ECONOMY

No word about place in EU

Four weeks away from the general elections, the leaders of the two major parties have curiously made no reference whatsoever to the place they envision for Greece in the new Europe. This is not very surprising. Indeed, Greece has not formulated any strategy for its role in an enlarged Europe, which is changing rapidly, creating new realities for the member states comprising it. Both main opposition New Democracy party leader Costas Karamanlis and – even more so – leader-in-waiting of the ruling PASOK party Giorgos Papandreou do not seem to have realized this. Businesspeople who follow developments and are in daily contact with others in the rest of Europe take the view that Greece is not prepared to meet the emerging requirements and take an active part in the new era. The reason is that it has not gone through the necessary reform processes in its economy and society. To be sure, such views are not just held by businesspeople, they are also shared by people in the decision-making centers in Brussels. So far, the two leaders have only scantly articulated their political positions and the pre-election debate on the economy has seen nothing but promises, some of them unbelievably ungrounded, such as the exemption of young people from social security coverage in their first jobs for a few years, or a 35-hour week. Others argue that the debate should have already touched on the position that Greece will contest in the new «division of labor» in the new Europe. Slovakia, for instance, is fast becoming the favorite for car production in Europe, attracting considerable investment from France and Germany. Ireland has already specialized a great deal in advanced technology, with huge investment inflows and spectacular results. What is Greece going to do? With what orientation and in what direction? How will it attract foreign investment which is its only option for maintaining jobs and current living standards after the end of EU investment inflows and Olympics projects? Can Greek products and services hold their own in competition abroad? Greece will find itself in a considerably disadvantaged overall balance in the enlarged EU that is to take shape as of May 1 – with a new political map, new ambitious members and alliances, and new terms of economic negotiation. No such issue is part of any present political debate in Athens, when Greece’s economy remains on the fringe of European developments, with a cumbersome public administration, lagging education and research, and one of the lowest rates of competitiveness in Europe.