Flagging competitiveness

n late 2004, the then development minister Dimitris Sioufas set up the much-hyped National Competitiveness Council with the aim of boosting Greece’s performance by 2007. However, the country’s rankings have been declining ever since. According to the Global Competitiveness Report published earlier this week by the World Economic Forum, Greece has fallen from 45th place in 2005 to 61st in 2006 and 65th this year. Sure, WEF criteria are sometimes controversial. However, the decline – if not collapse – of Greece’s competitiveness is also reflected in the reports of all international organizations as well as in the current account deficit figures published by the Bank of Greece. In any case, the average consumer who sees store shelves brimming with foreign goods knows that a country that does not produce, a country that imports more than it exports, has a very grim future. What is to blame for the government’s flagging performance? The answer lies with the people who make up the country’s competitiveness council. All its members, from development ministry officials to union representatives, are responsible for the stagnation. Dreaming of himself as the architect of Europe’s energy policy, Sioufas left local businesses hostage to red tape. He and his conservative colleagues in government did nothing to shake up the idle state apparatus or stamp out corruption. This is why no foreigners are investing in Greece while more and more Greeks are investing abroad. Unions are demanding benefits and privileges that increase the strain on the budget and the economy. At the same time, robust firms are looking beyond Greece’s borders. For unsurprisingly, the most industrious would like to keep their distance from the unionists.