Turning Promise to Success

MAY-JUNE 2016|BY RAYMOND MATERA
Simos Anastasopoulos, President of the American-Hellenic Chamber of Commerce, discusses the changes needed to transform Greece from a story of hope to a story of success. The President also explains the key role the Chamber is playing in affecting positive change.

Despite all, Greece remains a promise rather than a success. To what do you attribute this?

Greece has not fulfilled its promise and is not a success story yet. There are significant opportunities in the country and we believe that growth is possible in a new, business-friendly environment but the necessary reforms that should have been the top priority of any administration have not even been included in the waiting list of the political system and governments. To become a success, Greece will need to proceed with the necessary fiscal consolidation measures, as described in the successive Memoranda, so that we stabilize the economic environment and at the same time develop a National Growth Plan and advance the structural reforms that will restore confidence and competitiveness and allow business to grow, new jobs to be created and income for all to increase. Then Greece will be in a position to turn promise to success.

The Chamber has made effort after effort to promote positive change. What are some of the initiatives of the Chamber to help turn Greece into a success story?

The Chamber has moved beyond its traditional role as a bilateral Chamber of Commerce, undertaking the initiative to assist in changing the economic and business environment in Greece. This vision, or obligation if you will, is served by the work of our committees, where recognized and expert representatives from our member companies participate, offering their experience, insight and influence to develop proposals that will serve our purpose in affecting positive change.

There are more direct approaches through the work of committees, such as through the Taxation Committee, the Legislative Reform Committee or the newly formed Finance and Investment Committee, that address existing barriers to doing business and recommend solutions to practical problems. There are also committees, such as the Leadership Committee, the Innovation, Education and Entrepreneurship Committee, the Corporate Social Responsibility Committee, or the Women’s Committee, that perform pioneering work in an effort to change mentalities and promote the idea of entrepreneurship in a healthy and competitive environment.

Our Institute on Economic Policy and Public Governance is another initiative of the Chamber to promote development through dialogue and propose solutions through synergies.

If you could suggest three fundamental institutional changes that would be meaningful for Greece, what would they be?

The future, long-term growth path will be directly determined by the willingness to implement substantial and deep institutional reform that will turn Greece into a competitive, export-oriented economy.

First, we need to proceed with the institutional reforms required to strengthen public administration, where lack of meritocracy and the absence of incentives and accountability have resulted in a dysfunctional bureaucracy, which is largely unable to operate effectively or implement the other reforms that are required. A system to assess the performance of public employees with relative incentives and the revocation of public servants’ permanence are steps in the right direction.

Second, Greece also needs decisive reform to its judicial system. A well-functioning legal system is at the heart of a market economy; it will benefit entrepreneurs, investors, and exporters and will lower inequality. Computerizing courts will boost efficiency and transparency at a small cost and applying restrictions on trial postponements will bring large gains at no fiscal cost. Both reforms will reestablish the rule of law and trust in the system.

Third, product markets are also in desperate need of institutional change. Excessive regulation and protection of vested interests stifle competition and keep our markets closed and product prices high. Price controls, product market restrictions and state control of the economy should be relaxed and the suggestions of OECD to improve competition should be implemented.

These institutional reforms will have drastic growth effects because they will remove major obstacles to investment and entrepreneurship and will open our product and services markets to the benefit of the country and the people. They will also make it possible to relax austerity measures.

What is your position today regarding policy proposals?

Policy proposals are absolutely necessary to assist the government and the public administration to better understand the business environment and introduce the policies required to achieve fiscal consolidation without damaging growth prospects.

As necessary as policy proposals might be for the short term, we have come to realize that they cannot be effective if we do not firstly address the underlying socioeconomic structure. Reforms have been labeled as ‘bad’ since they have always been associated with austerity and painful fiscal measures; the necessity for privatizations is misunderstood and trust between Greeks and their state is lost.

Change, as such, is not readily accepted by the people without proper explanation and adequate demonstration of the projected benefits it will induce.

A broader consensus of the political powers and full ownership of the structural reforms program is a prerequisite for the institutions of this country to be reformed. The support of the ‘elites’ and the education of society will build the pressure on the government and administration to proceed with the change.

How do you envision the Chamber addressing the significant challenges facing Greece going forward?

Within today’s Greek reality, I see AMCHAM as a unique organization that has the vision, the competence and the will to assist in transforming the country by fostering consensus and promoting change for the benefit of business and the people.

We believe that growth is possible in a new, business-friendly environment and we will continue our efforts to propose and promote reforms that will transform Greece into an internationally competitive market and an economy that is attractive to direct foreign investment.

In order to mobilize our members and the business community and create awareness within the public, we have undertaken the initiative to establish an Independent Business Competitiveness Council and we have dedicated 2016 to ‘Growth and Employment’ that embodies the directions of our activities for this year.

We intend to exhaust our efforts and competence to address the challenges ahead and ensure that Greece remains a credible member of the Eurozone with a well-defined path to growth and prosperity.

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