A Greek business friend of mine moved his operation from Athens to Dubai some two years ago because of the hopeless situation developing in his country. Lack of money, stifling bureaucracy, and the ever-increasing demands for back-handers in a corruption-ridden country forced the issue.
Recently I had an opportunity to discuss with him, his take on the future for his homeland. He painted a very bleak picture. He believes that the Greek electorate are dividing into two streams, the anti-austerity and those that are prepared to put up with financial hardship for years to come. His view is that the former will win, and that the country will walk away from its debts, but try to remain within the EEC and continue to use the euro.
I asked him, if, as the amount of tax currently being collected only amounted to 17 per cent of that levied, would the Greek nation, seeing the parlous state of their financial affairs, start paying up? The answer was “no”. He told me that in his view, the Government frittered away public money on matters of no consequence, and that in any case, the taxpayer had to have sufficient reserves to pay the bribes that are necessary to conduct business.
He said that the Greek government is so over-staffed, to cope with the stifling red tape visited upon every business operation in the country, that most bright and creative brains had left for the Middle East, Bulgaria or Romania.
It is plain to all that the EEC had no plans in place to deal with a defaulting member, or one that wished to drop out of the euro, hence the considerable number of summit meetings that are currently taking place, all paid for by the tax-payer.
As yet, no positive lines of action are forthcoming to deal with the problems of Greece. It would appear that our euro leaders are frightened of creating precedents which could be followed by Ireland, Portugal, Spain and Italy.
Meanwhile, uncertainty reigns, the stock-markets are suffering, and politicians are prophesying gloom and doom if Greece does not comply with EEC demands.
I don’t believe that a “one size fits all” policy is practical where the euro is concerned, and I forecast, that in the long term the currency will become history.
A far cry from Edward Heath’s vision of a level playing field.
* Russell Luckock is chairman of Birmingham pressings firm AE Harris