It is popularly assumed that Germany is Europe’s grade A student, while the countries ranged along the Mediterranean struggle with C’s. The knee jerk reaction is to say that Portugal, Spain Italy and Greece should become more like Germany in order to get their economies back in line. But as any good teacher knows, there’s more than one way of encouraging a pupil to succeed in class. The German solution is the classic economist’s solution: get costs and wages under control and raise taxes. But perhaps there is another way.
Perhaps the solution can come from an entrepreneurial perspective rather than an economic one. If you find yourself running a business in the middle of a recession you only have two options: close fast or trade your way out. To trade your way out you must do two things. First, ensure your prices are affordable given that everyone is suddenly spending less. Second, focus even harder on your unique selling point. Once you have clearly identified what it is that everyone loves you for, do it better than ever and sell it cheap. The volume of turnover will give you the impetus you need to get through hard times, and you can still carry on paying staff a reasonable wage!
So how can we apply this principal to nation states and their varied economies? As the French say “Vive la difference!” What Europe does not what to end up as, is a homogeneous block of clones based on the German parent model. It could never happen anyway. Greeks are Greeks and Germans are Germans and it is hopeless to expect matters to change. 10 Best Beaches in Phuket Greece has its own particular set of strengths and weaknesses, and it is much easier to build on strengths than to try and alter weaknesses. To tell the Greek worker that he must earn less or work harder, or the Greek pensioner that he must begin to suffer in his old age as the British do, is a task with unattainable goals. On the other hand, to tell the Greek that he must become more Greek, more Mediterranean, that he must celebrate his socialist and caring credentials, his glorious historical past, his pride in being the cradle of civilisation, then we are onto something that can motivate the whole country.
How does this translate into euros? Build it and they will come! The Mediterranean countries can be tourist idylls that attract the world. Why not build the best beaches, the best historical attractions, the best museums, the best churches? And when it comes to architecture, ditch the composite condominium nightmare which has dogged the coastlines of the Mediterranean for two decades, and start building imaginative holiday homes that reflect the local culture and work along eco-friendly lines. Funding issues? Investment is always more constructive and cheaper in the long run than bailout, and clearly one of these two nettles must be grasped.
Despite the recession, there are still enough people that want to holiday in exciting locations. The Mediterranean, given a little thought, can become the most exciting place to visit in the world, but only if it has its own brand image. This is a creative solution, a job creating solution, and one which celebrates the differences between countries not forces them into copies of each other.
Milton Johanides is a retired businessman, church elder, writer and artist. He has been featured on BBC TVs Songs of Praise, owned numerous art galleries and once ran an award winning picture framing business in Scotland. The views expressed in these articles are his own.