OPINION

Provincial gripe

The promise made by Public Works Minister Vasso Papandreou yesterday to the citizens of Thessaloniki, that the construction of the city’s metro railway will be funded by the Public Investment Program (PIP), is an apparent attempt by the government to defuse widespread discontent there, ahead of Prime Minister Costas Simitis’s visit on the occasion of the opening of the city’s International Trade Fair. Papandreou might succeed in mollifying Thessaloniki residents, but still it must be emphasized that the allocation of the lion’s share of European Union funds – and not only those – to projects in Attica is seen as a provocation by those in the provinces. The problem is not a new one, and it is rooted in a shortsighted and largely profit-oriented mentality toward economic development. It should be pointed out that occasional criticism of the Athens-centered state is not only due to underlying competition from Thessaloniki-based circles but the inevitable outcome of justified woes in the regions. It takes no profound analysis or statistical evidence to underscore the deeply problematic character of the Attica basin. The capital has been overdeveloped at the expense of the rest of the country and this is constantly causing insurmountable obstacles to the people’s everyday lives. As a result, the huge amount of money spent on infrastructure has failed to offer long-term solutions. Athens’s hosting of the 2004 Olympic Games has sharpened the paradox. Preparations for the Games, which include the construction of Olympics-related projects, has absorbed huge sums of money, thus leaving no room for even development across the country. These funds were channeled into Attica, except for relatively small amounts that were allocated to the so-called Olympic cities of the regions. It’s too late to reverse decisions. Greece is obliged to fulfill its international obligations and to organize an excellent Games. This will not benefit Athens alone – it will benefit the country as a whole. The aforementioned criticism, rather, aims to determine the priorities for the day after. Once preparations for the Games are complete, the government will have to take drastic measures to restore the equilibrium. In other words, it must hammer out and fund a generous program for regional development with an eye to attracting investment and population. This is not only a question of social justice. It is a vital economic imperative.