From ‘EU Task Force’ to ‘EU-Assistance desired by Greece/Greeks’
The ExecutiveSummary of the 1st TFGR Report is a very well formulated document which subtly caters to cultural and other idiosyncrasies of Greek society (example: “The Task Force is a resource at the disposal of the Greek authorities as they seek to build a modern and prosperous Greece”). Nevertheless, it is recognizable that it was primarily written by foreigners for Greece and not by Greeks for themselves.
The entire conduct of Greece since the beginning of the crisis can be characterized as non-ownership. This inevitably translates into a perception on the part of the Greek people that “we have to do what they (the foreigners) force upon us!”
This also applies to the TFGR. As long as Greeks have the perception that the TFGR is something which EU-elites have decided to bring upon Greece, the TFGR’s success will be limited. It will face the risk of being perceived as a type of occupation force; perhaps as enforcers of Troika-measures; and those Greeks who cooperate with it may become seen as collaborators.
To start off, below are 3 suggested mental experiments.
B. Mental experiment 1 – Who is it that needs something from whom?
Suppose, back in 2009, Greek leadership, in an attack of self-recognition, had recognized that Greece was on the fast track towards becoming a failed state, doomed to remain in the status of a developing country unless some corrective action happened in a hurry. Suppose further that Greek leadership had recognized that the only thing which could prevent such a disaster would be a massive know-how transfer (‘development aid’) from the EU. Finally, suppose Greek leadership had decided to invite brainpower and talent from all walks of Greek life to put together a request for know-how transfer from the EU which would be so convincing that the EU could not afford to reject it.
That ‘application for know-how transfer’ would have represented a very strong desire of Greek leadership! Instead of trembling whether or not a next tranche would be disbursed, Greeks might have trembled whether they get the know-how transfer which they so urgently desired.
Interim finding: Something needs to be done so that the TFGR becomes what it is supposed to be (i. e. something which the Greeks desperately desire to have).
C. Mental experiment 2 – Why not Alexis Tsipras?
The TFGR is supposed to help Greek authorities as they ‘seek to build a modern and prosperous Greece: a Greece characterized by economic opportunity and social equity, and served by an efficient administration with a strong public service ethos’ – this comes out of the Executive Summary. The same intention, with some well-meaning interpretation, could come right out of the mouth of AlexisTsipras.
Suppose Alexis Tsipras discovered that the TFGR ultimately has the same thing in mind for Greece as he claims to have. Suppose further that Alexis Tsipras understood that the TFGR is the only way to achieve a ‘modern Greece’. And, finally, suppose that Alexis Tsipras would want to go down into history as the ‘father of modern Greece’. Would it not be logical to assume that Alexis Tsipras would travel Greece up and down to explain to Greeks that the TFGR is his own invention and that it is the only solution for a better Greece? Would it not be logical to assume that a majority of Greeks would become enthusiastic about the TFGR?
Before that would happen, would it not be logical to assume that established Greek politicians/parties would try to jump on the TFGR-bandwagon before Alexis Tsipras owns it altogether?
Interim finding: Something needs to happen so that the TFGR becomes perceived as something which every Greek politician wants to be the owner of (instead of only tolerating it as a ‘necessary evil’).
D. Mental experiment 3 – Success stories
The Executive Summary correctly stated that ‘some early successes are needed to build the momentum for sustainable change’. Suppose the TFGR had been all over Greek media in the last year with success stories. Success stories of how the potential of 9 BEUR in cohesion policy projects was being utilized. Motto: a ‘huge celebration’ every time a new project, however small, gets successfully under way. Suppose it would get so far that Greek media would continually question the TFGR what is holding up more projects and what could be done about it?
INTERIM CONCLUSION: It is possible to imagine, without too great an effort, that things could happen which would stimulate the sense of ownership on the part of Greece and Greeks. Without such Greek ownership, it seems impossible for the TFGR to achieve all the stated goals (that would be like McKinsey starting a consulting job without proper introduction and support from the customer’s management). Thus, a possible solution would be to find external catalysts (people and/or events) which would catapult the TFGR into the limelight which it requires and deserves.
E. Case in point – Cosco and the port of Piraeus
This seems to be a prototype-example of a successful foreign investment and it should urgently be marketed as such! Not only did a foreign investor pay a substantial amount of money to the Greek state for leasing half of the harbor; it also tripled the business volume in the first 2 years and is now investing 300 MEUR into an expansion which will create new jobs and entirely new logistics perspectives for Greece. The NYT described this as follows: “In many ways, the top-to-bottom overhaul that Cosco is imposing on Piraeus is what Greece as a whole must aspire to if it is ever to restore competitiveness to its recession-sapped economy, make a dent in its 24 percent unemployment rate and avoid being dependent on its European neighbors for years to come”.
Interim finding: Why does it take the NYT to make such a commercial for what Greece really needs? The TFGR could/should dress up and market to the public such an investment as the type of foreign investment that can be and will be excellent news for Greece! (and Cosco should be involved in that promotion). And the TFGR should present itself as the facilitator of many more such projects in the future.
F. Allies in the cause – Groups
It will not be enough for the EU to determine that Greece needs help to become a modern country. Unless Greeks themselves determine that, all efforts will be more or less futile. To promote the right kind of awareness, the TFGR should work through ‘allies’.
Let’s just identify 3 potential groups of allies: (a) media, (b) academia and (c) students.
It should not be too difficult to get the media involved. Not via press conferences! Instead, via something like ‘monthly information afternoons’. A more or less structured event where attendants get meaningful information and some food or drinks to loosen the atmosphere. A good keynote speaker would be useful. Above all, they should be involved by being asked to fill out questionnaires, make proposals, etc. If such afternoons go over well, a sense of shared mission might develop over time.
It should be easy to get students, particularly students of economics, excited about the activities of the TFGR. And one should offer such students opportunities to involve themselves on a voluntary basis. The typical thing would be to have a list of projects on hand which could be assigned to teams of students who are interested to participate. As an incentive, one could offer that the best projects submitted will be awarded a prize (perhaps personally handed over by some visiting EU-official).
Interim finding: The point of all this is to create momentum and excitement.
G. Allies in the cause – Individuals
The TFGR should attempt to attract the support of key public personalities as champions of its cause. One example which comes to mind would be Peter Economides (I take him as an example because I have read his writings and seen some of his video presentations).
Peter Economides is a man who has a way with words and who is a charismatic communicator. If he would talk about the TFGR in similar fashion as I have heard him talk about new branding for Greece, there would be enthusiastic followers all over. But first he himself would have to be made enthusiastic for the TFGR.
The same would really apply to other personalities who enjoy public recognition and respect, be they artists or whatever. One could even imagine that a testimonial campaign in favor of the TFGR might bring some benefit.
INTERIM CONCLUSION: Without external catalysts (people and/or events), it will be difficult, if not impossible, for the TFGR to catapult itself into the positive limelight which it needs to accomplish the desired impact on Greece. The common premise should be that prominent individuals support the TFGR on a voluntary basis, i. e. out of conviction and not out of material interest.
H. Working with public administration (WWPA)
I argue vehemently that it is not possible to change, in a sustainable way, a large social system like a public administration solely by implementing new processes, training the people and by perhaps appointing a few new managers. If there are no accompanying measures, there will be significant passive resistance to change which will offset many of the reform benefits.
I differentiate between Hard Facts and Soft Facts. By Hard Facts, I mean things like processes, flow charts, job descriptions, interfaces, etc. By Soft Facts, I mean tools which affect cultures and attitudes (TQM, change management and perceptive communication techniques, etc.).
I. WWPA – Third-party (neutral) evaluation
The process of transmitting know-how from the ‘expert’ to the ‘student’ must be continually checked and evalued by a neutral third party (an ‘observer’) to make sure that the process is indeed working. An elite French civil servant might think that he has just passed on the greatest wisdom to a Greek civil servant without realizing that he has perhaps reached the ears, but not the mind and heart of the ‘student’. A Greek ‘student’ may, without noticing it, turn off the teacher’s motivation by continually acting like he knows everything already, anyway. Above all, they may not be dealing at eye-level and without that, the relationship will not work well.
The ‘observer’ would act as a coach who makes sure that both sides are on the same wavelength; who recognizes any need for improvement; who organizes on a monthly basis feedback sessions between ‘teacher’ and ‘student’; etc.
J. WWPA – Selection of counterparties
It is imperative to have a strong representation of ‘practitioners’ both among the ‘teachers’ as well as the ‘students’. It is much easier to establish shared wavelengths among ‘practitioners’ than among ‘elitist technicians’ (who may focus on outsmarting one another).
‘Teachers’ should not only be selected on the grounds of their technical qualifications but, even more importantly, based on their ability to communicate well and collegially.
Among the ‘students’, it is important to open this process also to people on the lower end in the hierarchy, particularly to motivated, impressionable and enthusiastic young people (‘little heroes’).
In any group there are likely to be one or more ‘leading steers’, that is people who can sway group opinion in one direction or another. Particularly ‘observers’ should look out for those ‘leading steers’. If they are positively-minded, they should be moved into the limelight. If not, they should be neutralized.
It may be necessary from time to time to set an example of harsh measures so that the group can get back to order. If so, that measure has to be really harsh and symbolic (disciplinary action) to get everybody’s attention back into the right mindset.
K. WWPA – Verification
A perfect example would be where a ‘teacher’ explains a new process, where the ‘student’ understands it but turns around and suggests even an improvement to that process. That would be a ‘home-run’. With some creativity, one can actually ‘manufacture’ such home-runs a bit so as to provide for more frequent experiences like the above.
In any event, there must always be verification that things have not only been ‘learned’ but also ‘understood and absorbed’. To think back of my Latin classes in Gymnasium: my teacher should not only have checked that I translated the Gallic Wars perfectly into German but he should also have checked whether I had learned what happened during those wars.
L. TFGR – Internet presence
I could not find any internet presence of the TFGR. In general, it is not good enough to do good things; one also has to talk about them in order to create momentum and to involve people.
Blogs, twitters: there are roughly two dozen serious and competent bloggers/twitters who focus on Greece in English and who have influence. They cover the political spectrum from The Left to the center-liberal. Over 90% of their postings relate to Troika-measures and debt issues. In other words, they focus on the ‘derivative’ of the problem. Hardly anyone focuses on how the Greek economy could be gotten into shape, which is the ‘underlying’. My point is that playing around with the ‘derivative’ will not solve anything unless the ‘underlying’ is fixed.
The TFGR should capture the attention of these bloggers/twitters. If the latter became as involved with TFGR-issues as they presently are with Troika/debt-issues, life would be perfect for the TFGR.
The effort required to accomplish the above would not be very significant. And, of course, one should also work on something to reach Greek-speaking bloggers/twitters.
M. TFGR – Organizational positioning
It would be interesting to make a survey among Greek parliamentarians and members of government checking who knows what about the TFGR. It would be particularly interesting to learn who knows which minister is responsible for the TFGR.
An outsider gets the impression that the TFGR is a Brussels-based effort which has an outlet in Athens and which interfaces with the Greek government. One would definitely not get the impression that the TFGR is a priority project of the Greek government itself.
Until the Greek government (I think it should be the Prime Minister) comes out and assumes loudly and clearly ownership of the TFGR, its effectiveness (and even its success) will be much lower than it could be otherwise. If the Greek Prime Minister does not take the initiative for that on his own, he should be ‘prompted’ to do so by EU-authorities.
In mid-2011, McKinsey came out with a very interesting Greece Ten Years Ahead report (which, not surprisingly, was more or less ignored in Greece). Beginning on page 27 of the Executive Summary, there is a section titled “A new National Growth Model”. In it, the establishment of an independent Economic Development and Reform Unit (EDRU) is recommended as an institution directly reporting to the Prime Minister. This EDRU would be critical to support the Greek state in coordinating, facilitating and monitoring the implementation of growth reforms.
I argue that the establishment of some type of this structure is imperative and I argue that the TFGR should assume an eminent role in that structure. I further argue that the personal responsibility for this project must be with the CEO of the government, i. e. the Prime Minister.
If the Prime Minister has trouble with that, one should prompt him by warning that Alexis Tsipras, should he become Prime Minister, would make it one of his first decisions to establish such a structure and he would be applauded for it!
Finally, to quote the OECD from its latest Public Governance Review of Greece: At the core of its administration, Greece desperately needs a high-level structure which has the authority, responsibility and capacity to lead the development of a strategic vision and direction for public policies, and the effective implementation of this vision in practice and over time.
N. TFGR – A ‘facilitator of foreign investment’
As important as shipping was to the Greek economy (and, to a lesser degree, tourism), remittances from Greeks working abroad (such as guest-workers in Northern countries) were by far the largest source of foreign funding from 1950-74. Since most of that money was spent on material and immaterial investments (such as education for children), it is fair to say that those guest-workers laid the foundation for Greece’s recovery after the Civil War.
Remittances are similar in nature to foreign investment. As remittances withered away in the 1970s, other sources of foreign funding replaced them. They came in the form of EU-grants/subsidies (about 200 BEUR until 2010) and foreign loans (a net increase of 283 BEUR from 2001-10). Very little came in the form of direct foreign investment.
Thus, it is clear that the driver behind the Greek economy has been funds flow from abroad. Since the Euro, satisfactory employment (more or less) could only be maintained because, on average, at least 30 BEUR flowed into the economy annually. Now that this funds flow has forcefully been reduced, the internal and external accounts are approaching a balanced situation but it has become clear that, when balancing internal and external accounts, the Greek economy cannot employ its people.
Thus, it is also clear that if Greece is to have a better future, the funds flow from abroad has to start up again and instead of taking the form of debt, it needs to take the form of equity. Without significant foreign investment, the Greek economy lacks a perspective. Foreign investment not only as a source of funding but, equally important, as a source of know-how transfer in all areas.
The TFGR should bring that message across to Greeks at every stop along the way.
O. TFGR – A ‘pillar of non-corruption’
It is clear that Greeks have lost confidence in their political leaders. The latest index by Transparency International shows that, since the crisis, Greeks perceive their elites to have become even more corrupt.
What would have been wrong if the journalist who had received a list with 2.000 foreign bank account holders, instead of publishing the list, had handed it over to the TFGR with the request to handle it in such a way as a ‘civilized’ country would do?
What would be wrong if the TFGR were to begin to show more ‘curiosity’ in some of the more obvious abuses which are characterizing Greek public administration all the time?
The TFGR would not be doing that as a ‘spy’ for the EU. Instead, it would be doing that as a great service to the Greek government and Greek people. And any Greek politician who sees that differently should speak out and explain to the Greek public why he thinks so. Not to mention the fact that making life harder for corrupt elites would make the TFGR quite popular on Main Street.
P. TFGR – What if nothing works?
What if those Greeks who are saying that ‘nothing will ever change in the Greek public administration and public sector!’ turn out to be correct? Well, that may happen but if it does happen, then even the TFGR won’t be able to do anything about it.
Happy New Year to the ‘Greek Task Force with EU assistance’!
Klaus R. Kastner