Watsa: Cut red tape and trust your business community
An environment that would attract investments and bolster entrepreneurship is the only way that Greece will get back on the path of growth and create jobs, Fairfax Group head Prem Watsa told Kathimerini during a recent visit to Greece, where he met with Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis.
With considerable investments in the local financial sector, Watsa did not rule out bidding for Ethniki Insurance in the upcoming tender, but played down rumors of this being part of a broader merger plan.
The conditions are in place for investments to flourish in Greece, said Watsa. “The government is focused on realizing what it has pledged and combined with the majority it has secured in Parliament I believe the country has substantial potential for transformation, as the government can realize its promises quickly and efficiently,” he said, adding that he also acknowledges “the many positive steps taken by the previous administration as well.”
Watsa, a major stakeholder in the Eurobank group, said that money is not the key to unlocking Greece’s entrepreneurial forces. “As a state you need to give people economic freedom,” he said. “However, there are obstacles in areas like starting a business, so the country needs to trust its own entrepreneurship and simplify procedures.”
The Canadian businessman argued that over-regulation is, perhaps, Greece’s biggest problem. “Investment-friendly states have far fewer restrictions. This makes things go faster toward the sought-after result, which is growth, as this promotes employment,” he said.
Asked whether Fairfax would be interested in Ethniki, Watsa remained cautious. “Insurance is our main activity. We are very happy with our investment in Eurolife and we are not aware of the process related to Ethniki, so I am not in a position to tell you if this would be an interesting case for us or not.”
He went on to reject rumors of the possible acquisition of Ethniki leading to a merger between parent company National Bank and Eurobank. “Suppose we made the move for Ethniki, that would not mean a similar move for the banks. We are happy with Eurobank and have no reason to examine a merger with National. We want to increase our exposure in other assets, in sectors such as infrastructures, depending on future opportunities,” Watsa added.