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Tuesday 26 September 2017

Speech by Dimitris Daskalopoulos, President of the Federation of Greek Industries, on the occasion of the Secretary General of OECD’s visit to SEB, June 26, 2006

28 June 2006

Dear colleagues,
Ladies and gentlemen,

At today’s meeting of the Federation’s General Council we have the honor and the pleasure to welcome the Secretary General of the OECD, Mr. Angel Gurría.

Mr. Gurría will talk to us about a subject that interests all of us, but also concerns all of us: he will expound on “The challenges and opportunities that globalization creates for business”.

Before I engage in the formal introduction of Mr. Gurría, I would like to share with you some thoughts about the challenges and opportunities that globalization creates for our country.

The forces of private initiative in Greece, the productive forces of our country, are all too well aware of these challenges and opportunities.  Very briefly I will submit to you that the challenges concern our ability to implement with speed and social cohesion effective reforms that improve competitiveness and thus, also, the level and quality of our standard of living.

By contrast, opportunities are primarily centered on our ability to extend our economic sphere of influence in the traditional areas where we have always been active: the Balkans and more generally S.E. Europe.  Moreover, we need to do this with full respect for the sovereign rights, accepted borders and national economic independence of all involved.

We should not ignore, though, the simple fact that

  • Challenges are not met by prayers
  • Opportunities are not offered on a platter.

In order to overcome the inevitable problems inherent in the process of globalization we must be able to exhibit:

  • A willingness to act
  • An ability to take effective decisions
  • A determination to resist  those minorities that resist change
  • A readiness to reach a real consensus with our social partners.

In order to benefit from the opportunities offered by globalization we must have:

  • A clear business vision
  • Transparency in our decision making as well as in our actions
  • A flexible operational and organizational structure
  • A constant upgrading in the quality of our human resources
  • A demonstrable recognition of the responsibilities that modern ethical businesses must exhibit versus both their stakeholders and society at large.

Our country has a lot to be proud of with respect to its record over the last three decades:

  • We belong to a European Union that numbers 25 members
  • We joined the Euro zone
  • We achieved relatively high rates of growth
  • We managed to promote regional development
  • We developed a small number of national champions
  • We improved and expanded our infrastructure
  • We upgraded our tourism industry
  • We actively support and promote our shipping sector.

The process of modernization is not a one-out affair, though.  It is a continuous process that meets with successes as well as with failures.

It requires perseverance, it demand boldness, it asks for determination if it is to avoid the pitfalls of:

  • Economic marginalization that emanates from inadequate competitiveness
  • Social conflict that results from high and structural unemployment.

It is no surprise then that our own road to modernization is –not so infrequently– characterized by:

  • Superficial wins that bring about strategic losses
  • Good intentions that lead to weak results
  • Beautiful words that end up in ineffective actions.

Ladies and gentlemen,

This is not the time for procrastination and self congratulatory moments.  In his book, “The Lexus and the Olive Tree”, Thomas Friedman compares 20th century economic competition to a slow moving marathon or to Sumo wrestling.  And 21st century economic competition to the 100 meters dash –that is run again and again, every day.  He is not that far from the truth.  Take as an example the near term 2008 – 2012 future of our country, as described by the independent–minded and traditionally accurate in their projections, technocrats of non other than the OECD itself, under the assumption that present trends will continue:

  • The growth rate stays at the 3% per annum level, a fact that further delays real convergence within the European Union
  • Unemployment persists at around the 10% level
  • The external deficit remains high at 6.5% – 7% of GDP
  • The fiscal deficit increases to 3.7% of GDP
  • National debt improves only marginally by 10 percentage points of GDP.

Within this framework, I believe that all of you will agree with me about the urgent need not only to remain extremely vigilant but also to take decisive action in order to obtain immediate and visible improvements in at least two major areas, where progress has been either extremely slow:

  • The extensive simplification of our bureaucracy, in all of its forms and expressions.
  • The radical improvement of our educational system at all three of its levels.

The modernization of our educational system is the one important challenge that we face as a nation today.  We need a modern and of high quality public educational system that will offer equal opportunities to all, without economic impediments and without social exclusions.  We need a public educational system that is based on ability and achievement, a system that promotes economic and cultural growth as well as social cohesion.

The simultaneous operation of public and private non–profitable universities has a meaning if it contributes to the qualitative upgrading of the educational system and offers to our young men and women added opportunities of choice.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Let me end this rather lengthy but necessary diversion, with a reference to the old myth of the hare and the tortoise.  In today’s modern global economic system, survival and growth necessitate both the speed of the hare and the perseverance of the tortoise.  Separately, neither the one nor the other will suffice.

Allow me now to say a few words about our guest of honor.

Born in 1950, in Mexico, Angel Gurría is an economist that has had a 33 years distinguished career in public service.  He has been a university teacher of International Relations and Financial Economics at Mexico.  He has written and lectured worldwide on a host of topics that include international relations, development economics, international finance, and more recently globalization and competitiveness.
As Minister of Finance and Public Credit, in a two-year period to 2000, Angel Gurría designed and implemented a mechanism which protected Mexico’s economy from speculative pressures and other disruptive external events.
As Minister of Foreign Affairs, from 1994 to 1998, Angel Gurría helped to strengthen Mexico’s relations with North American and Latin American partners and to build stronger ties with Europe and Asia.  He negotiated the Partnership Agreement with the European Union, which set the basis for more encompassing accords.
Thank you all for your patience and I now call upon Mr. Angel Gurría to take the stand.

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