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I Have a Dream (Article by Attorney George Kounoupis)

 

I woke up today from a startling dream. Because of this, while having my coffee, I was compelled to look up the speech of the American civil rights leader, Martin Luther King, delivered in 1963 at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC. That speech was about the terrible injustice of racial discrimination, but there are parts of that speech which can be borrowed to describe the challenges of Greece in recent times. King warned that there was "no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism", stressing instead a "fierce urgency" to take advantage of the "great vault of opportunity".

I had gone to bed last night with my mind once more flooded with media and newspaper accounts of Greece being a failed economy, and facing the smirks and jabs of American and European colleagues and business associates regarding Greece's "deadbeat status".

Among Greek-Americans and Greeks both, the endless tirade of the "blame game" was exhausting - I had no more interest in it. As I closed my eyes to sleep all I could think of was the closed storefronts in my birth place of Sparta and the resigned faces of the young men and women who told me there were no jobs, and their biggest hope was to leave the country. I saw terribly bright young men and women working as waiters and taxi drivers, when I knew that these young people would be professionals, business leaders and managers in the United States job market. Most of these young people told me that they could not even think of having a family since they couldn't afford it. I know that in the US these same smart, motivated kids would have families and significant upward mobility.

But in my dream, it was different. I was flying from Philadelphia to Athens for a business meeting at my Athens offices. I was tired. As a US and Greek lawyer I had been swamped with clients in the US wanting to do business in Greece. Every US Company with an innovative product or idea wanted to use Greece as its entry point for European, Balkan and Asian expansion. The entrepreneurship and talent of the diaspora Greeks was fueling multiple US-Greek joint ventures as US funds perceived great opportunity there.

After the airplane landed, I boarded a taxi at Venizelos International Airport marveling at the bustling stores, warehouses, manufacturing facilities, and business centers around me. The young people seemed energized, happy and going places.

Walking into my office at the center of Athens I found several US business clients waiting and in no time at all we were in the conference room discussing their plans about their Greek business venture. Although they had a lot of questions, I advised them that time was of the essence because other investor clients were waiting.

"Mr. Kounoupis", the clients started off, "in the US and Canada our company became successful with little or no help from the government". "What we want to know", the clients continued, "is that we will not face burdensome and unpredictable legal regulations and bureaucratic obstacles". "For example", they started off "how complicated and time consuming is the formation of a subsidiary in Greece?" "Gentlemen", I stated, "Greece is known for its simplicity in forming and registering companies, and it can all be done in one day - and in one office - including tax registration". I pointed out that the "One-Stop Centers" in each region facilitated not only complete business registration and formation, but also had handy guidance pamphlets and friendly staff who could quickly point to all relevant regulations in any particular regulated industry or business-together with all forms for any such additional approvals and permits. Another branch of these One-Stop Centers operated as liaisons with government, university and private group support sources and incubators - for qualifying businesses and start ups which promoted Greek jobs and/or exports.

"What kind of taxation can we expect in Greece", they nervously asked. I quickly pulled out the most recent Greek Tax Code (a brief and succinct pamphlet) and explained that it was the essence of simplicity with clear rates and deductions.

"What about the legal systems?" one of the clients asked. I snickered at the question. Was he the only one who did not know that Greece was ranked by all world ratings organizations as near the top in terms of efficiency, predictability and adherence to rule of law? I explained that the new Greek Business Court and the revised Code of Civil Procedure and Commercial Code, gave absolute predictability to businesses and investors that any business dispute would be adjudicated by the Court within 90 days (the system having been modeled on the Delaware Chancery Court). I pointed out that the Business Court and applicable business laws were balanced so that shareholders and management of a business enjoyed equal and fair comfort and protection.

I explained that Greece had an advanced arbitration and mediation system and that settlements and amicable resolutions were common. Discrimination and harassment were illegal and employment contracts were interpreted and enforced according to their terms, but collective employee activities were protected and labor unions and managements' rights were fairly balanced. In any event, quick and efficient labor arbitration resolved union disputes.

I also pointed out that since the Greek real estate title and lien recording system had been modernized, title searches on real estate were quick, clean and reliable. This allowed the banks to feel confident in their mortgages (hypothecy) and real estate liens which then allowed newly formed title insurance companies to insure these mortgages, making banks even more comfortable making business loans. Greece had long since adopted all UNCITRAL creditor rights provisions (together with the cross-border insolvency provisions) bringing predictability to commercial contracts. I assured him, "Greek banks will be happy to lend to you and if necessary, you will be able to legally enforce your rights as a creditor - should a customer or other business default or breach any contract with your company". I pointed out that Greek banks had a very low percentage of non-performing loans and that, pursuant to important legislation Greece had enacted, the billions in old non-performing loans threatening Greek banks in the past had been sold off to investors, giving the banks needed liquidity.

I assured him that corruption, clientelism and burdensome bureaucracy in the government, were long gone. Greece had adopted the recommendations of the OECD and numerous other international observers and had gotten rid of over 500 non productive and unnecessary rules and regulations. Every government bureaucrat and employee was required, to accept the proposition that they were servants to the public not the other way around.

I warned him, your corporation will have to be a good corporate citizen. Taking advantage of the significant corporate business opportunities Greece provides does not mean that you can be an irresponsible corporation. Greek law was known for its corporate law "balance".

"Mr. Kounoupis" the client said, "I am more than comforted by what you say and tomorrow I will contact my US offices to arrange for the significant investment funds to be sent to Greece for our manufacturing and distribution facility". However, as the client's smile slowly faded in a haze of white fog, I awoke.

Facing the harsh reality of the morning, I stared at my coffee and King's speech. I realized that, however shining and optimistic my dream was, dreams do not become reality by magic or by simply invoking the greatness of Greece that once was. John Lennon said: "A dream you dream alone is only a dream. A dream you dream together is reality". To my fellow dreamers, I pose the only viable question: Are you for creating good Greek jobs and opportunities for all members of Greek society or are you not? That is the question, with all due respect to Hamlet. All of us must now declare with a "fierce urgency" that young men and women with vast potential will not be destined to live their lives in the servitude of poverty and that, as King urged his people, we will put our foot down and not accept "the way of things" any more.

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