ECONOMY

Gov’t eyes big investment push

The Cabinet yesterday set a three-month timetable for the unblocking of nine large investment schemes that have long been hampered by bureaucratic delays, most of them in the tourism sector. Ministers concluded that the main stumbling blocks are the multitude of overlapping responsibilities of the various departments and the lack of definitive zoning regulations. Economy and Finance Minister Giorgos Alogoskoufis proposed that zoning requirements are obtained and completed before any investment scheme gets under way. The Cabinet decided to expedite procedures with a view to filling legal gaps concerning the building of resorts combined with golf courses. The government’s eagerness to unblock procedures is not surprising, given the investment «drought» that has affected the country in recent years and the apparent tendency of foreign investors to steer clear of Greece and direct their funds to its direct competitors, like Spain and Turkey. Five of the nine large projects are tourism investments, with a total budget of 1.9 billion euros, and have been mired in red tape for between five and 10 years. Such big investments usually require a multitude of licenses by departments that bear no relation to the tourism industry and are averse to completing procedures at speeds reasonably expected by those considering committing their funds. In the past, the problem was mainly located in the departments of the Environment and Public Works Ministry, and in the ill-conceived guidelines contained in investment incentive laws which virtually ignored tourism. The government’s recent such legislation is essentially the first substantial attempt to bolster entrepreneurship in tourism by doing away with a considerable number of counterincentives. Tourism Minister Dimitris Avramopoulos said after the Cabinet meeting that Greece is at last in the process of creating «a more hospitable and friendlier investment environment.» «The first step will be to settle the loose ends and solve chronic problems, with the ultimate goal of sending a message to the global market… Greece is now opening its wings to the world and I believe that tourism will lead to results,» he said. Environment and Public Works Minister Giorgos Souflias pledged that he will tackle zoning impediments, while Interior Minister Prokopis Pavlopoulos said he will deal with obstacles raised by local government authorities. The Cabinet also considered issues pertaining to Greece’s dismal record of economic competitiveness. Development Minister Dimitris Sioufas, who also attended the meeting, said the government was pursuing an aggressive economic policy capable of redressing poor performance. «We are changing pace to cover lost ground. The year 2005 will be one of structural changes and reforms with a view to bolstering entrepreneurship and attracting foreign investment,» he said.