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Friday, 15 November 2013

Taking them to Task: Reflections on the Commission's Task Force for Greece

David Madden (Senior Member, St Antony's College, Oxford)

Dr Jens Bastian, former Task Force member, spoke at a SEESOX seminar on 13 November. Key take aways are(i) Financial assistance programmes alone could not rescue Greece. (ii) Structural reforms and a political consensus behind them were essential. (iii) The challenges for Greece and its international creditors remained enormous

Dr Bastian reported that the Task Force was established in June 2011, with 56 staff in Brussels and Athens. It was the result of a politically courageous initiative by George Papandreou. It was not part of the Troika. It was there to cooperate, offer qualitative judgements, work alongside the Greek administration, build capacity and effectiveness, help provide know-how and introduce examples of best practice from other Member states, increase EU fund absorption capacity, and prepare Greece for the next EU financing cycle 2014-2020. Successes were the striking improvements in the absorption level of EU structural, cohesion and social funds; recapitalisation of the Greek banks; and the agreed reduction of the Greek share in co-financing EU-funded projects. Work had also been done on improving Greece’s access to FDI e.g. through work on establishing an Institution for Growth. There was room for improvement in the modus operandi of the Task force: it lacked its own budgetary resources, there was a risk of thematic overreach, and public awareness of the work remained worryingly low. Above all, much remained to be done. There was some evidence of economic stabilisation, but talk of a definitive Greekovery was premature.

In answers to questions, Dr Bastian added the following. The Task Force had a good story to tell, and it was not always told. Every Member State was involved in at least one Task Force project. The contributions from Germany and France were exemplary. There was a continuing debate over whether the primary purpose of privatisation was revenue or stimulating competition. The IMF was not seen as the devil incarnate in Greece: it had both reviewed its past performance, and provided honest warnings about future lending requirements. It was true that the Task Force lacked carrots, but its stress on cooperation, collaboration, consensus and capacity building pointed towards a new way of doing business in Greece.

Dr Bastian ended by saying that the Task Force should not be permanent. Instead, its work in assisting the implementation of a critical mass of structural reform would enable it to hand over its tasks to Greek authorities sooner rather than later.