‘Business as usual’

Faced with a spate of high-profile bankruptcies in recent weeks, both the government and retailers sought yesterday to present the issue as part of the natural business cycle and not a crisis. Prime Minister Costas Simitis discussed this with senior party aides on PASOK’s Executive Bureau, where he stressed that «supporting the working people is the government’s first priority.» He attributed the current problem to globalization. The Justice Ministry produced statistics showing that in 2000 there were 3,409 applications for bankruptcies, in 2001 there were 3,142, in 2002 there were 2,960 and by May 20 this year there were 1,189 applications. «So you understand fully that there is no radically different picture in this sector in the current year. The 1,189 applications this year are about the same as those in the first five months of the previous years,» government spokesman Christos Protopappas said. However, this year’s bankruptcy applications are an increase of 151.9 percent over the 472 applications made in the same period last year. Protopappas said the number of unemployed was smaller now and promised to present figures on this today. National Economy and Finance Minister Nikos Christodoulakis noted: «The Greek economy is going through a period in which there are many messages; sometimes they are conflicting. It has one of the highest growth rates in the EU; it has managed to overcome with great success the international pressures of many months, but despite this we see a number of Greek companies coming under pressure and some of them choosing bankruptcy because they cannot deal with a series of issues and did not deal with them when they should have.» Christodoulakis said that in 2002 more than 2,500 new businesses opened. The president of the Hellenic Retail Business Association of Greece (SELPE), Antonis Makris, also stressed that there was no crisis. «This is a passing phase and is not part of a more general crisis in the market,» he said. The Greek market, Makris said, did not show the same signs of exhaustion as other European markets. «Not all retail companies are in crisis and neither are all of them in danger of closing,» he said. But he warned, «The business climate could get worse if the government does not deal effectively with key issues, such as reducing taxation, (changing) shop hours and labor issues.»

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