All fronts open
By Antonis D. Papagiannidis
Starting today, just past mid-August, the European Commission fresh-from-the-oven Recovery and Resilience Task Force that will allow for the preparation and implementation of the Next Generation EU programmes is supposed to be on foot and ready to go. Coming on the step of the EU Summit, July17th/21st decision over the 750 bn eu NGEU, this new instrument is ensconced in the Commission Secretariat-General and will be working under the authority of Commission President Ursula von der Leyen; it is to be headed by Celine Gauer , Assistant Secretary-General and a long-time official at DG Comp (the Competition department of the Commission), also known in Brussels as a keen cellist, playing at the Bruocsella Symphony Orchestra.
Under normal circumstances, in midsummer 2020 Greece all eyes would be expected to be focused on the workings of the Task Force, on the prerequisites of the National Development Plan to be submitted by the relevant authorities and so forth. Not to forget that a special Committee, headed by LSE Professor and Nobel prize-winner Chris Pissaridis, along with two dozen significant Greek economists, has been already working to that effect. It presented a first roadmap for the future development of the (post-Covid-19) Greek economy that emphasised inter alia the need for a novel approach to Social Security, for concerted efforts to ameliorate the status of salaried workers (as opposed to the prevalent self-employed), incentives to increase the size of SMEs (also prevalent in Greece) – all of which aiming to enhance productivity and to make possible a more extrovert, export-oriented, tradable-goods-based economy.
The Pissaridis Report, which also included important suggestions for deeper structural reforms in the educational field so as to link Universities and Research Centres to production, or in the justice system so as to accelerate procedures in cases of significant economic interest, was supposed to be at the centre a wide-ranging debate between social partners and political parties, in time for a final version to be put forward and used as the core of the National Development Plan presented to Brussels.
“Normal circumstances” is the least applicable term/description for the situation prevailing in Greece at this point in time. For one, the Covid-19 tally is steadily worsening: known cases in Athens and Thessaloniki well as in Aegean and Ionian islands tourist hot-spots have surpassed the 200 cases/day; some restrictions reminiscent of the lock-down days are being reintroduced; wearing a mask is becoming increasingly mandatory; the Prime Minister has issued an emotional call for all those back from their summer vacations to keep some sort of self-imposed soft quarantine.
Then, the economic impact of the pandemic is becoming evident: the sharp drop in tourism receipts and tourism-related incomes is here for all to see; the collapse in overall employment looming in fall and winter makes officials uneasy about social unrest (those fearing for their own jobs are far more fearful); business sentiment is gloomier that at the earlier peak of the pandemic; the loss in tax receipts is a cause for increasing concern, notwithstanding relaxed fiscal EU rules allowing for the deficit to deepen.
Meanwhile, the Greek-Turkish quasi-conflict in the Eastern Mediterranean has once more reached a flare-up point, with the navies of the two NATO allies – as disbelieving analysts are wont to remind their international readers – deployed and risking clash. Ankara is playing an ever-more-aggressive game; the EU, called by Athens to adopt sanctions, is quite reticent for the time being. Within the week, some German-French summit eering is supposed to face the overall East Mediterranean situation. Turkey declares its willingness to engage in conflict-resolution talks with Greece – but the range of issues Ankara is trying to raise is far wider than those Greece could accept.
So, with all fronts open, any debate over the future-looking issues of the economy looks doomed.