ECONOMY

Northern Greece’s grievances of indifference from capital Athens

Industrialists in northern Greece have long felt they need a doubly strong voice to make the government listen; its attention, they complain is mostly exhausted on the Attica region. The usual feeling of disappointment was evident again in the recent annual general assembly of the Federation of Industries of Northern Greece (SVVE). But this time, the fatigue caused by an accumulated effort to press longstanding grievances developed into something approaching indignation. «There are no receptive ears for us in the center [capital]. We submit proposals, we develop arguments, we express concern but nobody listens,» was the standard complaint. All efforts, it was said, are exhausted in the drive for the success of the Olympic Games in Athens next year – which is seen as reasonable up to a point but does not justify the indifference for the development of the rest of the country, despite declarations to the opposite. The fact that Attica takes the lion’s share of project funding and that unemployment in northern Greece is rising is sited as proof of this indifference. The most recent example is the issue of Thessaloniki’s Stock Market Center (TSMC), where the feeling is that the city has taken another defeat. Despite strong and coordinated efforts by the city’s business community to have its role remain independent, the government has decided it is to merge with another subsidiary of Hellenic Exchanges (HELEX) – the holding company which owns the Athens bourse – and will probably operate as a branch. Economy Minister Nikos Christodoulakis told the SVVE assembly that after the impending privatization of HELEX, the new owners (the country’s major banks) will decide TSMC’s exact role. He called on those wishing to influence future developments to participate in the privatization (the government is selling its 35 percent interest in HELEX). And he put paid to any remaining hopes about TSMC by suggesting that anyone who wished to establish a private bourse could do so by putting up the 20 million euros required by law. Contributors to the closed session of the assembly said that if an entrepreneur wishes to promote a business or seek contracts, he or she must still necessarily spend considerable time in the corridors of ministries in Athens, or maintain an office in the capital, regardless of whether the business proper needs it. There are regionally based firms that make innovative products and export throughout the world, but no one knows about them because they do not have public relations departments in Athens. «Why should this be so in an internationalized business and economic environment, where there is no room for such separations?» asked one speaker; it was obviously a rhetorical question. There were, nevertheless, acknowledgments that a number of demands for subsidy and all kinds of government assistance can be excessive and that northern Greece-based businessmen do not always do their best to ensure viability; many enterprises opt for easy solutions, such as the transfer of their operations to neighboring Balkan countries with cheap labor. But no one disputed that the region has not managed to promote its voice effectively nor claim a fair distribution of resources. «This may be because we look at the tree and miss the forest,» said one participant.