The great venture of a European Union, which began after the War, already finds itself at the most crucial turning point in its short history. The outcome is likely to be devastating. Its implications cannot be foreseen. Today, Europe resembles an ocean liner afloat in what are largely uncharted seas, with a broken compass and a crooked rudder. There is both the desire and the need for deeper and stronger cohesion. These are buried beneath a revival of asymmetric crises, random reflex actions and ethnic divergences. The economic crisis threatens a Europe already at sea and will require a very strong political will to bring it back to harbor unscathed by the storm.
In addition, our country needs unfaltering political will to emerge from today’s crisis –the most serious and dangerous after the restoration of democracy. The Greek problem stems from the country being an anachronistic state of tortuous cronyism, a regime based on party politics which is now holding to ransom the economy and our society as well as the very political system which nurtured it. 50 years ago, an American President reached the conclusion that one of the fundamental problems involved in governing his country was the existence of an all-powerful “military-industrial complex” –a phrase which has entered the political DNA of the West. In Greece, we are faced with the “state-corporatist complex”, which constitutes not only the major obstacle to governing the country, but is essentially also its ‘patron’, at whose behest the nation functions. Liberating ourselves of this complex is the number one prerequisite for our creation of a modern economy and society.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Discussion of where to lay the blame for the present miserable state of Greece is now unproductive and lacking in substance. The main point is that our society has realized that it is on the brink. But it cannot know what it wants because it cannot see where events are leading. It recognizes the need for change, but regards the cost involved with skepticism. Possibly because it is not convinced that the sacrifices it has been called upon to make will produce results that are worth fighting for; or possibly because it has lost faith in the ability of its leaders –and their promises.
I would be the first to acknowledge that over the past months we have witnessed the courage to apply changes –even radical transformations– which have had no precedence in Greece after the restoration of democracy. However, since the reaction on the part of those whose interests or long-held perceptions have been affected by the changes remains strong, the pace of reforms is slow and their influence shallow, given the depth of the present crisis. With party politics and the corporatist mentality doing everything in their power to prevent any changes whatsoever –and may the country go to the dogs– each step forward is met by waves of disapproval and is undermined from within.
The MoU itself, knowingly signed by us with our partners and lenders, should have been a springboard to a collective effort towards achieving the country’s reconstruction along competitive lines. It has become instead the target of an utterly glib argument aimed at causing social unrest. Thus, while it should have constituted a spur for national self-recognition, it is being used as a means to disorientate public opinion and sanction inaction. The opponents of the MoU reject the very reality that has necessitated it. In essence, they propose that we adopt a strategy of delusion to confront the problem, thereby perpetrating the catastrophic mind-set responsible for our present situation.
We have a difficult road ahead. We must cover it with the speed of a 100 m. sprinter and the endurance of a marathon runner. The work we have to accomplish is a titanic task in light of its scale, the time available, the orchestrated reactions to measures and the suspicion of the markets. Not a day should be lost, not a ministry can be allowed to drag its feet and no minister allowed to falter. Time for the introduction of reforms has run out. It is now time for action.
People should be told the truth, without subterfuge or ulterior motives. They should be made aware that our emergence from the crisis will also leave ruins in its wake and rebuilding from scratch will be required. Also, it is certain that a return to the good old days of false prosperity is out of the question. If we choose to go down that road, we will very soon slide once again to the brink of bankruptcy. On the other hand, if the commitments we have made are honored promptly and effectively, the road will be open for a new Greece: organized and aware, dynamic and outward-looking; a new Greece, which will respect itself by demonstrating respect for its laws and its people.
The fundamental and primary target must be curtailing the State through the dismantling of useless organizations and bodies, services, committees and posts. By cutting down on the State machine, a reduction in waste, improvement in public services, support for competition and a freeing up of the Greeks’ creative energy will all come about. Through the curtailing of the State, its reorganization becomes feasible on a rational level, together with an assessment of its manpower and an appraisal of its performance in relation to the resources it consumes. Only thus will we return to a cycle of development which will finally free us from the menace of debt. Only given this scenario will we avoid our sacrifices being squandered on the altar of an ephemeral fiscal remodeling.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
In twenty-first century Greece, there are very few people who have realized that the greatest, most serious reform, and the prerequisite for all the others, is the reform of our own perceptions. The absolute need for the reduction in the size and weight of the State cannot be achieved if we continue to fall back on the ‘all-bountiful’ State, and fail to renounce the logic of cronyism. The pressing need for us to reroute the economy onto the road to development will only be overcome by our understanding that development will not come about through the passing of an investment law, or because we have thought up a fast-track, or because the NSRF (National Strategic Reference Framework of the E.U.) has come up with some money, or because we have set up yet another development fund –however promising it may sound and however useful we may find it. Development and economic progress will come about when we consciously formulate an all-embracing and internationally-approved financial, business, legal, administrative and environmental framework that promotes and supports them and gives them the priority that present circumstances demand.
Competitiveness will not fall into our laps. It will accompany a change of heart which presently sees entrepreneurship as a hostile force. It will come about when we realize that it is the energy generated through work in the private sector that creates wealth, pays taxes and makes contributions, produces a wider social dividend and supports the social welfare system; when we realize that without hard work, investment and daring there are no longer any prospects or progress –then competitiveness will be given a chance to develop.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Whatever course events in Europe may take, they will place an added burden and new responsibilities upon our country. They will be events that limit our options and which must make us even more determined in our effort to change, to create a new Greece, which its children will not want to leave, which will not be singled out as the pariah of Europe or be ignored by international centers of decision-taking.
Should Europe be swayed by narrow-mindedness and turn its back on the vision of economic and political unity, then our country will need to have put its house in order upon strong foundations. Without the political mantle of the E.U. and the economic mantle of the Euro (which will continue to exist though bereft of its former power) a small and open economy such as that of Greece will need a strong productive basis to rely upon its existing and potential comparative advantage. This advantage could lie in a sound and competitive tax system; the prompt and firm working of its justice system; its modern and healthy financial sector; in its free market, its business flare and the quality of its human resources.
If Europe can overcome its present woes and continue towards its federal goal, then a weak Greece, still clinging to its anachronistic structures, will either be marginalized or pushed out of the Union altogether.
The facts leave no room for illusions: we will emerge from the crisis and manage to change our model for development only if we radically change our perceptions, structures and ways of operating: only if we manage to overturn our present habits and practices. The alternative road, the easy way of fairy-tale plans of action and evasive solutions will take us only backwards –irretrievably backwards. The road ahead, despite its difficulties, is one of hope and prospects. At its end is a better Greece –for all of us. It is this Greece that we can and must strive to achieve.