ECONOMY

New Merchant Marine minister’s priority is ocean-going shipping

Merchant Marine Minister Giorgos Paschalidis’s tenure at his post may prove short – we have seven months at most until the election – but this does not prevent him from declaring that he will have an impact. Already, in two-and-a-half months’ time, since he was appointed to the post, he has been especially active and has not shrunk from confronting people within his own Socialist party, while he has actively cooperated with both shipowners and crew unions. As he has told close collaborators, he is now «fully briefed» about his post. What can a merchant marine minister do in such a short time? A lot, if he takes into account that the ministry deals with issues that are above the petty political level and with a sector that has deliberately adopted a lower profile than, say, industrialists. Paschalidis’s first goal is to boost further the competitiveness of ocean-going shipping. His predecessor, Giorgos Anomeritis, had made many promises but provided few solutions. Those who have talked over such matters with Paschalidis describe him as a realistic technocrat who is interested in providing solutions, soon. He surprised shipowners in his first meeting with them by telling them they should be more aggressive in promoting their demands. Paschalidis has found out that the city of Piraeus has done little to take advantage of its being Greece’s biggest port. His meeting with Piraeus mayor Christos Agrapidis, a conservative, ended in a surprising consensus that the Piraeus Port Authority should not be left to the central government to reap all the benefits but must be taken advantage of by the local authorities. Paschalidis said that Piraeus had let slip away a lot of economic benefits which «by nature belonged to it.» Paschalidis and Agrapidis will, in the next few days, visit the port to focus on progress in several dozen projects afoot to improve the port ahead of the 2004 Olympics but also with a view to its long-term potential as a commercial port. «It must be immediately apparent that Piraeus has a direct relationship with the port, shipping and its culture,» says Paschalidis, who has confided to close aides that he was surprised that the many changes in the port seemed not to concern the local people. Piraeus, formerly an industrial center, is undergoing a deep economic, social and cultural crisis, the extent of which Paschalidis, a northern Greek, seems not to have fully grasped yet. He has, however, told shipowners that «Piraeus is rightly feeling neglected» by the government, an opinion that has even greater weight given the fact that Paschalidis is one of the original «modernisers» who helped Prime Minister Costas Simitis’s rise to power. «It is not important how long you stay in a post but the kind of work you leave behind,» he says.