Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis participated on Monday evening in a conversation with Neil Rimer, co-founder of Index Ventures, at an event organised by Endeavor Greece and entitled “Greece and the world of 2024”.
Referring to the prospects of the Greek economy and asked about the Economist magazine’s choice to rank Greece the best performing economy for 2023, the Prime Minister noted:
“We know that it’s good to break out of a vicious cycle, and enter a virtuous cycle. But there’s no room for complacency. We still have a lot of ground to cover. People always tend to forget the tremendous cost that we had to pay as a result of the financial crisis. We lost a quarter of our GDP. We’re still not back to the levels we had reached before essentially the country went bankrupt. We know we need to run and we need to seize the opportunities.
But I think that we will continue to maintain growth rates which are significantly higher than the rest of the eurozone. We will continue to bring down our debt as a percentage of GDP. We know we have to run a tight ship because the era of lax fiscal policy is over, so we know we need to produce primary surpluses. But I think we have demonstrated that you can grow the economy, lower taxes, and maintain fiscal discipline at the same time. Many people thought this was not doable”.
“It was a very pleasant surprise that the Economist ranked us the best performing economy, the best performing market of all the OECD countries, looking at various indices. I think it is an important confirmation of the important job we’ve done in terms of transforming the Greek economy and putting it on a sustainable growth path, while at the same time making sure that we manage the public finances in a responsible manner. Of course, I think part of the success of the Greek economy is also related to the fact that we’ve been able to diversify away from sectors, which continue to be very important, of course, for Greek growth, such as tourism, and into new sectors.
I think that the startup ecosystem and the investment that we’ve made in new technologies is an important contributor towards us changing the productive model of the Greek economy. When I look at the headline figures, yes, the growth rate is of course very important, but I’m more concerned with the reduction in unemployment, the rise in the average wage, and of course, the fact that the Greek economy has become much more extroverted over the past years. Exports constitute 50% of our GDP, equally split between goods and services. I think this is probably the best indicator that our strategy is actually working. I think we’re just at the beginning”.
On the potential of Greek start-ups, the advantages offered by the country and the policies to support innovation, Kyriakos Mitsotakis underlined:
“There is already an existing ecosystem. So, most of the pieces are in place, just in terms of the community of people who are active in the entrepreneurial ecosystem. We’ve changed laws and regulations to make it easier for people to return to Greece with specific tax breaks. Our stock options scheme I think made a big difference in terms of aligning our tax regime with what essentially is common practice in the startup world. Regulation has, to a great extent, been simplified. It’s easy to set up a company in Greece. The digital state is helping a lot in terms of the interaction between companies and the bureaucracy. We are still not there yet, but it’s much easier to set up a business in Greece today.
But if you look at what is our comparative advantage, I think to a great extent it is our talent pool and the fact that, in spite of the difficulties, we have a good public university system that produces eager graduates who are much more knowledgeable about the opportunities of employment in the startup world. Of course, I think you cannot beat the quality of life argument, which is very important. We saw it during the pandemic, with digital nomads resettling in Greece. At a time when you can work out of anywhere, if you have good connectivity, these factors are becoming increasingly important.
What I find fascinating is that you see technology clusters developing not just in Athens, or Thessaloniki, but in cities such as Ioannina, for example, or Patra, or Irakleio. This is in itself a very, very interesting development. Of course, it’s no coincidence that these ecosystems are usually attached to good quality universities. Of course, another advantage that Greece has is its diaspora”.
On the use of artificial intelligence and the role that Greece can play in this field, the Prime Minister stated:
“That’s the point of the committee we set up. I think the brief that I gave a group of very talented people was very straightforward. First of all, how can we use AI to make public policy better and which are the areas that can actually be transformed by AI? We just introduced our AI chatbot for gov.gr. I’m surprised by how articulate and polite it is when you ask clearly provocative questions, which I’m sure you’ve all tried to do. But it gives you a very good indication of the real capabilities of these large language models to further simplify an interaction between the state, citizens, and businesses.
But of course, the opportunities are numerous, from tackling tax evasion to applications related to civil protection and early fire detection. The point is, let’s look at those policy areas that can actually be transformed by AI and let us try to run pilots and implement this cutting edge technology to deliver better public policy results”.