Wooden walls

Shipping is one bright spot in the Greek economy. It is Greece’s showcase sector in a highly competitive global environment, but also the only sector of the economy not to benefit from any state intervention over the past decades. This is also underscored by the official balance of payments statistics due to be released today. The drop in deficit in the first four months of the year is mainly a result of shipping revenue, which is estimated at 4.28 billion euros – much higher than Greece’s export revenues and five times that from tourism. A fundamental tonic for Greece’s state economy, the shipping sector stands out as a model for development. It is based on a relatively small number of healthy companies which have excelled in foreign markets by turning their initial handicap into an asset. This is a reference to the fact that they did not develop in a protectionist environment, and were not upheld by state decisions, subsidies, tailor-made agreements, political favors and similar phenomena that have for decades became a trademark characteristic of state relations with the so-called national contractors. Having endured the problems and the challenges of the early years, the now mature Greek shipping sector has no need of state protection. However, it has every right to expect of the State not to become an unnecessary burden, as we have seen happen in the past. After the Prestige incident, instead of pointing out the responsibilities of other governments – the Spanish, in that case – to the European Union and other international bodies, the Greek government lashed out against ocean-going shipping in general, slamming even those shipowners whose fleet consisted of double-hulled ships. In effect, the State ended up discouraging shipowners from flying the Greek flag. Secondly, the shipping sector should also be able to expect the creation of a better investment climate and infrastructure that would allow investors to take more risks – while offering more jobs and boosting the economy in general. The City of London, which makes billions out of providing services to Greek shipowners, could be the source of know-how and a model for similar infrastructure at home. In ancient times, the so-called «wooden walls» repeatedly protected Greeks against foreign invaders. It is likely that in the near future, they will be needed to save the Greek economy from its most relentless enemy, the vicious cycle of corruption and underdevelopment, to guide it toward the open seas of competitiveness, transparency and productivity.