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» INTERVIEW: MR. EVRIPIDIS STYLIANIDIS
Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs
Evripidis Stylianidis
Evripidis Stylianidis
Deputy Minister of
Foreign Affairs

PM Communications: Mr. Stylianidis, first and foremost allow us to thank you for taking the time to meet with us. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has played an incredibly important role since the creation of the Hellenic Republic. Could you share with our readers the current policy priorities for your Ministry?

Mr. Stylianidis: In the past, and especially during the Cold War, Greek foreign policy was all international politics, the so-called "political diplomacy". Currently, in a globalized world, where market economy is no more "reserved" for the privileged few societies, and where competition is the driving force behind the world's quest for wealth, Greece's foreign policy is based on three different pillars:

- The first is the classic pillar of political diplomacy, through which we build bridges and develop relations between Governments and between peoples;

- the second is economic diplomacy, through which barriers between markets are removed; and

- the third is development cooperation, through which bridges between societies, citizens and cultures are built.

The Foreign Minister is in charge of the overall strategic planning of our foreign policy. Three Deputy Ministers have been entrusted by the Prime Minister with three large sectors of foreign policy respectively: Deputy Minister Valinakis, responsible for European Affairs, Deputy Minister Skandalakis, responsible for the Hellenes abroad, and myself, responsible for economic diplomacy and development cooperation.

As far as the latter sectors are concerned, foreign policy is combined with the need to promote Greek business interests abroad. Greek businesspeople who have shown an interest to deal with their counterparts in third countries, are constantly informed about openings and opportunities in countries where there are Greek Embassies and Greek Trade Offices. Recently we inaugurated a website - www.agora.gr - which proved to be an invaluable source of information for the Greek business community in 15 countries. It is a pilot programme, soon to be expanded to 30 countries. We aim to develop this database in each market in the world, so that any Greek company can have access to our services and to important business information. Naturally, our diplomatic missions in the respective countries are also mobilised to facilitate the Greek companies' entrance into the market.

Our Government has proclaimed three major targets for the coming years:

· To attract foreign investment to Greece;
· To increase the volume of Greek trade with third countries, mainly, of course, to increase Greek exports;
· To encourage the extroversion of the Greek business community through joint ventures with foreign companies or through any other way they deem appropriate.

This new strategy cannot but have as its basis a proper dialogue between the Greek Government and our business community. Our Prime Minister, Mr. Kostas Karamanlis, has set the following four priorities as far as the importance of the markets is concerned:

· The South-East European market
· The Black Sea area market
· Turkey
· The Mediterranean market with emphasis in the Arab world

At the same time, China, the US, Japan, India and several African developing markets are equally important targets for our Government, and this is the reason why either we have already visited these countries or we are scheduling to visit them together with Greek businessmen.

Our policy, which I have just described, has already produced some important and tangible results: Greek business presence has made the country one of the strongest or the strongest player in the Balkans. Over the last ten years, more than 3,500 Greek companies are already present in the Balkan peninsula; more than €8 billion has been invested; more than 200.000 jobs have been created. We are transferring a lot of know-how in many areas. For instance, more than 800 branches of Greek Banks have been established in the SE European area, representing at least a 14% of the region's market. This number is constantly increasing, as Greek Banks keep looking to expand their network and proceed to mergers and acquisitions.

Today, Greece is the biggest investor in Albania, Serbia & Montenegro and FYROM. She represents the second biggest investor in Bulgaria, while in Romania she ranks among the top five biggest investors.

PM Communications: Greece is positioning itself as the leading economy in an emerging region. You are the first country from this region to join the EU. How will you use this experience?

Mr. Stylianidis: For a long time, Greece was a European island in the midst of the Balkan Peninsula. We do not want to be an island any longer and this is why we support the countries around us to participate in the E.U.

Greece supports the European perspective of Bulgaria, Romania, the Western Balkans and naturally Turkey. We strongly believe that only if all countries of the region could start working according to the rules of the "acquis communautaire", will they have the opportunity to overcome their difficulties and build their democratic and economic development on solid foundations.

The Greek economy is certainly benefiting from this trade network. The average growth in exports from 2000-2004 in this region was 1.12%. Between the years 2004 and 2005, an increase of 10.16% in Greek exports in the area has been remarked.

PM Communications: How would you promote Greece as an ideal investment destination?

Mr. Stylianidis: We have a different philosophy vis-à-vis the previous Greek Government. We are not trying to convince foreign investors to come to Greece to invest to a local market of 11 million consumers. Instead, we are promoting Greece as a business centre for the whole region. We say to our partners and friends in the West that they can and should invest in the East. Fore instance, British investors can use Greece as their strategic centre in the region, using our research capabilities, our infrastructure, our technology, our experience and our highly educated and skilful workforce, while at the same time Greece herself expects to benefit from the comparative advantage of the Balkan market in terms of low cost of materials, labour and low taxation. We promote the Balkans as a unified market which is ripe to receive investments, and emphasise the massive potential for development in the Black Sea, Turkey and the Eastern Mediterranean.

Another comparative advantage of Greece is her infrastructure. The Olympic Games were a great advertisement for the country in this sense. For instance, we have now completed Via Egnatia, which links all Italian ports in the Adriatic Sea with Istanbul, through Greece. The road connecting Igoumenitsa with Albania, the roads from Thessaloniki to Sofia, from Alexandropoulis to Bulgaria, are all in place. The decision to connect the ports of Thessaloniki, Kavala and Alexandropoulis with the ports in countries in the Black Sea area was taken during Greece's recent Chairmanship of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC).

Greece's competitive advantages do not cease here. Stability and security, as proved during the Olympic Games - prerequisites for successful business activities, are two more important factors the business community has to factor in. Stability means law enforcement, transparency, modern and pioneer laws and a new stable taxation system. Security means that Greece boasts one of the lowest crime records in Europe, already very low internationally.

Another comparative advantage of the Greek market is that companies can have access to special European financial programmes designed to assist new investors in the area.

Most probably, the most important advantage that Greece possesses is its close political relation with the countries of the area. Greek people understand the mentality of the peoples of our region and know how to communicate and do business with them. We are familiar with and for centuries integrated in this environment, which is naturally a key element when doing business in our area. For example, Greeks coming from the Black Sea may have a good network in the market of their origin. The Muslim minority of Thrace provides a stable bridge of cooperation with the Turkish markets. Nowadays, Greek universities even have faculties specialised in these markets, as for instance faculties of Balkan, Black Sea, Turkish and Mediterranean studies. The graduate students of these institutions acquire a very deep knowledge of their domain and to foreign investors who wish to do business in these difficult and often unchartered markets they may prove extremely useful as collaborators or partners.

As far as the energy sector is concerned, we are very active in building a new energy network in the Black Sea area which may be of importance to foreign investors. Once the project linking Azerbaidzan, Georgia, Turkey, Greece and Italy is completed, we will be able to provide significant quantities of natural gas from the Caspian and Central Asia to the high-consumption markets of Western Europe. Domestically, we are developing alternative sources of energy, as hydropower and solar energy. Thus, a constant supply of low-cost energy is available to foreign investors doing business in Greece.

The Turkish market is another market where Greek business is very active; the current political environment helped a lot. We strongly support the European perspective of Turkey, which, although not without its own difficulties, follows a reasonable and realistic strategy. The first economic results vis-à-vis Turkey can be seen: an increase of Greek exports to Turkey, increase of 23%, has already been attested. I am convinced that bilateral political relations can greatly benefit from a close economic cooperation between our two countries. I believe that trade is the best way to destroy nationalism and fundamentalism. It may not solve all the problems by itself, but it will definitely become a strong weapon to this end.

We hope that Turkey will take all the required steps in order to improve its political environment and fully participate in the European family. As you know, this country will have to fulfil all preconditions set to it by the European Union, in order to proceed and finalise all 35 EU Chapters.

It is my sincere hope that Turkey will adopt all the necessary domestic reforms, in order to join the Union.

PM Communications: You will be attending the BHCC conference "Greece - Your Strategic Partner for Investment in South East Europe" in March next year. What are your expectations for this event?

Mr. Stylianidis: Our first target is to promote the new image of Greece in the post-Olympic era. By hosting successful Olympic Games, Greece has proved her capabilities in many different levels. We realise that we can further promote and advertise our achievements and capitalize on the positive advertisement of my country. After all, so much time and effort has been spent for these Games that I would consider it foolish not to try to capitalize on it. The only way to achieve this is by promoting internationally Greece's first-class facilities, infrastructure, as well as our modern law system. I think that we should send the message that there is a new mentality in Greece, a new generation of politicians and businessmen.

Our second priority is to highlight our national strategy, compatible with the European strategy and the national strategies of Member States. I believe that if foreign investors explore the possibilities to invest in our area, then the safest way to do so is by using the Greek experience and networks. It is a true fact that sometimes, when a big company tries to invest in a smaller country, it is faced with some kind of suspicion and mistrust from the local society. Greek investments are welcome in the Balkan countries and an investment from a big company through Greece may prove more beneficial both for the investor and for the recipient country.

Greece's access to the Mediterranean area is also notable, especially to the Arab countries. With the latter, Greece has been maintaining the best of ties for centuries, as the Greeks who used to live in these countries up until the '60's and the '70's became the natural and friendly bridge uniting the Arab countries with Greece. I therefore believe that foreign companies wishing to establish themselves in Arab countries can also use our networks and experience.

PM Communications: You mentioned the new generation of politicians and businessmen in Greece. Nowhere is this better symbolised than by the dynamic private sector. What is your evaluation of the work they are doing, in particular the banks, in terms of attracting foreign investment?

Mr. Stylianidis: Although Greek banks have been modernised, they are understandably going forward with a more conservative pace than any other business. In our case, it has been observed that the Greek business community has paved the way, in a bold and pioneer way, to establish themselves in our immediate region (Balkans, Black Sea) to be followed by the banks.

When the aim is to establish a presence in a foreign country, this aim can be promoted in various levels. The first step is to establish healthy bilateral political relations with the Government of the country in question. The second is to establish strong and steady institutional relations through intergovernmental meetings; collaboration between representatives of different Ministries is also helpful. Every company wishing to export or invest abroad seeks to find a secure and stable environment and the only guarantee for security and stability are our bilateral agreements. It is the obligation of the political leadership of each country to protect the free market economy and the business representatives of their own country when they venture abroad.

Organising business forums and participating in thematic expositions is also a good practice to promote business abroad. As far as we are concerned, I think that we have achieved remarkable results in this field. In September 2005 I visited Russia accompanied by 170 representatives of the strongest and healthiest Greek companies active in Russia or wishing to do business in this country. Our people in the Embassy managed to prepare over 500 meetings with Russian business people and we could see their financial outcome on the spot. Our effort is to promote the principles and values of democracy in any country we visit.

PM Communications: Mr. Stylianidis, as the youngest minister in the cabinet, what aspect of your responsibilities has given you the greatest satisfaction?

Mr. Stylianidis: I am responsible for two different fields. The first covers the economic diplomacy and the second the development and humanitarian aid. Both fields form an integral part of our foreign policy; as a young politician, I am proud to be able to promote the universal principles that have sprang from my country, such as democratic governance, rule of law etc, when I represent Greece abroad. For instance, when I travel to an African country or to our Balkan neighbourhood, I try not only to promote business, but also the principles of democracy, cooperation, stability and respect for human rights. I then realise that I am not just a politician but also a representative of my country's history and tradition, surprisingly alive as ever.

The fact that Greece has never been a major power makes people more open to us and willing to hear our message. It is a matter of sensitivity. If the European family takes also into account this important factor, all developing countries and their societies will be better and more equitably served. Our development and humanitarian assistance is always channelled to countries in need without financial or other economic ulterior motives and with utmost respect to the individual's dignity.

Our cultural links extend as far as Pakistan and Afghanistan, India and China. When Greek humanitarian aid recently arrived in a small Pakistani village destroyed by the devastating earthquake of last November, the local people expressed their respect for Greece and Alexander the Great ad they used the ancient Macedonian dialect! Our humanitarian assistance is primarily channelled to cover basic needs of the population (schools, hospitals etc), in a constant effort to improve the people's standard of living, while at the same time trying to eradicate fanatical and fundamentalist views and avoid clashes of civilisations.

PM Communications: Looking specifically at the UK, what potential synergies and commercial opportunities would you highlight to the potential investors amongst our readers?

Mr. Stylianidis: There are traditional ties between the British and the Greek business communities. One of the greatest leaders of the modern Greek nation, Eleftherios Venizelos, was the one who established really close links with Britain, using as foundation the fact that both our countries are maritime nations. Thanks to Venizelos' political legacy and Britain's close cultural ties with Greece and many Britons' affinity to my country, we forged an exceptionally strong alliance with Britain during the 1st and 2nd World Wars. Our two maritime communities have always worked closely together. The very essence of our nation's psyche is trade and this is a wonderful tradition which should be maintained and further developed.

Tourism is undoubtedly another potential synergy for British investors in Greece; and let's not forget that Britons consider Greece as their top tourist destination.

I'm certain that we can find many sectors where we could work together and make a wonderful progress. It is my honest belief that our peoples' ties are rooted on solid ground. It is in our hands to promote this relationship even further.