Greece, an illegal quarry

The fashionable mantra for «less state» usually comes with calls for more private enterprise. Free market competition, it is said, will solve problems that have been dogging Greece for years. Others sing a different tune: «Where is the state?» they grumble, every time rain, snow or whatever upsets their comfortable routine, either due to a lack of foresight on their part or because they themselves had broken the law. The truth perhaps lies somewhere in between. There is a lot of state, but most of the time it just acknowledges its inability to enforce the law and protect citizens. «We did our best,» said Deputy Development Minister Anastassios Neratzis in Parliament yesterday when asked about the continued operation of the illegal Markopoulo quarries. But what precisely did his ministry do? Well, it has fined the quarry firms but has done nothing to collect them, since this responsibility lies with a different authority. And so the quarries continue their destructive task. The minister is simply passing the buck to the prefecture, the municipality or the Environment Ministry. All sides are ducking their responsibilities at the crucial hour. The Council of State ruling ordering the shutdown of the firms was issued in May 2006, the fines are coming down like rain, and the quarries continue to operate. There is no shortage of state, no shortage of private enterprise – and there is certainly no shortage of wrongdoing, of insulting our common sense and perception of what is fair. Our political society has for years been tested at the Markopoulo quarries. And it has failed that test. It’s not a question of how big the state is, but whether it is active, effective and beneficial for its citizens. «We did our best,» the minister confessed. Just like a Socialist prime minister a few years previously: «This is Greece,» Costas Simitis said in parliament. An illegal quarry.

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