OPINION

Is there a way out?

In the middle of the political storm that rocked Greece last week, the International Herald Tribune and Kathimerini (partners for the past 13 years) hosted a conference in Athens titled ?Greece: Emergence from the crisis?? Participants had the good fortune and the misfortune to find themselves close to the center of the drama that has made Greece top news around the world for most of the past year-and-a-half. The organizers were forced to change location to avoid having their government guests run the gauntlet of protesters at Syntagma Square, only to have all of the participating government ministers and the leader of the opposition pull out. Thursday, the opening day of the conference, was suddenly the day of a cabinet reshuffle and no one knew what to expect. And so, businessmen, academics and representatives of international organizations that deal with Greece took center stage to present their views, to interact with each other and to respond to questions from journalists and the audience. It would seem that the political crisis, along with the absence of politician guests, led to conclusions that may be more useful and direct than those that would have emerged from a conference in a quieter period.

So what were the conclusions? Greece suffers from a lack of political leadership and strategy; citizens don?t trust politicians and have not been persuaded the policy being followed is the right one nor that it has brought any positive results so far; despite the country?s potential for development and prosperity, Greece cannot attract foreign direct investment (in fact, its own entrepreneurs choose to invest abroad) and is dependant on more and more loans; bureaucracy, corruption and the inefficiency of the public sector consume huge amounts of money and undermine every development effort; tax evasion is rampant, whereas law-abiding citizens are trapped in a tax system that is exorbitant, complicated and arbitrary, just as the laws are a tangled web and their enforcement selective. The overriding sense was that the Greek crisis is not a recent development — it has been running for decades. The biggest problems — which led to the current mess — required neither money nor great political minds to be solved. They needed some common sense, personal and collective responsibility and the political will to carry out reforms when the need arose.

Books will be published and doctorates awarded on research into how a country that managed to become a member of the eurozone, that staged a very successful Olympic Games in 2004, which has a talented, well-educated and industrious population, should fall so low, so fast. In this narrative, last week could serve as a distillation of the causes and symptoms of the crisis. On Monday, Standard