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Saturday, 21 July 2007

Greece ranks at the bottom of EU tables

This is the kind of thing I dislike reading - from Kathemerini:
Remarks by EU Regional Policy Commissioner Danuta Hubner that Greece ranks at the bottom of EU tables regarding the absorption of community funds spent on road, railway and port projects say a lot about the incompetence of Greece’s political officials and the state apparatus in general. Her words shatter the impression cultivated by Greece’s idle politicians that progress on public works is stymied by a lack of money. The money is there, it’s just that the ministries have not hammered out any plans for how to use it.
I've spent my professional life studying and working with local government in the UK. Birmingham's transformation during the 1980s from a derelict late industrial wreck to a post-industrial European city was vitally dependent on the competence with which the City Council and its partners tapped into EU Regional Structural Funds. Of course that narrative's more complex. How do you rate a city's successful weathering of a 20th century crisis - the almost total loss to the East of its founding identity as the 'city of a 1000 trades' - the source of manufacturing wealth in a map that my school books covered pink to mark an empire?

I have watched our local councils go through compulsory competitive tendering, running intense annual evaluative audit - the Comprehensive Performance Assessment - the development of endless Performance Measurement, shifting from emphasis on inputs to outputs, submitting to efficiency reviews, continually meeting demands to deliver more for less. Now we see central government departments submitting themselves to Capability Reviews. There's still miles to go but that changes over the last 25 years have been dramatic.

The comments in Kathimerini would be supplemented by the curled lip contempt for Greek politicians and government that I encounter from my Greek family when trying to speak up for local democracy. In the flesh they are such fun to be with. They are all - over three generations - daunting in intelligence and talent. Phds, Firsts or nothing less than a 2:1 at Oxford, Cambridge or LSE; papers in journals so prestigious they are read only by a few people a year but last like oaks - Cambridge Journal of Economics; multi-lingual as toddlers; sisters as bright and successful as brothers.

So why am I reading about 'the incompetence of Greece’s political officials and the state apparatus in general'. The brightest star on the Greek side of my family is the son of a genius who started life in a Peloponnesian fishing village who worked as a deck hand.

The Greek students I encounter at my University work hard and are above average in intelligence. So why does someone unwire (if they did) the safety alarms on the gas-fired water boilers and why did police in Corfu accuse six individuals and one or more companies of negligence leading to manslaughter, negligence leading to serious bodily harm and negligence leading to endangering human lives in an apparently successful Corfu hotel (now re-opened) so that two kids died of carbon monoxide poisoning last October half-term holiday? Why do I get jokes like the one about the queue to get into Greek Hell where the devils are too lazy to bother tormenting sinners?

I've never met a lazy Greek, nor a stupid one. Where are they all? Why the jokes? What's with not only being unable to 'absorb' EU money for infrastructure, but 'ranking at the bottom of the table' for this capacity. You have to work to do so badly. Were the last Olympic Games secretly more of a mess than our Dome! Didn't look like it to me. What is this?

* * *

Of course I'm not being rational. How do you feel if someone's rude about someone you love. How dare they criticise Greece in their own bloody newspaper. I don't want to read this.

Yes yes I know. But you have to admit that Greek local government isn't as good as it could be. It is Greeks criticising Greeks.

Papsi papsi! I'm not listening!

* * *

Professor John Stewart - my colleague, Director for 17 years and original recruiter to Birmingham University in 1973 - told me when I bumped into him last Wednesday that one of his books - 'Modernising British Local Government' - had been translated into Greek. (details at - and search for 'John Stewart; but on 16 nov 2007 I can see his name but not the book) John said he'd lend me his copy "I can't read Greek" he said, "Nor me" I said "but please, yes".

Επιμέλεια-εισαγωγή στην ελληνική έκδοση: Θεόδωρος Xατζηπαντελής

Η κεντρική θέση του βιβλίου είναι ότι τα προβλήματα του εκσυγχρονισμού της αυτοδιοίκησης δεν λύνονται μόνο με αλλαγές στις πολιτικές και οργανωτικές δομές. Η κύρια διαπίστωση είναι ότι πρέπει να ξεκαθαριστούν οι αρμοδιότητες μεταξύ των διακριτών επιπέδων και να αντιληφθεί η κυβέρνηση ότι πρέπει να προχωρήσει σε αναδιάρθρωση ολόκληρου του συστήματος διακυβέρνησης ξεκινώντας από το κεντρικό επίπεδο διοίκησης (δηλαδή τον εαυτό της) που πρέπει να αποκαταστήσει ένα χαρακτήρα συντονισμένης διοίκησης και όχι ένα άθροισμα υπουργείων που μερικές φορές γίνονται αυτονομημένα κέντρα αποφάσεων.
Το βιβλίο βασίζεται στην άποψη ότι μια αποτελεσματική τοπική αυτοδιοίκηση είναι απαραίτητη για την καλή διακυβέρνηση μιας κοινωνίας και αναλύει κατά πόσο το πρόγραμμα εκσυγχρονισμού στην εξέλιξή του μπορεί να διαμορφώσει αυτήν την αποτελεσματική τοπική αυτοδιοίκηση επικεντρώνοντας την ανάλυσή του στη δυναμική αλλά και τις αδυναμίες του προγράμματος εκσυγχρονισμού.
Όπως αναφέρει, μεταξύ άλλων, ο Θεόδωρος Χατζηπαντελής στην εισαγωγή του στην ελληνική έκδοση του βιβλίου «…Η διαπίστωση ότι στον πολιτικό ανταγωνισμό σχετικά με την Αυτοδιοίκηση συγκρούονται δύο διαφορετικές πολιτικές, η πολιτική που θέλει την Αυτοδιοίκηση εκτελεστικό όργανο των σχεδιασμών της κεντρικής κυβέρνησης και παροχέα δημόσιων υπηρεσιών σε τοπικό επίπεδο και η πολιτική που θέλει την Αυτοδιοίκηση θεσμό οργανικά ενταγμένο στο συνολικό σύστημα διακυβέρνησης της χώρας με διακριτές αρμοδιότητες σχεδιασμού και υλοποίησης πολιτικών για το σύνολο της περιοχής ευθύνης της, δεν είναι ούτε καινούρια, ούτε ισχύει μόνο στη Μεγάλη Βρετανία.…»
Πρόκειται για ένα βιβλίο εξαιρετικά επίκαιρο, που έρχεται να συμβάλει στη συζήτηση για το ρόλο και το μέλλον της τοπικής αυτοδιοίκησης όχι μόνο στη Μ. Βρετανία και στην υπόλοιπη Ευρώπη αλλά και στη χώρα μας.

Athens News Agency KAPODISTRIAS 2
Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis on Thursday had successive meetings with the leadership of Greece's main local authority unions, the Central Union of Municipalities and Communities of Greece (KEDKE) and the Union of Prefecture Authorities of Greece (ENAE), in order to discuss legislation for reforming the administrative structure of local government ... meeting was also attended by Interior Minister Prokopis Pavlopoulos, who afterwards stressed that the new framework would not be imposed on municipalities ... the new municipalities and communities code, would be tabled in Parliament in December this year. ... Also due for completion by the end of the year was a new code for prefectures, Pavlopoulos added ... the government's goal was to create stronger local government that would receive more funding, in line with the changes also taking place within the European Union. Under the plan, which has been dubbed 'Kapodistrias 2', local authorities are expected to join together and redraw their administrative boundaries - which will also increase the funds at their disposal - along the lines of the original and controversial 'Kapodistrias' plan passed by PASOK in 1998, which forced smaller municipalities and communities to merge with larger ones.

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Simon Baddeley