ECONOMY

New investment aims

Foreign direct investment had become a rare occurrence in Greece but now the conditions and advantages are here for a conducive climate, Deputy Finance Minister Christos Folias said yesterday. «In the past, an inward-looking environment, characterized by the lack of competitiveness and a plethora of disincentives throughout the spectrum of setting up and operating a firm, had a dehydrating effect on the country’s creative potential,» he told a conference on the subject, organized by the Hellenic Center for Investment (ELKE) and the alumni association of London’s Imperial College Business School. «The Olympic Games contributed to the diffusion of a positive image of Greece in the world, while the now-secured advantages of modern infrastructure, security, transport, communication and energy facilities create the conditions for putting the country at the center of investment interest,» Folias said. «Greece is now becoming a bridge of communication between the European Union and the countries of Southeastern Europe, a pole of attraction, covering the full spectrum of modern activities, and an ideal option for the strategists of firms interested in the wider region,» he added. He noted 10 recent initiatives that have created a much improved investment climate, including a recently passed development incentives law, acceleration of the absorption of European Union subsidies, simplified licensing procedures, a legal framework for public-private partnerships, the deregulation of the energy market and one-stop shops for investors. Additional specific measures could attract firms that use new technologies and robotic systems, as well as members of the numerous Greek expatriate scientific community. «We have faith that our goal will become reality,» he concluded. The Finance Ministry’s general secretary, Giorgos Mergos, said it appeared that the impact of a number of favorable factors that have propelled the Greek economy in recent years, such as the country’s entry into the European Economic and Monetary Union, low interest rates and public investment in preparation for the Olympics, are now slowing and that, therefore, the government aims at bolstering new sources of growth and improving the investment climate. «Greece needs investment that increases productivity and competitiveness, accelerates the penetration of new technologies and improves innovation in the economy,» he said. ELKE’s president, Yiannis Anastassopoulos, said the new legal framework for investment and the unblocking of several large schemes that had languished for years will spearhead the government’s new, business-centered approach to growth. ELKE, he added, has examined these schemes and recommended solutions case-by-case to the government. It has also set up an «After Care» unit, which will renew contact with former investors and update them on the new opportunities now available. Imperial College Business School professor David Begg expressed the view that Greece cannot match the progress realized by Ireland in recent years, but that the government’s measures are a step in the right direction. He argued that boldness is needed for structural changes in the marketplace, especially in the labor market, but that this required methodical steps rather than any violent overhaul of labor relations as in the UK under Margaret Thatcher.