Ministers seem deluded about competitiveness

The Greek economy’s international competitiveness has rebounded strongly this year after a steady decline since 2003, according to the findings in the latest report of the International Institute for Management Development (IMD). The report, presented by the Foundation for Economic and Industrial Research (IOBE), shows Greece has moved up the table eight places to 42nd, among the 61 countries and territories monitored. The improvement is due to better performance in some macroeconomic indicators, such as the growth rate and reduction of the public deficit. In contrast, at the microeconomic level, where the more substantial competitiveness of Greek enterprises is measured in the globalized economy, our position remains low. Moreover, the overall picture appears further dented by one more fact: According to a European Commission report published a few days ago, Greece is the laggard among 27 nations (EU plus candidates Bulgaria and Romania) as regards progress toward attaining the Lisbon targets, which were set out in 2000 with a view to the bloc becoming the world’s most competitive economy by 2010. Of the 17 targets set, Greece is shown to be the only country to have achieved none so far. Malta, Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, Belgium, Ireland and Luxembourg have each attained one target. Poland, Italy, the Czech Republic, Latvia and Slovenia two, Spain, France and Germany three, Lithuania and Esthonia four, Cyprus, Portugal and Austria five, the Netherlands six, Finland and the UK seven, Denmark nine and Sweden 12. Greece has nothing to show. So, it seems safe to assume that ministers claiming that the recent data «give us more reasons to be optimistic about the future and satisfied about our progress so far» are simply deluding themselves. At last week’s meeting of the National Competitiveness Council, business leaders noted a number of worrying elements: high unemployment (particularly among the young, who are described as the «stressed-out» generation), a fall in farmers’ income, declining investment, struggling small and mid-sized businesses, a reduction in disposable incomes, migrating scientists, a high current account deficit and loss of comparative advantages. But even more telling were the recent observations of EU officials who came to Greece to assess progress in the implementation of the National Reform Program within the context of the Lisbon strategy. They called on the government, first, to give emphasis to innovation and entrepreneurship and bolster employment, and, second, to set clear and measurable targets: «We would like to know, for instance, when it will be feasible to set up a business in a week or implement a staff training program in six months,» they said. In other words, cutting red tape and boosting the knowledge-based economy.

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