Steel pressure from EC puts Greeks in crucible

An earthquake rattled Greece's largest steel mill in July 1980. White-hot molten steel splashed out of huge vats, giant cranes swayed to and fro, workers ran for the doors. Poseidon's lever had once again violently lifted the land.

Standing agog in his mill, George E. Anastasopoulos wondered if he wanted to be a captain of industry. ''We almost had another Greek tragedy,'' he says.

The all-too-common Greek earthquakes, however, are a minor problem for Mr. Anastasopoulos. His efficient and profitable continuous-casting ''mini-mill'' on the shores of the blue Aegean Sea feels an even greater shock: European pressure to cut production.

By most estimates, Greece's entry into the Common Market this year would have brought ramrod competition from Europe's larger steel mills. Instead, Greece discovered that its more modern, flexible, and smaller mills were a threat to the older, less adaptable plants to the north.

Europe's titan-size plants, built in the last two decades partly to supply an American market, now find the United States tightening up on imports. The EC has asked its 10 members to reduce production - 30 percent less for Greece - to avoid a steel glut.

One year ago the EC Commission assumed emergency control of the steel industry because of overproduction. Greek steelmakers filed a complaint with the European Court of Justice against the proposed production cutbacks.

The production limit hurts Greece's five mills, which have just begun to meet most of the the nation's steel demand after years of tariff protection.

The Greek steel factories, although not producing large quantities, are efficient because they are new, says Industry Minister Stephanos Manos. ''We don't need to support the industry like other European countries.''

Anastasopoulos's Metallurgiki Halypas company, which commands one-quarter of Greece's steel output with 280,000 metric tons a year, was opened in 1976. It is constructed with the latest German, Swedish, American, and Japanese know-how and technology, such as electric-arc furnaces. Relatively low in capital - $89 million (5 billion drachmas) - the plant lies almost equidistant between Greece's three largest cities and near the port city of Volos. This closeness to markets and transport is a classic trait for Greek businesses.

About half of the plant's 300,000-ton production is exported, mainly via the Volos ferry to Syria and on to other Mideast markets. A new $10 million, two-ship berth for scrap and exports will be completed next year. To cut the cost of raw materials - the most expensive input - Halypas will soon import over

Closeness to the employees is also a noticeable quality for Greek managers. When Anastasopoulos, who has his brother and son working with him, walks through the long plant, many of the 600 nonunionized workers spontaneously step off the line to shake his hand. Paying among the highest wages in Greece, the factory job is better than the farming that surrounds the plant in Thessaly's fertile fields.

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