Greece as a Strategic Partner of the US in Southeast Europe and the Eastern Mediterranean

Address at Chicago Council on Global Affairs

Mr President of the Board of Directors,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

I would like to warmly thank you for the opportunity to speak here today. Chicago is an exciting place for us Greeks. First of all, we have a vibrant Greek-American community, that we look with pride to. A community that brings out the best qualities of our two nations: Entrepreneurship, dynamism, confidence, standing strong when things get tough. And, having both respect for history, and the will to define it.

Secondly, Chicago is a dynamic, extrovert city, that manages to be at the forefront of innovation and new technologies, while at the same time trying to protect those most vulnerable to the pressures of globalization. And there is a lot to be learned here, in order to enhance our efforts to promote sustainable and inclusive growth in Greece.

In general, I would say that the best moments in our common history, were those where we managed to inspire each other. The founding fathers looked to Ancient Greek democracy for inspiration and we looked to the American War of Independence when the time came to rise up against our oppressors.

Again and again when I speak to Americans living in Greece, today, I hear the same message: This is the best moment in Greek American relations, after the Second Word War. A time when we fought side by side against fascism.

I believe strongly that a big part of this, was because of American support, throughout our very difficult years of crisis.

Support on the basis of mutual respect. Support that was highlighted by President Obama’s visit to Greece last December and is underlined by my invitation to meet President Trump tomorrow.

Today, Greece is finally coming out of a severe, deep recession that lasted more than 7 five years, cost a quarter of its GDP, resulted in 27% unemployment and led to an enormous brain drain of our most qualified young professionals.

A recession that was combined by the biggest refugee flows ever seen in Europe, since the Second World War, coming to our doorstep. The Greek people worked hard, they sacrificed and at the same time they improved for the better. And they refused to go back on their principles.

Whether that meant fighting back on our economic program negotiations or protecting people that needed it the most.

And today, we stand strong. Greece is back.

Leaving behind, not only the crisis, but also the economic model that led us to it. The practices of the past that contributed to inefficiency and corruption. Hostile not only to foreign investors but also to Greek citizens.

Our recovery is not based on returning to the past, but on new, solid foundations:

  • The economy has grown for two consecutive semesters and the forecast of growth for 2017 is 2% of GDP and 2,4% in 2018
  • We managed to outperform the targets for primary surpluses in the last two years and this trend will continue this year as well.
  • We have already had the first successful attempt to refinance our debt through the capital markets and we build our reputation day by day.
  • The Industrial Production Index is up 6% in the first half of 2017 compared to 2016.
  • Investments are up 11.2% for the first quarter of 2017.
  • Exports are up 15% in the first 8 months of 2017. And let me just add that Greece has nearly doubled its exports to the US; than vice versa.
  • Tourism has increased by 5 million in the last three years and expected to reach 35 million in 2021.
  • Most importantly, the Unemployment Rate has decreased 5,4% between 2014-2017 and will be down 7,4% by next year.

Of course, all this did not happen by accident.

We applied a very demanding package of reforms (over 400 actions) in our tax system, product markets, judicial system, health and social care and energy sector, as well as the business environment.

And we made sure legislation was enforced. Because we believe that only the good application of a good legislation can remedy a situation.

Our goal is to move ahead with a new, sustainable growth model that gives priority to innovation, is export – oriented, investment-friendly, makes full utilization of our highly skilled human capital and is socially just.

But let me highlight some of the reforms that could make this goal possible:

  • The 2016 investment-incentives law which aims to generate more than 13 billion dollars in private investment by 2023 by providing incentives and predictability to the private sector (including through a stable corporate-income tax-rate for 12 years).
  • The Fast Track procedure for strategic investments.
  • The high absorption of EU Structural Funds in the period 2014-2020, where Greece ranks first in EU co-financed investment projects.
  • The cooperation with international financial institutions in order to increase liquidity and ease investment financing.
  • The creation of a new state development bank in 2018.
  • The acceleration of the investment agenda through the establishment of the Hellenic Corporation of Assets and Participations (HCAP).
  • Further ease of investment licensing procedures in cooperation with the World Bank.
  • Solid steps to strengthen the Greek banking system which was recently recapitalized, and is now highly performing in terms of capital adequacy.
  • The promotion of a stategy on fighting unemployment.
  • The reform to combat bureaucracy with full digitalization of the public administration. Soon, digital communication will be the main means of communication with the public administration.

This effort in the economy constitutes a solid basis for our broader goal of enhancing our role as an economic hub and a pillar of stability and security in our region.

And this is exactly where the future of the Greek-American strategic relationship lies. It is not only diplomatic, nor only economic. It is a relationship of great geo-strategic importance given the location of Greece at the crossroads of three continents, as well as the growing instability in our region.

First of all, Greece is the only country that has promoted a comprehensive active diplomatic agenda for stability and cooperation in one of the most important but also unstable regions in the world.

  • It is a long time EU and NATO member, and one of the few that fulfills its obligations in terms of military expenditure and international antiterrorism operations.
  • Greece promotes a strong defence cooperation with the United States including in the crucial base of Souda Bay, through valuable and reliable air and naval facilities.
  • It has an active policy of resolving the Cyprus issue on the basis of a fair and viable solution outlined in UN Security Council Resolutions.
  • Greece has an active policy of dialogue and engagement with Turkey in order to keep it looking to the West. It resolutely protects its sovereign rights in the Aegean against illegal Turkish claims and provocations, while retaining self-restraint and encouraging dialogue.
  • It has an active policy of resolving the name issue with FYROM on the basis of a mutually agreed solution, in order to open the path for the country’s Euroatlantic perspective.
  • It promotes strong bilateral and trilateral (with Cyprus) cooperation with Israel, Egypt, Lebanon, Palestine and Jordan.
  • And carries out important military exercises with US-Israel-United Arab Emirates in the Mediterranean.
  • Greece was crucial in establishing the Southern EU countries Summit
  • It established strong multilateral initiatives with Balkan Countries, including with Serbia and Bulgaria.
  • And it is instrumental to revitalizing the European perspective of the region.
  • It established regional initiatives such as the Rhodes Conference promoting security in the broader region, or initiative for the protection of religious minorities in the Middle East.

At the same time, Greece – already a global power in tourism and shipping- is rapidly strengthening its role as an energy and transport hub:

  • Through the delivery of Caspian gas using the Transadriatic Pipeline, the IGB and the Vertical Corridor.
  • Through expanding the LNG terminal in Revythoussa, establishing an Floating Storage Regasification Unit (FSRU) in Alexandroupolis and procuring additional gas imports from the United States.
  • And I want to add the fact that Greece is the second country that opens the way to shale gas imports in Europe.
  • Through developing the EastMed pipeline for importing Israeli and Cypriot natural gas and the Eurasia Interconnector project linking Greece-Cyprus-Israel in an electricity grid.
  • Through new offshore hydrocarbon tenders in Crete and the Ionian in which American companies are active.
  • Through talks with Turkey on a new Russian gas pipeline.
  • Through following the successful privatizations of the ports of Piraeus and Thessaloniki with a view to developing them into regional logistics hubs, connected to road and railroad networks.

I believe strongly, that this is the moment for further enhancing the Greek-American strategic partnership, looking to the future. And this cooperation must focus on three fields:

First, it must focus on American investments in Greece particularly in the fields of tourism and real estate, energy, infrastructure, new technology, agribusiness and the financial sector. This includes important joint ventures in third countries like the one General Electric recently concluded in Libya together with a Greek company.

And there is a profound symbolism in the fact that, next September, when eight years of three successive adjustment programs will have just ended, the United States will be the country of honor at Southeastern Europe’s largest business and trade expo – at the Thessaloniki International Fair. This should be and will be the landmark of the Greek-US economic and strategic partnership.

Secondly, the recognition, from the American side, that Greece can only remain the regional pillar of stability and security if its most fundamental security concerns in the Aegean and the Eastern Mediterranean are met.

Either on the level of diplomacy or military procurement or both. As a leftist, I prefer the first rather than the other two.

We, Greeks, are a friendly nation, a people fight for our values and principles; we are a pillar of stability, peace, and security. I am the first Greek Prime Minister that visited Turkey three times in less than a year at an extremely difficult time for our bilateral relations. And I believe strongly in retaining Turkey’s European perspective.

Nevertheless, I refuse to believe that our peoples can have a healthy future when tens of Turkish aircraft violate Greek national airspace on a daily basis and risk accidents because of increased dogfights.

And I refuse to believe that the people of a united Republic of Cyprus can have a future in this day and age, if their security is guaranteed by a third country with the right of military intervention.

With those thoughts in mind, I once again thank you for this opportunity and I look forward to your questions.