ECONOMY

The vine and the show

On one of the plateaus on the Greek mainland, near a declining and almost deserted village, three middle-aged professionals, a dentist, a physics teacher and an insurance broker, looking some years ago for investment opportunities discovered the soil was special. One of them had for years extensively studied Greek books on viticulture. He had also heard from the old men in the village that the vines on the slopes of the local hills thrived before the war and that the yiamboli wine variety they produced was one of the best in the country. They brought in specialists, analyzed the soil and decided to revive the old art. They bought the first 10 hectares of almost deserted farm land. The specialists said if they wanted to have successful cultivation, they had to look in the developed Italian nurseries for healthy and enduring vines of good French varieties. Despite the obstacles of bureaucratic red tape, five years later they had created a modern 13-hectare vineyard with Greek and French varieties and revived the yiamboli wine. Last year, Domokos Wines, as their company is called, filled 15,000 bottles with high-quality white and red wines, produced several tons of barreled wine and tsipouro. This year they hope to fill twice as many bottles, while the creation of a modern day winery is a top priority. At the same time, they are working on cultivating aromatic plants like lavender, mint, roses and oregano with a view to producing special oils and enriching animal feeds. The certain thing is that while other traditional, subsidy dependent agriculture is doomed, a private investment backed by knowledge, love for the art and hard work has managed to revive an field that had been in decline and had stopped producing any income for decades. For many, this may be a rare example. However, under the present conditions, when the country has a serious lack of competitive enterprises, the specific initiative – and many others sporadically sprouting up across the Greek countryside (but failing to attract the interest of bureaucrat politicians who persist along traditional lines of clientele relationships) – seem to provide the model answer to Greece’s production problem which the economic policy of recent years can obviously no longer address. This economic policy, which is giving ministers a hard time and looks to be pushing the Cabinet into a new balancing act with the tax reform measures due to be finalized tomorrow, is expensive and counterproductive to the country’s productive potential as, due to the complex web of commitments it has developed, it acts as a break on it. Despite the annual economic exhibition at Thessaloniki International Fair, due to open this weekend, the weaknesses of this economic policy are unmistakable, it can neither escape from the regime of fiscal asphyxiation nor overcome the monetary and other commitments it has entered into over the years. It is exhausted in the annual balancing act between big needs and even bigger requirements on the one hand, and fiscal difficulties on the other. Therefore, in his annual keynote economic speech this weekend, Prime Minister Costas Simitis is almost certain to offer a few tax breaks, promise something for pensions, and say a lot about progress, inflation and stability in the eurozone. What he cannot do is introduce a new vision, as economic policy is trapped in three or four almost problematic fundamentals. The country needs a new plan, a new vision for development to overcome the practices of the 1980s and 1990s and be based on new dynamic policies aiming to turn Greece into a productive and strong export nation by the end of the decade. But such a vision needs a revolution in politics. It requires an exit from the circle of nepotist subsidies and handouts and an efficient management of resources. It requires an administration that will facilitate rather than impede, a new perception, a turn to competitive production based on knowledge, new methods and techniques. Above all, it needs new political staff with a modern outlook unfettered by problematic ties. This does not just concern the ruling party; it equally applies to the opposition. Only such a visionary approach will save the country from the continuous tightrope act to avoid becoming a poor and backward province of the United States of Europe.