Athens is benefiting from investments for the 2004 Olympic Games but it needs clear strategic planning to take advantage of the opportunities that globalisation and eastward expansion of the European Union will bring, according to a new OECD report.
Organising the Olympic Games has proved to be a unique challenge not only for Greece’s capital city but for the entire national administration, the OECD’s Territorial Review of the Metropolitan Region of Athens observes. The result, it notes, has been a more flexible approach, focused on achieving results and deadlines.
Looking ahead, the report says Athens has strong potential for development in its role as international gateway to Greece, the eastern part of the enlarged European Union and the Middle East. But fulfilling this role will require strategic responses from the Greek government and the authorities of Athens and the surrounding region of Attica to a number of specific challenges.
In particular, the OECD urges the government to develop a strategic vision for the region linking economic, social, environmental and planning objectives and policies. It recommends that the government monitor the impact of EU enlargement on the Greek and Attica economies and develop a clear analysis of the best roles for Athens to play within Europe. As part of this strategy, it calls for the creation of a regional development organisation similar to that of London, a regional observatory to monitor economic developments and an Economic Development Finance Programme.
The competitive position of the Attica region has improved over the past few years, the OECD report notes, thanks to favourable economic developments. Annual growth rates in Greece of around 4% have been higher than in most other EU countries; there has been greater stability following entry into the Euro zone; inflation is low; and a programme of regulatory reforms has liberalised many state dominated sectors. Coupled with moves to simplify formalities for enterprise creation, the result is a more business-friendly atmosphere in Athens which could facilitate foreign direct investment.
Preparations for the Olympic Games in August 2004 and financing from EU Community Support Funds have boosted investment in the hotel sector, year-round sports facilities and a modern region-wide transport network. This includes a brand new international airport, urban highways and ring roads to decrease congestion, upgraded rail links, a new metro, a non-polluting bus fleet, and tramway lines which connect the city centre and the suburbs. A programme to enhance architectural heritage and environmental assets has transformed central Athens and the area around the Acropolis. Like Barcelona, Athens now boasts easy access to a landscaped coastal zone at Faliron which offers a wide range of leisure and sports activities.
At the same time, however, Athens faces complex inter-related problems. Its population is ageing; immigration is increasing in a previously homogenous society; parts of the urban area suffer from poor housing, environmental degradation and lack of green space, and the impacts of climate change in a sensitive semi-arid area are cause for concern; unemployment in the capital is high; imbalances in employment opportunities may well arise between the east and west of the region as new developments locate around the international airport in the Messoghia Plain, while old industrial sites in the west require redevelopment; investment finance may become scarce in the medium term as the EU Community Support Funds diminish and the investments connected with the Olympic Games are concluded.
Against this background, the OECD notes that Athens has considerable potential for growth in a number of areas. Specifically, it cites the health sector, including the fitness and health industry; the sports sector with hosting of major international events; education (public and private) as an economic sector attracting foreign students which stimulates the housing and construction sectors as well as consumer products; the legal sector; the year-round conference industry; and new forms of tourism such as archaeological parks, eco-tourism, and high-quality cultural tourism.
All of these opportunities, however, require the Attica region to be well planned, accessible and socially and environmentally agreeable. Like many metropolitan areas, Athens requires new institutional arrangements or reinforced co-operative arrangements in order to improve integration across administrative areas, between the policies and programmes of infrastructure agencies and service delivery, and between levels of government.
The Review is available from the online OECD Bookshop