Wanted: Foreign investment

Wanted: Foreign investment

Getting Greece back on its feet and on a growth trajectory will require foreign capital in the form of major investments. Otherwise the financial crisis will linger for many years to come.

For a short period, the country actually became an investment hot spot. Most of the credit should go to Antonis Samaras, the former conservative premier who did a lot of work on an interpersonal level and managed to create the impression that Athens was open for business. Even big investors who put their money in Greece, and lost, now acknowledge the positive climate created at the time.

It’s not easy to guess the ingredients of that successful recipe, which, in a way, brought together Messinia and Harvard Business School. It is however safe to say that the recipe broke a big taboo at the time. Previously, even conservative leaders avoided meeting with foreign investors in public because they were concerned that doing so would inflict political damage. That attitude changed during Samaras’s tenure and, it must be said, the doors of Maximos Mansion are these days open to anyone who wants to invest in this country. Alexis Tsipras, the country’s left-wing leader, has left his old habits behind – although not always convincingly so.

At the same time, the prime minister is surrounded by old-school leftists revolting against every privatization and investment plan. His aides are constantly trying to douse the flames that continue to erupt here and there. Perhaps he will never really adjust to the role. It is against his political DNA, which makes him feel more at home in Havana or when promising handouts to the electorate.

The problem is that without investments and money from outside, we won’t get anywhere – neither the country nor Tsipras. Investors do not have the patience to understand the inner problems dogging the government or the party itself.

The prospect of a conservative victory in the next election surely spurs some degree of optimism among international investors. It would be a repeat of the Macri phenomenon – referring to Mauricio Macri, the first non-populist politician to take power in Argentina after the big crisis.

However, even if the conservatives do come to power, we should not be under any illusions. Any euphoria would vanish as the first investors would run into the same old Greek obstacles from its public administration to its judicial system.

Greece has become cheap, it has potential and a capable manpower; but in order to lure investors it will have to implement reforms and inspire confidence, and it will need a government that speaks the same language as investors.

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