government on this issue, as well,» he said. While Simitis, Christodoulakis and other like-minded modernizers within the Socialist government are actually very close to SEV’s positions for a looser labor market and lower corporate taxes, they have had to tread carefully lest they upset the still significant number of unreconstructed Socialists within the ruling party, including the unionists. This explains, to a great extent, the ups and downs in the government’s relationship with SEV over the past seven years.