Greek Red Tape Stories in The New York Times

Yet another article has appeared in the American press showing Greek red tape as the main prohibitive factor for investments in the country.

The New York Times refers to the specific story of Fotis I. Antonopoulos, a successful Web program designer here, who decided he wanted to open an e-business selling olive products.

“It took him 10 months — crisscrossing the city to collect dozens of forms and stamps of approval, including proof that he was up to date on his pension contributions — before he could get started.”  He was at least lucky to have a day job, because his troubles weren’t over, according to the well-known newspaper. “In perhaps the strangest twist of all, his board members were required by the Health Department to submit lung X-rays — and stool samples — since this was a food company.”, says Mr. Antonopoulos to the NYT.

“I laugh about it now,” he said. “But it wouldn’t be so funny if I didn’t have a very good job with very good pay. It would have been an absolute nightmare.”

Mr. Antonopoulos explained to the American newspaper that he knows that his suffering is not an exception but a general truth. “This is what everyone else who tries to start a business is living. It is very frustrating.” He said.

“E-commerce is still relatively new in Greece, though growing. But Internet businesses with international sales are so rare that when Mr. Antonopoulos sought help with processing payments, three different Greek banks seemed incapable of grasping the concept”, explains the newspaper.

“Before the banks would agree to act as clearinghouses for credit cards, they insisted that portions of the Olive Shop Web site — including the company’s marketing and privacy policies — be written exclusively in Greek, even though Mr. Antonopoulos tried to explain that his customers would not understand Greek”.

At one point, the company got a huge order from Denmark, he said. But the paperwork for what amounted to a wholesale transaction was so onerous that they decided not to even try to fill the order.

In contrast, he said, getting approval from the United States Food and Drug Administration to export his products to the United States took about 24 hours. “It was all online,” he said. “Nothing could be done online in Greece.”

Even so, Mr. Antonopoulos said that his story did eventually have a happy ending. His company, up and running for just five months, has already shipped goods to the United States, Argentina, Australia, Japan and even Mongolia, and it is covering its costs.

“Stool samples cannot be the center of this story,” Mr. Antonopoulos said. “We made it.”

“With Greece ’s economy entering its fourth year of recession , its entrepreneurs are eager to reverse a frightening tide. Last year, at least 68,000 small and medium-size businesses closed in Greece; nearly 135,000 jobs associated with them vanished. Predictions for 2012 are also bleak”, according to the story. And that’s because despite the government’s repeated promises to improve things, the climate for doing business in Greece “remains abysmal”.

None of this is news to Vassilis Korkidis, the president of the National Confederation of Hellenic Commerce, a trade association in Athens. “You could tell me anything, and I would believe it,” Mr. Korkidis said. “I have seen it all.” He also explained that a “one-stop shop” program for new businesses launched by the Ministry of Development is not at all “one-stop”, since someone must collect more than 10 papers to finally get it!

(Source: New York Times)