Initial moves by the center-right government in its first six months in power have contributed to consolidating confidence, laying the groundwork for attracting much-needed investments and strengthening the short-term prospects of the Greek economy, several leading businesspeople tell Kathimerini. Yet, they stress, many and innovative changes are needed for the economy to be set on a sustainable and long-term path of growth.
“The further strengthening of economic sentiment and of the economy’s fundamentals in 2019 have increased expectations over the country’s prospects for a robust economy with a strong growth rate,” says Andreas Shamishis, chief executive officer at Hellenic Petroleum.
“Among the positive signs of the first few months of this government is the strategic shift toward a new energy policy based on renewable sources,” notes GEK Terna chairman and CEO Giorgos Peristeris.
“Strengthening innovation, attracting investments and developing the labor market appear to be objectives that are being approached on a practical level and not with vague wishes,” observes Christos Harpantidis, CEO at Papastratos.
“The new government has given us – after a long prior period of waiting – approval for the implementation of further investments that will turn Piraeus into not only the most important port in the Mediterranean but also of Europe, and one of the world’s top,” promises Piraeus Port Authority Chairman Yu Zeng Gang.
These business people say that Greece needs to embrace the digital revolution, incorporate the European Green Deal and accelerate its energy transformation, “as we have been left behind after a decade of crisis,” according to Dimitris Papalexopoulos, the CEO of Titan Cement.
They are also demanding a series of adjustments in the energy market, in construction, in infrastructures, in education, in tourism and in almost all other fields of economic activity.
It is evident that 2020 will be a demanding year for the New Democracy government, they say, adding that expectations are high and the challenges great. For Giorgos Zannias, chairman of Eurobank, “there are two domains that need immediate improvement for the economy to move faster: A solution to the problem of banks’ nonperforming exposures and tax reform.”
“Efforts launched by banks to clean up their portfolios should be supported so that they can go back to funding the economy. We are on the right track,” points out Vassilis Rapanos, the Alpha Bank chairman. “These developments must be rapidly capitalized along with the acceleration of structural, growth-orientated reforms and necessary interventions,” adds Piraeus Bank CEO Christos Megalou.
Crucially, the broader business community is now focused on how it will achieve growth, which constitutes a huge change from the previous period. “I consider it a success that we are entering 2020 with the business world focusing on growth and not on how to defend itself after a decade of insecurity,” states Avax Group Chairman Christos Ioannou.
Some businessmen note that the deep state remains, unfortunately, strong and that the hard part of the push for swift solutions and attracting investments is only just beginning. “It is important for investment opportunities to become actions and for the obstacles investors face to be lifted, such as the bureaucratic state which does not facilitate growth,” says Odisseas Athanasiou, CEO of Lamda Development.
They also point out that international uncertainty, geopolitical challenges and the migration problem require effective planning and management, as national security has become a top priority. “Besides the national economy, priority must now be given to national security too. In this domain the government initiatives will have to be immediate,” according to Andreas Taprantzis, CEO at Avis Greece.
The business people call on the government to tackle key issues such as the simplification of the tax system, electronic governance and stability in the financial environment. They demand broad and immediate reforms that will cut red tape in a state apparatus that hampers growth. This would establish a new reality that answers the country’s needs and makes the most of its significant potential, they say, as Greece needs to focus on forming a culture of long-term programming and strategic planning, not of opportunistic approaches.
“The attainment of efficient systems of education, healthcare and justice are basic requirements for the modernization of the state, requiring long-term planning that will eventually grant a boost to reforms,” recommends PricewaterhouseCoopers CEO Marios Psaltis.
“The improvement of productivity will not be achieved just via technology’s innovative solutions, but also through an investment plan aimed at saving resources, at optimizing environmental performance and introducing the best human resource management,” notes Evangelos Mytilineos, chairman and CEO at the Mytlineos group.
They further stress that it is necessary for everyone, especially low-income groups, to see an improvement in their quality of life after so many years of crisis. “It is necessary for everyone to experience an improvement and, if the budget allows it, a reduction to the value-added tax rates,” says Sani/Ikos hotel group CEO Andreas Andreadis.
“We all need to join forces – the state, the businesses and the citizens – to form a national plan for growth,” Viohalco’s Michalis Stasinopoulos tells Kathimerini. “A plan that would utilize our comparative advantages, such as our human resources, and focus on drastically tackling enduring weaknesses such as the drag on national production and innovation,” he adds.
The head of the Greek Tourism Confederation (SETE) Yiannis Retsos underscores that “it is high time we entered a new era of communication, understanding and well-structured strategic partnerships to everyone’s benefit. Everyone’s priority should be in the formation of a targeted growth plan.” He also notes that it is a good opportunity for open fronts in tourism to close.
Grecotel Managing Director Mari Daskalantonaki tells Kathimerini that “the Greek enterprises that have kept Greece going in the years of the unprecedented crisis, and particularly the tourism sector, are looking forward to a more favorable economic and tax environment that would encourage investments and the expansion of business initiatives.”
“We hope that the investment in a broader framework of infrastructures and services both by the state and by private initiative across Greece will render tourism destinations more competitive attracting even more visitors,” says Fraport Greece CEO Alexander Zinell.
Electricity giant Public Power Corporation is one of the key fronts for the government. Utility chief Giorgos Stassis says that its new business plan is about to be implemented, “based on the speedier withdrawal of coal-fired plants, the digitalization and the operating efficiency of the utility.”