3 November 2005
Mr President of the French Academy of Entrepreneurship,
Ladies and gentlemen of the academic community,
I would first of all like to convey to you the warm greetings of the Minister for Development, Mr Dimitris Sioufas, who is unable to be with us today because of his visit to Italy to sign a transnational agreement for the building of an undersea natural gas pipeline between Greece and Italy. However, the Minister’s interest and concern in entrepreneurship is well-known, particularly when it involves putting into practice the visions and plans of the young people of our country.
I am very grateful for your invitation and congratulate you for organising this meeting. I am especially pleased to be speaking before this distinguished audience, and to have the opportunity to address students and young graduates of the National Technical University of Athens.
As you know, there are currently more than 80,000 engineers of all specialities active in our country. According to statistics from the Technical Chamber of Greece, 50% of them are in Attica. In addition 50% of all engineers are employers or self-employed, at a time when, according to a study by the National Technical University, the corresponding figure for Italy is 31%, while in Germany and France it is no more than 10%.
Figures published on the employment of engineers in non-engineering occupations are also very important. Specifically, it has been calculated that 19% of Polytechnic graduates are employed in jobs that are not directly related to the subject they studied. This shows the flexibility of engineers in terms of finding work, their ability to pursue a career in workplaces outside the area of the subject they studied, and the strong and useful theoretical grounding they get from their studies. These are factors that in a number of cases favour the development of entrepreneurial activity.
In a study by the Federation of Greek Industries into high-demand subjects for 2005-2007, Mechanical Engineers occupy first place, with Electrical Engineers and Chemical Engineers appearing in the top six places in the same table. According to entrepreneurs that took part in the study, graduates in these disciplines can better respond to the need to introduce new technologies into the production process.
It is therefore obvious that in an era of knowledge and new technologies, engineers are playing a particularly crucial role. That is because the level of engineers in a country is directly linked with the improved quality of its infrastructure, products and services.
Trends regarding the entrepreneurship of young engineers appear to be changing, and this is especially important for the competitiveness of the Greek economy. Our country needs the inventiveness and positive thinking of its engineers and is relying greatly on them on the path towards growth and the objectives of the Lisbon Strategy.
From the outset, encouraging an entrepreneurial spirit has been our main priority at the Ministry of Development, and one of our most fundamental policy objectives. We support healthy entrepreneurial activity, which is a necessary condition for the growth of our economy, the creation of new jobs and improved quality of life for all Greeks. We are creating the right conditions, both at a microeconomic and macroeconomic level, to consolidate a climate of trust between entrepreneurs and the State. Because business is an integral part of society, directly linked with its future and its prosperity.
This is something of which everyone, particularly young people, must be aware. It is very important that the young people of our country learn to take entrepreneurial risks. And that is the main message that I want to convey to you: Become entrepreneurs! Take a risk!
The terms of competition today have changed. We all know the example of the internet search engine Google. It proves beyond any doubt that material capital isn’t everything. Intangible capital is even more important. People and ideas. And this country has great potential in both. Our educational level is one of the highest in the European Union. And the “Greek genius” is famous throughout the world. Let’s make the most of this.
It is a fact that in the past there were widespread reservations regarding entrepreneurial activity. Perhaps not entirely without justification, given the problems and rigidity that existed.
We at the Ministry of Development are working systematically to reverse this trend and to create an enterprise-friendly environment. We are placing particular emphasis on:
- cutting red tape,
- simplifying the law governing entrepreneurial activity and
- improving support structures for businesses and their financing mechanisms (the Credit Guarantee Fund for Small and Very Small Enterprises, for example, which its General Director, Mr Paparsenos, will speak to you about in more detail).
In this spirit, we have simplified the institutional framework for granting licences to manufacturing businesses and we are doing the same for commercial businesses. And at this moment, the general legislative framework for the establishment of public limited companies is under review, as are the laws on bankruptcy. Our objective is to eliminate the “stigma of failure”, which discourages entrepreneurial activity.
We want to make the establishment of businesses a positive choice and not a last resort, career-wise. For the creation of sustainable and competitive businesses, which will provide new and better jobs for all, and participate on an equal footing in the game of international competition.
We aim to make entrepreneurship a fundamental feature of social attitudes and everyday practice, to create the enterprise culture that is a basic condition for the country’s economic growth. To this end, we are preparing to establish an Academy of Entrepreneurship – and I am particularly looking forward to the speech from M. Fayolle, who will tell us about his experience of the French Academy of Entrepreneurship.
We are placing particular emphasis on encouraging entrepreneurship among young people. For this reason, through the Operational Programme for Competitiveness, which I have the honour of administrating, we are financing the start-up of businesses by young people aged 18-39 years old. It is one of the Programme’s most popular Actions, and is now in its fourth cycle.
The first three cycles accepted 1633 young people’s business plans, with a total budget of €129 million (public expenditure of €64.5 million). For the recent fourth cycle, the response of young entrepreneurs showed a spectacular increase. More than 2500 applications were received, against 3000 for the first three cycles put together. 2173 of them were approved (i.e. about 85%).The first three cycles accepted 1633 young people’s business plans, with a total budget of €129 million (public expenditure of €64.5 million). For the recent fourth cycle, the response of young entrepreneurs showed a spectacular increase. More than 2500 applications were received, against 3000 for the first three cycles put together. 2173 of them were approved (i.e. about 85%).
At the same time, through the Programme, we are also financing training actions and actions to transfer know-how to young entrepreneurs whose plans have been approved. So we are supporting the sustainability of the businesses that are created, and are safeguarding their contribution to economic growth and stronger long-term competitiveness. For us, Actions to develop human resources are a necessary condition for increased productivity and for supporting the competitiveness of Greek businesses. We place particular emphasis on in-house training and lifelong education of employees, financing a range of Actions in businesses in almost every sector of the economy.
At this stage, and because I am addressing people directly involved with tertiary education, I want to focus in particular on a new initiative that we have taken in 2005. I am talking about the decisions of the Minister for Development, Dimitris Sioufas, which increase subsidies for business plans which have been submitted to the Operational Programme for Competitiveness in the framework of actions to support entrepreneurship among young people and women, and which have previously won awards in competitions run by the Operation Programme for Education and Initial Vocational Training. Specifically, they are being subsidized according to merit, and are receiving 70% of the total budget, as opposed to 55% for other plans.
However, apart from the immediate support of entrepreneurship by financing the creation of new businesses – by young people, as I have said, and by women and people with disabilities – the Operational Programme for Competitiveness includes a series of Actions which aim to increase the competitiveness of existing businesses, especially small and medium-sized ones, which account for 98% of all businesses and make a decisive contribution to growth and the creation of new jobs.
A good example, which directly concerns you, is the announcement for the first time in the framework of the Community Support Framework, of the Action to improve the competitiveness of small and medium-sized enterprises in the services sector. The call for expressions of interest for the first cycle surpassed every expectation, amassing more than 7000 proposals. Almost 10% of the business plans that were submitted concerned support for architects, engineers and technical consultants.
We believe that CSF III Operational Programmes are an important tool for strengthening the course of development in our country and it is imperative that they be fully exploited.
For this reason, and in order to give all citizens the opportunity to benefit from the Actions of the Operational Programme for Competitiveness, we have begun working with the Ministry of Home Affairs, Public Administration and Decentralisation. We have already ensured that every inhabitant of every corner of Greece now has access to information on the Programme, simply by visiting their nearest Citizen Service Centre. Citizens can go there and request any printed information they want about the Operational Programme for Competitiveness, e.g. open calls for proposals, deadlines for applications, required documentation, etc.
As you know, 2005 has been declared Competitiveness Year in Greece, following the initiative of the Ministry of Development and the decision of the Prime Minister and the Government. We want 2005 to be a year of recovery for the Greek economy and a year of improved quality of life for all citizens.
We believe that supporting healthy entrepreneurship, particularly among young people, is a basic means of achieving this objective. We are determined to encourage it in every way possible, so that we can lead the country along the path of progress and development.
Conveying once more the greetings of the Minister for Development, Mr Dimitris Sioufas, I wish you great success in the work of your meeting.