′Greece leaving the eurozone would be a catastrophe′ | Business| Economy and finance news from a German perspective | DW | 10.07.2015
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'Greece leaving the eurozone would be a catastrophe'

The crisis in Greece has made business operations incredibly hard, says Christian Scheemann of olive oil company Jordan. Jordan's owner has to bring in lots of cash to pay workers in Greece due to the bank closures.

German olive oil company Jordan started business operations in 1989 on the Greek island of Lesbos. The grandparents of Bastian Jordan, one of the founders of the company, emigrated to Greece in the 1980s. The grandfather started harvesting olives from the very beginning. Today, the family works with around 100 Greek families who have their own olive groves. Christian Scheemann is the company's general manager, based in Solingen, Germany.

DW: If you read the papers at the moment reporting on the crisis in Greece, Germany and Greece are always pitted against each other. How have you found it as a German business working in Greece? Has it been difficult for you?

Christian Scheemann: It was the opposite of what you can read in the media - it was absolutely not working against each other, but working trustfully and reliably with each other. That's what we found. The owner of the olive mill that we work with - he's also a third generation olive oil producer - we have such a strong relationship with him. He's so reliable and high-quality-oriented.

Collecting the jute bags full with olives, bringing them to the pick up, each bag ca. 20-30kg.

Workers collect the jute bags full of olives - each bag weighs about 20 to 30 kilogram (44 to 66 pounds)

What do you think are some of the biggest misconceptions that people over here maybe have about Greece and Greek people?

To be honest, to me, I feel a lot of us have a big self-righteousness when we talk about Greece, because we always say they don't make the cuts, they don't make reforms - which is not true. It started four or five years ago that they earned less and less. Most of them had cuts of about 30 percent of their net income. We have so many friends there who can't pay off [their mortgage], who have to move, who lose their job... who get fired, but then get a job again for half the money at the same company.

The biggest problem is that we just don't want to see anymore that they are really suffering, actually. It's a really bad situation, and we don't want to hear about it anymore, because we got kind of bored with it after five years of crisis.

What have you encountered of the misunderstandings that Greek people may have about Germans?

I guess the stereotypes work both ways. Not with our friends, but concerning the big mass of people. In Greece, they are much more emotional about [the crisis], because they are affected.

Friends always ask me 'What do you think about [German Chancellor] Angela Merkel, what do you think about [German Finance Minister Wolfgang] Schäuble?' And these two are kind of the faces of the crisis [in Greece] and that's what you realize when you are there.

You are working in a very traditional way - pressing olive oil and working with the land. Have you noticed that some people are going back to working more like that in the crisis since maybe more modern jobs and city jobs are just not there anymore?

Definitely, because in Athens and also in Thessaloniki, which are the two biggest cities in Greece, so many jobs [were] cut and so many shops had to close down. You can see this development for the last three or four years - that people move back to the countryside trying to do something not only to make money but to survive. There they can plant their own food, which is really important right now. Most of them don't have money for anything.

Deutschland Christian Scheemann bei der Deutschen Welle in Bonn

Scheemann in the DW radio studio

We are coming up to two weeks of bank closures now. Has that affected how you can work on a practical level?

It's affected us a lot, actually. Bastian, the owner of the company, will fly down to Greece with a lot of cash, because we need to pay our people over there. German banks tell their customers not to transfer any money to Greek banks right now. They don't forbid it, but they say you should not do it, because they cannot guarantee that the money will be there in the end. It affects us and everyone else a lot.

Almost nothing is happening over there. People don't have money to pay for gas for the trucks - that's a huge problem right now and it will only go away when the banks open again.

Do you think it would be helpful or not helpful if Greece left the eurozone?

[It would] definitely not [be] helpful, it's going to be a catastrophe for all of us. The island of Lesbos is one of the points that have the most refugees in Greece. It's only seven kilometers (4.4 miles) from the Turkish coast. In January, we had 500 refugees coming over. In May, it was 5,000. It's rising and rising and it's said that by the end of the year, Greece will have more refugees than Italy.

So if they really leave the euro[zone] or leave even the EU, it's going to be a catastrophe. Anyway, it's going to be money that has to be spent and I prefer to do it the way to establish good business relationships again and have good contacts and make it work. And not destroy it and then have to pay the money anyway.

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