Greek Business File, June-July-August 2020, No 126
Times of uncertainty
This issue of Business File has been created amidst the Covid-19 pandemic that has swept our world and has visited Greece in mid-spring. Circumstances have been as exceptional as one might imagine: this is why BF contents are a mix of experiences we lived through, ranging from impact analyses to projections towards an uncertain future.
To give but an example: on May 8th, the 75 years from the end of WWII (“Victory in Europe” day) were celebrated in quite subdued tones. Just a day later, on May 9th, the 70th anniversary of the Robert Schuman declaration that launched the idea of a united Europe, which evolved in today’s EU, was also celebrated – with mounting reservations as to the extent of effective solidarity in a Union facing an existential threat in the aftermath of the pandemic, with the North/South divide gaining in intensity.
Predictions of a deep 2020 recession following the pandemic, and hopefully leading to a strong recovery eventually in 2021, were made for most of Europe – with Greece in the unenviable last rank due to the importance of its tourist sector. As the opening of the tourist season gets nearer, and elaborate protocols are being prepared to allow for at least some of the tourist flows to resume, the arduous preparations come with a feeling of restlessness. Greece was successful in keeping the pandemic toll to a minimum: will this make the country a preferred destination?
The widespread lockdowns have left many sectors crumbling –the Press being one of them– but education constitutes an even more important field that requires attention. Still, eff orts to shift at least part of the learning process to the digital reality of e-learning have caused some optimism; so has the practice of remote working and –in the case of Greece that was lagging behind in digital capacity– the expansion of e-governance. It remains to be seen how far such approaches can go: what can really substitute the real-life interaction in school classrooms or seminar rooms?
Throughout the world, the pace of technological advances increased to counteract the negative impact of Covid-19: medical research eff orts to find a cure for the new viral infection and, eventually, to develop a reliable vaccine are intensifying around the globe – along with the looming, crucial question whether their possible fruition will take a collaborative or a selfish turn at the end of the day. “A vaccine for all humanity” may well become the call of Europe, and Greek LSE Health Policy professor Elias Mossialos was instrumental in championing the cause.
Meanwhile, as Europe is gauging its own economic reaction to the shock of the pandemic, the measures proposed so as to reboot the economies and to prevent inequalities from getting worse may well be discouraged by conservative reflexes. The recent decision of the German Constitutional Court, picking a quarrel with the European Court of Justice over the European Central Bank’s quantitative easing policies, just when debt mutualisation was being discussed anew (“corona-bonds”) under the shadow of the pandemic, may prove one more step in the arduous trek of European solidarity. The joint proposal of Chancellor Merkel and President Macron for a €500 billion recovery fund may well provide a tentative solution, provided that the “frugal four” –Αustria, Denmark, Netherlands, Sweden– do not put the brakes on. The von der Leyen Commission is called to arbitrate.
Back to Greece: the days of the Covid-19 pandemic have created new public fi gures or lent credibility to already known ones. Senior epidemiologist Sotiris Tsiodras (Greece’s own version of Anthony Fauci) off ered guidance to the Greek Government and reassurance to people in his daily TV briefi ngs over the progress of the pandemic; Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis (the polar opposite to Donald Trump in dealing with Covid-19) saw his popularity soar. In the realm of the economy, Bank of Greece’s Yannis Stournaras saw his mandate renewed for one more term, as a fi gure of continuity. Meanwhile, at the helm of the Hellenic Federation of Entreprises, Dimitri Papalexopoulos (of TITAN cement) will serve as its new President (succeeding Theodore Fessas), with Efthymios Vidalis chairing the Executive Committee.
One last thought: as the much-awaited tourist season opens with social distancing and health protocols, one cannot but hope that hospitality and spontaneity, normally associated with the spirit of Greek summer and holidays, will remain intact!
Alexandra C. Vovolini