Greek task force head Horst Reichenbach has urged Athens to stick to its reform commitments as the eurozone debt crisis continues. While he acknowledged progress, he says Greece is not in the clear yet.
Factual, professional and media-shy, Horst Reichenbach is the epitome of the European Commission official. He never utters a thoughtless word and never lets himself get agitated. These are qualities he can put to good use as head of the Greek task force, especially since he is often treated with hostility in Greece.
The fact that Reichenbach is German is not the least reason of it. References to Nazi Germany keep cropping up. But Reichenbach says all he wants is to help – help implement Greek reforms and savings programs. But he stresses that Greece brought its problems on itself.
"In our experience, the Greek government finds it easier to initiate laws than to implement them," Reichenbach said in Athens on Thursday.
Bringing that implementation about is the job of the task force, along with experts from a number of European Union countries and the International Monetary Fund.
Reichenbach's team is working to help by building an effective tax administration, steering EU structural funds to the “right” projects, and ensuring that credit goes to small and medium sized businesses. Reichenbach says tax collection would improve if there was less red tape.
"There’s too much bureaucracy and there are too many administrative barriers, especially in corporate tax," Reichenbach said. "For example, customs controls on export companies can take 20 days. The EU average is 10 days."
Keeping other countries in mind
One of the biggest problems that Reichenbach sees in Greece is the country's lack of competitiveness. He says Greek labor costs are high compared to those EU countries that have not required rescue packages during the financial crisis but have had to help bailout Greece.
"There are EU countries that have lower per capita incomes than Greece," Reichenbach said, "and they are asking themselves how they should pay for Greece."
Reichenbach called on Greece to explain its reforms for the benefit of people in other eurozone countries.
"I think we have to be fair to Greece, but we also have to be fair to countries that might undergo even deeper changes than Greece," he added.
Reichenbach says the fact that a second bailout package has been released for Greece is good. The funds mean his task force can stand on firmer ground.
But that would change immediately, says Reichenbach, if the winner of the up coming elections in late April or early May attempts to reverse the reforms.
It is the main reason why the European Commission is not taking any chances and is urging Greek officials to stick to the program.
"There is a broad political commitment to what is happening in Greece and what is still to happen," Commission spokeswoman Pia Ahrenkilde recently said in Brussels. "That especially applies to the second rescue package on which everything depends on."
It’s a subtle warning - any change to that commitment would reverse all that has been done so far. And as an outcome, it’s not impossible.
Author: Christoph Hasselbach/srs
Editor: Zulfikar Abbany