WE HAVE read plenty about Greece's dismal public finances and risible public book-keeping. But if the country is to have any chance of recovering in the long-term it needs to rethink its approach to entrepreneurialism, which is one of the most hostile in the world. A New York Times article makes this point forcefully by telling the story of one entrepreneur's brave attempt to establish a soft-drinks business in his home country:
DEMETRI POLITOPOULOS says he has suffered countless indignities in his 12-year battle to build a microbrewery and wrest a sliver of the Greek beer market from the Dutch colossus, Heineken. His tires have been slashed and his products vandalized by unknown parties, he says, and his brewery has received threatening phone calls.
And he says he has had to endure regular taunts—you left Manhattan to start up a beer factory in northern Greece?—not to mention the pain of losing 5.3 million euros. Bad as all that has been, nothing prepared him for this reality: He would be breaking the law if he tried to fulfill his latest—and, he thinks, greatest—entrepreneurial dream. It is to have his brewery produce and export bottles of a Snapple-like beverage made from herbal tea, which he is cultivating in the mountains that surround this lush pocket of the country. An obscure edict requires that brewers in Greece produce beer—and nothing else. Mr. Politopoulos has spent the better part of the last year trying fruitlessly to persuade the Greek government to strike it. “
It’s probably a law that goes back to King Otto,” said Mr. Politopoulos with a grim chuckle, referring to the Bavarian-born king of Greece who introduced beer to the country around 1850. The whole thing is worth reading if you want to understand just how messed up the country is, and how little the European Union has done to promote structural reforms in its member states.