Industrialists call for early polls to spare economy in long term

After a period of cautious but cordial relations with the government, the Federation of Greek Industries (SEV) yesterday came out in all-out opposition mode, with SEV Chairman and Executive President Odysseas Kyriakopoulos attacking the government on several fronts by aligning himself with positions expressed by the opposition New Democracy party and even calling for early elections. In a press conference, Kyriakopoulos said that the country has entered a protracted election campaign period since September. «No difficult political decisions can be taken because of the short-term political cost. The implementation of pro-business measures has stopped and costly measures are being decided instead. This (pre-election) period has negative consequences on the economy. The shorter it is, the better. Developments are determined by the prime minister and the government, but, if we had a say, we would call elections much earlier (than planned),» Kyriakopoulos said. The government has yet to decide the election timetable. Elections can take place up until early May, at the latest, and indications are that the government is leaning toward holding the election later rather than sooner. Government ministers reacted immediately to Kyriakopoulos’s statement. «It is interesting that a representative of Greece’s economic sector is worried about the election timetable, because I cannot imagine that he actually demanded (early) elections. That is for others to decide. The economic sector has the right to worry about the likely effects of… a pre-election climate. However, (these worries can be answered) if we implement our economic growth policy… in cooperation, all together, the enterprises, the State, consumers and employees,» said Development Minister Akis Tsochadzopoulos. Economy and Finance Minister Nikos Christodoulakis was far sharper in his response. «We have said that elections will take place at the end of April… Apparently, there are many people who do not want to see the government finish its job, do not want to see all the measures included in the social package implemented… They do not want to see the (immediate benefits) from infrastructure projects being prepared… To all those, who want to bring elections forward in order to obscure the achievements of this government, to prevent the government from completing its projects, we say no.» Kyriakopoulos also severely criticized the government for attempting to fight inflation by obliging industrialists and retailers to keep their prices low. He claimed that the government’s campaign against price rises had left consumers upset and unable to decide what to buy, thus hurting demand. «In a free economy, no enterprise should feel obliged to explain why it has raised or lowered its prices,» Kyriakopoulos said. SEV’s chief also, rather surprisingly, came out against the privatization of the Public Gas Company (DEPA), at least under the present circumstances. He said this would simply substitute a private monopoly for a public one, echoing statements made by ND MPs and reported yesterday. «Privatization is not a panacea,» Kyriakopoulos said, repeating a statement often made by government officials in response to SEV’s calls for more privatizations.