Elusive pot of gold

In his Thursday commentary in the International Herald Tribune, Thomas L. Friedman described how Ireland went «from the sick man of Europe to the rich man in less than a generation.» Ireland’s per capita gross domestic product now towers above that of Germany, France and Britain. According to Friedman, Ireland’s transformation was due to two factors: First, the government invested heavily in education, which received the lion’s share of EU funds. Second, the government, political parties, unions and industrialists all agreed on a program of economic reform, slashing corporate taxes and luring foreign investment. «Greece will never be Ireland,» a stubborn Costas Simitis, Greece’s former premier, repeatedly said. The huge public debt bequeathed by his Socialist governments ensured it wouldn’t. The question is whether Greece can still emulate Ireland’s success story – or at least bolster its rate of growth. The answer would be yes, under the condition that Costas Karamanlis and George Papandreou – both young, educated and honest politicians – escape the fruitless confrontation to which they’re being pushed by their respective parties. The prime minister and opposition leader must realize that they are Greece’s last big opportunity and that they must join hands to hammer out a common policy on education, health and socioeconomic issues such as social security reform. Is that a utopian perspective? As Andreas Papandreou used to say, «the nation must eliminate the debt before the debt eliminates the nation.» In other words, Greece’s big problems are a ticking bomb waiting to blast away the reluctant governments.

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