Greece’s face has acquired a paler complexion

The European Commission’s recent admonitions to Greece on mending its public finances may have augmented a negative view of the economy abroad, but they also offer a ray of hope. They free the hands of the Greek government to proceed to restructuring measures, or even force it to adopt measures which it hesitated to take, such as privatizations of public enterprises that remain under state control without obvious reason. The government stands to gain a great deal from privatizations, as it can gather big sums that will reduce the huge fiscal deficit and improve the credibility of its economic policy. In this way, it can also avoid the adoption of unpopular measures, such as raising certain indirect taxes, in order to ease the pressure from Brussels. This would be the positive side of the issue. Otherwise, the public accounting gymnastics of recent years and the dimensions which they acquired abroad following the present government’s revision has given rise to a series of negative repercussions which cannot be underestimated. The Commission’s admonitions and apparent anxiety regarding the high Greek deficits, for instance, have no doubt contributed to the lowering of the country’s credit rating by the relevant agencies, which in turn will affect the cost of public borrowing. Further, this sends a more general negative message to foreign capital markets and investors. At the same time, such a development limits the country’s standing and bargaining power ahead of the round of discussions that will begin next year for the allocation of funds under the European Union-subsidized Fourth Community Support Framework investment program. Greece will have to share this money with some much needier countries among the new 10 members, and with weaker cards in its hands. In Brussels, they refer with little enthusiasm to Greece’s growth model of recent years. They say the country received huge sums from the Community’s structural funds in the last 20 years and achieved nothing noteworthy. From 67 percent of the average per capita income in the EU in 1981, it has climbed to just 72 percent today. Meanwhile, the deficits have remained and the public debt likewise. The EU officials also note the low absorption rate of CSF funds. «The Greeks want more money when they cannot tap the sums already offered,» they argue. In all, there is no escaping the fact that the country’s credibility has been seriously dented. Even the positive impact of the excellent organization of the Olympic Games may prove difficult to capitalize on any further. Greece’s face seems to have paled.