NBG chief sparks furor

A call for tough changes in policy toward non-competitive enterprises, social insurance and labor rights made by Takis Arapoglou, president of the National Bank of Greece (NBG) – the country’s biggest – on Tuesday drew widespread condemnation yesterday. «NBG management has taken the slippery road of neo-liberalism, arbitrariness and anti-constitutional interventions in functions of the labor movement,» said the bank’s union of employees. Listing a number of changes which he said were necessary to enable Greece to survive in the globalized economy, Arapoglou told a conference in Athens: «We must cease discussing whether we are going to work 39 or 40 hours a week when we have such a long distance to cover. «It is inconceivable that we cannot easily transfer an employee without problems or after endless procedures and discussions.» The Federation of Bank Employees’ Unions (OTOE) described Arapoglou’s speech as «provocative, irresponsible and dangerous.» «He proposed policies that cause a major social problem, without any social sensitivity for the basic factors that support the Greek economy overtime (workers and small and medium-sized enterprises),» OTOE said in a statement. «Arapoglou’s attitude to date as president of NGB points to a tactic that may mean even preparing the climate for the full privatization of the bank,» the statement added. The government still holds a large measure of control over NBG’s management, with a 7 percent interest itself and sizable holdings by public social insurance funds. OTOE said the NBG chief’s comments concealed unequal treatment in the financing of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), compared to corporations and the huge profits of banks and other large companies. Arapoglou also indirectly added his voice to recent calls for a reopening of the issue of social insurance and pension reform, which the government has said it is not prepared to touch for the time being. «We must cease presenting national issues along party lines… The social insurance issue, which is being touched again lately in such a manner, is a national one,» he said. Further, he said the country should be prepared to accept a temporary rise in failures of non-competitive businesses and unemployment. «We must stop relying on popular legislative provisions with a view to maintaining non-competitive concerns. We must adopt measures, recognizing that several existing companies must be shut down if they are not competitive and are not entitled to support, despite the fact that we all understandably accept that SMEs are the backbone of the economy… «We must not be concerned about a possible short-term rise in unemployment which could force us to mortgage our future with transient handouts,» he said. The National Confederation of Greek Commerce (ESEE) returned the charges. «(Arapoglou) should have stressed that the great culprits in the low competitiveness of SMEs are the banking system itself and the labyrinthine bureaucracy of the public sector which distorts entrepreneurship. «He should perhaps mention that Greek SMEs never enjoyed any privileges or subsidies and rationalized financing. The big subsidies and interest-free financing were absorbed by state enterprises and private ones fed with public contracts. On the contrary, SMEs have been for decades either the ‘black sheep’ or the beasts of burden for the banking system, with its high interest and compound rates,» ESEE said in a statement. The government dissociated itself from Arapoglou’s remarks. «Mr Arapoglou is not a member of the government,» Deputy Economy and Finance Minister Petros Doukas told a parliamentary committee.