Given that the Greek economy contracted by 7 percent of gross domestic product last year and is on course to complete this year one of the sharpest peak-to-trough drops seen in the developed world, the idea of growth in Greece almost seems like a bad joke. Yet growth is the new buzz word in Brussels. Twelve EU states recently signed a letter demanding a greater emphasis be placed on it, analysts are talking about it, European Parliament President Martin Schulz came to Athens to talk about it and politicians are trying to find ways to generate it. Growth is very much the new black, or at least this year’s austerity.
It was in this vein that a meeting between European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and Greek Prime Minister Lucas Papademos took place in the Belgian capital this week. Although growth is the word on everybody’s lips, the talk of boosting economies and creating jobs in the EU remains rather vague. Tuesday’s talks between Papademos and Barroso did not produce a specific conclusion but they had a much greater focus than we have been accustomed to.
For some, its presence in Athens is a clear indication that Greece’s eurozone partners want to run the country themselves; for others it is a confirmation that the European Union wants to offer practical help. Whatever your view on the EU Task Force for Greece, though, there are a couple of things that are undeniable: the team from Brussels is aiming to facilitate the disbursement of about 15 billion euros in EU structural funds over the next two years that would help Greek jobs and businesses, and it is helping provide expertise in areas of Greek public administration that suffer from chronic problems, such as tax collection and the judicial system.
The Task Force officially assumed its role in Greece on September 1 and recently published the first quarterly report on its work. It is made up of about 25 people in Brussels — led by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) vice president Horst Reichenbach — and of 12 people in Athens. The Athens “antenna” is headed by Georgette Lalis, a Greek who has been a civil servant with the European Commission since 1981. She has held several executive positions but her last job in Brussels was as director of international affairs for energy. Between 2001 and 2004, she was CEO of the land registry (Ktimatologio SA).
Speaking to Kathimerini English Edition, Lalis distanced the role of the Task Force from that of the troika and identified a wide range of projects that it is cooperating on with Greek authorities, including a change to EU rules to provide Greek businesses with a working capital injection of 500 million euros.
Posted in Economy, European Union, Greece, Greek politics
Tagged EU, EU cohesion funds, EU structural funds, EU Task Force for Greece, euro, European Commission, European Union, eurozone, Georgette Lalis, Greece, Greece public administration, Greece taxes, Greece troika, Horst Reichenbach, SMEs