17 December 2005, Thessaloniki, Hyatt Regency
Ladies and gentlemen,
I would like first of all to convey to you the warm greetings of the Minister for Development, Mr Dimitris Sioufas. Together with his greetings, I also convey the reconfirmation of his already well-known interest in supporting entrepreneurship, which is one of the Ministry of Development’s most fundamental policy objectives.
Strengthening the competitiveness of our economy is essential for the country’s economic growth, for ensuring social cohesion, and for the creation of more and better jobs.
Competitiveness, however, comes about through healthy business activity. Because – very simply – without competitive businesses, there cannot be competitive economies.
This link is also explicitly recognized by the European Union. The Lisbon Strategy, both before and after its revision last March, makes the creation of a favourable business environment one of its central objectives.
But what do we mean by “favourable business environment”? We mean, first of all, a business-friendly environment, free from unnecessary bureaucratic hurdles, with clear and transparent laws and effective business support structures, both at the level of helping businesses to operate and at the level of financing.
We mean an environment in which setting up a business is a positive choice and not a last resort, career-wise.
An environment in which entrepreneurs know that the state is their aide and ally in their endeavours, and in which foreign investors feel secure regarding the fate of the investments they have made.
The success or failure of the effort we are making to improve entrepreneurship should not be judged only by the number of new businesses that are created. It should be judged even more by their survival. The conditions of competition are new, and very different to what they were a few years ago. With the internationalisation of markets, a business’s success depends directly on its ability to survive beyond the domestic market.
This success, however, presupposes the existence of specific skills and characteristics. It requires constant alertness and the ability of businesses to diagnose new needs, adapt to new conditions, and develop innovative products and services. This makes necessary technological progress in Research and Development and the constant improvement of employee skills.
In this effort, education plays a crucial and dual role. It has to do on the one hand with the cultivation of an “entrepreneurial mindset” among young people, and on the other hand with continuous training and lifelong learning for employees. Only then can sustainable and competitive businesses be created, providing new and better jobs for all, and participating on an equal footing in the game of international competition.
We are determined to support this kind of entrepreneurship with all the powers at our disposal. The Operational Programme for Competitiveness, which I have the honour of administrating, is a useful tool for helping to achieve this end.
The relevant categories of Actions financed by the Operational Programme include:
- Aid for principally small and medium-sized businesses to invest in manufacturing, research, technology, tourism, energy and natural resources. After its review, the Operational Programme for Competitiveness was expanded for the first time into the areas of trade and services. Indeed, the Action concerning services is due to be announced in the next few days.
- Improving the entrepreneurship of population groups with thus-far reduced involvement in business, such as young people, women and disabled people.
- The operation of horizontal structures for the support of businesses, such as Centres for Research and Technological Development (KETA) and Investor Reception Centres (KYE).
- Facilitating the financing of small and medium-sized enterprises, through the Credit Guarantee Fund for Small and Very Small Enterprises (TEMPME).
- Training human resources through actions financed by the European Social Fund (ESF).
We support healthy entrepreneurship. And we are determined to encourage it in every way possible, so that we can lead the country along the path of progress and development.
It is a joint vision, and we need citizens to be our allies and colleagues for it to succeed.
To this end, the Ministry of Development and the European Commission are holding the European Enterprise Awards in 2006. The purpose of this initiative is to recognize outstanding initiatives at a local or regional level to support businesses and entrepreneurship. Furthermore, the competition aims to raise awareness of entrepreneurship among citizens, and to highlight and publicise best practices in particular sectors.
For us, encouraging an entrepreneurial spirit and continuous education and training of employees are necessary conditions for the growth of the Greek economy, the creation of new jobs, and improved quality of life for all Greeks. Because business is an integral part of society, directly linked with its future and its prosperity. Only in this way will we be able to make the most of the quality and high level of the country’s human resources.
As you know, 2005 and the years up to 2010 have been declared Competitiveness Years 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.
Our policies are beginning to bear fruit:
- Despite the negative international climate, growth remains high. Despite past debts and deficits, it is more than three times that of the Eurozone.
- There is strong investor interest, which is being heightened through the application of the new Development Law.
- Greek exports grew this year by almost 10% for the first three quarters.
- In Tourism (according to figures for the first seven months) arrivals are estimated to be up by 8%, and revenues are up by 10%.
- Grant Thornton International notes that the proportion of rapidly growing Greek enterprises increased from 13% in 2004 to 15% in 2005.
Finally, it is worth mentioning that this year’s Transparency International report showed clearly that Greece’s slide in the international survey for corruption has stopped.
We are thus continuing at an unflagging pace, with our actions based on the principles of “quality, productivity and competitiveness”.
Improving the competitiveness of the Greek economy is a collective challenge. Achieving dynamic and sustainable growth demands substantial political and social cooperation. It demands a truly progressive perception. Internationally changes are rapid, and the challenges crucial.
Everyone – government and political forces, businesses and employees – has a role to play and is taking part in the changes and reforms necessary for regional development and social cohesion. The benefit for all will be great.
We believe that today’s initiative is an important step in this direction. The development minister, Mr Sioufas, and I offer you our warm congratulations, and wish the conference every success.