Missed competitiveness

The two main political parties have been vying for credit for the outstanding performance of Greek shipping, which in the last two years has brought in more foreign currency than exports and tourism, yet neither the government nor the opposition have drawn the development policy conclusions they should from the progress of this industry. For instance, I read a statement by Development Minister Dimitris Sioufas who said: «We Greeks are proud of our shipping, which triumphs in the world’s seas, and the Greek-owned fleet is the most important shipowning community in the world. Like I have said before, shipping proves in practice that when Greeks are free from the chains of state interventionism and bureaucracy and can operate in competition conditions, they distinguish themselves and can be the best.» PASOK MP Anna Diamantopoulou, the party’s development issues coordinator, stated on the same subject: «The Merchant Marine highlights the significance of looking outward. This is a sector with a starting point but without frontiers which competes and prevails in the global market. Greek shipowners who want their independence from national/state policies or even subsidies, are actively looking and are not afraid of international competition. This is an extroversion with successes that Greek entrepreneurs have also recorded in other sectors, in contrast to those who systematically and persistently choose a close relationship with the state, protectionism and economic subsidies, and often lose track of the main objective, which is a good and competitive product.» The origin of those remarks shows the great responsibilities of the political world for our economy’s low competitiveness. True, such praise shows in effect that a tight state grip, as expressed in recent decades with complex and corrupt bureaucracy, as well as in the depraved subsidies and commissions which have turned entire Greek industry sectors into state-funded businesses, bears most of the responsibility for the lack of extroversion and the low competitiveness of industry. What shipowner could have successfully competed with foreigners had he been obliged to build his ships at the Skaramangas or Elefsis shipyards with lower quality and multiple costs, compared with shipyards in Japan? And what shipowner would invest huge funds if he first had to secure dozens of licenses and documents and have the unions dictate the composition of his crew? The actual truth, carefully concealed by Sioufas and mainly Diamantopoulou, is that Greek shipping’s international successes are explained by the centuries-long tradition and experience of domestic shipowners, but are particularly due to their complete freedom from the local market’s regulations and limitations, and above all to the free labor market. The unions only managed to paralyze public transport last Tuesday with their strike, i.e. the sector with the biggest deficits, paid for by taxpayers, but imagine what Greek shipping would have been like with such labor regulations as the bosses’ right to flexible work hours and overtime, which Labor Minister Panos Panayiotopoulos is now trying to soften. This is why neither New Democracy nor PASOK are able to make the most of the lessons from the success of shipping. The government may have some excuses; as it has only been in power for less than 17 months, it has indeed made some effort to reduce bureaucracy, and, crucially, its recent bills show it is determined to make the moves that are essential to the restructuring of the economy. Yet PASOK, which was in government for two decades, is responsible for burdening the economy with debt and keeping Greek competitiveness among the lowest in the EU.

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