“Greece creates significant opportunities for economic co-development and cooperation in the wider region”

Speech at the 2nd Euro-Arab Summit "Towards a Solid Alliance"

Mr. President, Prime Minister, Vice-President, Honorable Ministers, ladies and gentlemen, I am very pleased to be attending the second Euro-Arab Summit today.

I would like to thank the organizers, the Al-iktisat publications, the Delphi Economic Forum and, of course, Mr. Houri and the CCC construction group, which has been operating for decades as Greece is a springboard, offering a lot to the country.

And, of course, I would like to point out that this year’s success is guaranteed before the Summit even begins. And this is obvious not only due to the attending parties and the interest, but I would also say due to our psychological state. Because last year in this place we had the feeling, we hoped and anticipated that Greece will slowly emerge from the deep crisis, now we are certain. The certainty not only evidenced by the figures but also by the great investment interest. And the certainty not only of the recovery but of the fact that Greece as a country, despite the great crisis it survived these recent years, remains in the heart of Europe and always, of course, in a crucial location on the world map, at the meeting point of three continents and different cultures, Greece is not only a critical geopolitical country today but also a particularly attractive investment destination.

Greece creates significant opportunities for the next day’s economic co-development and cooperation in the wider region. And at the same time, it plays an important role as a factor of peace and stability.

In this sense, it is of particular importance that this great investment opportunity, which important economic factors from all over the world are rushing to exploit, but primarily the traditional partners of the country should rush to take advantage, the partners with historical relations in the wider region and, of course, I am referring to the historical relations between Greece and the Arab world, which, of course, over the years, these relations have been particularly crucial for both Greece and the Arab world, and now we have an opportunity. Now, it’s the time to change the perspective by investing in both the present and the future.

Today’s Summit, my friends, I believe that reveals new horizons. New horizons opening when the state cooperates with valuable partners from the private sector and civil society. It is a Summit which is gradually being established as a central initiative to strengthen the Euro-Arab dialogue and our economic cooperation in the wider region.

I think this is mainly the case for two reasons:

Firstly, because today – more than ever – we have the need for dialogue, we need a framework of dialogue that will lay new foundation for the Euro-Arab relations.

And secondly, because Greece – for geopolitical and historical reasons – as I explained earlier, is the best springboard for this dialogue and the upgrading of our cooperation.

The Euro-Arab Summit this year is being held, in a new era – I would say – in a new era for Europe, but also for the Arab world and for Europe’s relations with it.

In Europe, we see the European Union making the efforts to regain its pace after eight years of economic crisis, following the biggest refugee crisis that we have faced.

The biggest since the end of the Second World War and we still try to manage this today, because despite the developments in the region, the crisis in Syria still remains.

But Europe is also trying to find its way after the big shock caused by the British referendum and the Brexit, and a series of extremely painful terror attacks during the previous period.

Therefore, it is clear now that many of the great challenges we face in Europe can only be addressed through an integrated policy for the Mediterranean and by strengthening Europe’s relations with the Arab world. After all, the history of the European and Arab peoples demonstrates how interdependent our destiny is.

In this context, I believe that we need to work even closer. To work in order to establish peace, stability, and address together the current risks and challenges, such as terrorism, as well as the effective management of refugee and migratory flows, to tackle the global threat that is the climate change. And of course, to establish our cooperation on the sectors of economy, energy, culture and tourism, where huge new opportunities open up for our region.

In general, I would say that it becomes clear that the EU can only upgrade its international role if it cooperates with the Arab world for peace and stability in Syria, Iraq, Libya, and Yemen. Critical areas where conflicts are ongoing, and the EU must play a decisive role in working together with the Arab world to consolidate peace and stability with determination, but with respect to International Law and always learning from its mistakes, the mistakes of the past.

And of course, at this point I would like to emphasize that it is clear that the EU should support the rapid resumption of credible talks on the Palestinian issue aiming to a fair solution on the basis of two states that will coexist in a secure environment. The establishment of an independent, viable Palestinian state on the basis of the 1967 borders and the East Jerusalem as its capital. A position that the Greek side has consistently expressed.

At the same time, I believe that it is imperative that we all strive to preserve religious and cultural pluralism in the Middle East, knowing how important this is, not only for the Middle East but for the whole of Europe. And of course, how important the protection of pluralism is in Europe itself – where millions of Arabs live – against, of course, the unfortunately assisted voices of extreme right, racism and Islamophobia, which for other reasons have emerged in Europe in recent years. For reasons that have to do with Europe’s inability to ensure prosperity to its citizens. This is why these voices are amplified. These voices from the ends of the political spectrum. However, these voices are dangerous for Europe as well as for preserving the most important element, the value of multiculturalism and pluralism.

In this wider context, friends, I would like to point out that Greece plays an extremely important role within the EU and in this critical region:

– a country with strong ties, cultural, economic, diplomatic, historical ties with the Arab world

– the only Eurozone and NATO country at this crucial crossroads of Europe, North Africa and the Middle East,

– the founder of the Southern European Summit, as well as other critical regional initiatives, such as the 2nd International Conference on “Religious and Cultural Pluralism and Peaceful Coexistence in the Middle East” held this year in Greece or the Rhodes Conference for Safety, critical initiatives that Greece has undertaken in recent years, but also

–  a country – and I want to repeat this because it is very important – which, in a destabilized wider region, is a pillar of stability and security and promotes bilateral cooperation – or with Cyprus, tripartite and multilateral – with critical countries in the region, such as Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine and other Arab countries.

– but also a country that struggled and fights every day for the support and dignity of the hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants from the Middle East who have entered our country, of course, with the goal to go to the countries of Central Europe. But, we must not forget that at this time there are tens of thousands of refugees in Greece, who enjoy a very hospitable treatment in the hinterland.

– and, of course, do not forget, that is a country that is gaining an increasingly powerful economic role in the wider region.

And I will return to the point from where I started my speech, that the second Summit is being held at a time when Greece makes it clear that has crossed the Rubicon of the crisis. It makes it clear that it is in a new era. And this is not reflected, of course, only by the investment interest that I have just pointed out, but also by the numbers, statistics, figures, which show that after seven years of deep recession which unfortunately cost the ¼ of the country’s GDP, as it shrunk, today the rate of its recovery is estimated at 25%. In 2017, the growth rate is expected to be close to 2%. In 2018 forecasts predict close to 2.5%. These growth rates are extremely high, not only compared to past years in Greece, which were years of deep recession, but also in comparison with the rest of the Eurozone. And we must not ignore the fact that in recent years we have consistently achieved budgetary targets and high primary surpluses for two consecutive years, exceeding, not just succeeding, but exceeding the budgetary objectives of the program by far, which gives us this year the second consecutive year, the opportunity to offer the social dividend as a return with the aspect of social redistribution.

Investments increased by 11.2% in the first quarter of 2017 and our exports increased by 15% in the first eight months of 2017. At the same time, the tourism sector is steadily increasing and is expected to exceed 30 million tourists visiting Greece this year aiming to exceed 35 million in 2021.

The successive upgrades in our credit rating, the rapid decline in bond yields – which are now approaching pre-crisis levels – the exit from the excessive deficit procedure from the side of the European Commission and the successful exit to markets last July – these clearly mark the recovery of our economy, which I described just before.

Allow me, however, to express our logic which is not only to deal with the crisis, not only to achieve certain significant economic results, to improve some indicators, to achieve positive growth rates, which are conjuncture. Our logic and our goal is to overcome, the crisis, of course, but also the economic model that led us to it.

And that is why we are trying, we are making a titanic effort, a difficult task to correct the wrong-doings, to proceed with structural reforms, to create a healthy environment for entrepreneurship and to attract investment. For example, we drastically reduce the time for business and investment licensing, we stabilize tax rates for significant investment over time and we certainly tackle effectively the issues of smuggling, tax evasion, wastage in the public sector, we proceed with major reforms in the public sector to deal with the big scourge of bureaucracy. Reforms which, of course, we all know will bear fruit over time – some issues need time. However, reforms are necessary, for which we had the courage to collide with interests and we carried on.

I must also point out that, in order to reinforce serious investment efforts, to create a positive and friendly climate for entrepreneurship and investment in Greece, I have set up a Task Force, under my supervision and its role is to keep track of major investment projects, facilitate investors, and tackle the bureaucracy problems that arise during the investment effort.

And I must admit that significant investments, which their implementation had significant problems in the past, are already progressing. And, of course, including large projects involving large Arab companies, have advanced. For example, Asteras Vouliagmeni, Elliniko, that we are constantly following the course of this great project.

In this context, Greece is being established, I would say, gradually, as a dynamic economy with highly skilled human resources and as an important regional hub of energy, commerce, transport and telecommunications. And, of course, I refer to the major projects such as the TAP, IGB, Vertical Corridor, East Med, the development of the Floating Storage Regasification Unit, FSRU in Alexandroupolis, which a few days ago we agreed to promote to USA, the Eurasia Interconnector, joining Crete with Cyprus and the Middle East and, in long-term, I would say, the Eurafrica Interconnector.

The agreements we have made for railway links with Belgrade and the Black Sea, the railway Egnatia, the Thessaloniki-Smyrna coastal connection and, of course, the upgrading of our harbors to major transit centers.

Therefore, we welcome the many business delegations from the Arab world that recognize the important opportunities that Greece offers as they have proven it before, because it is not their first time here. It is the second Summit, but they, also, operated here in Greece, even during the difficult times of the crisis, and we owe to recognize this.

We therefore welcome you today and, at the same time, we also recognize your significant contribution to Greece’s effort to exit the crisis and recover. We welcome the business delegations from the Arab world, who recognize the important opportunities that Greece offers in the real estate and tourism, agro-food, shipping, infrastructure and construction, energy and telecommunications sectors.

Greece is, indeed, entering a new era with significant opportunities.

I urge you to take advantage of this momentum, this great change, in order to come together, to lay the foundations for a new vision of Greek-Arab and Euro-Arab, in general, economic cooperation.

Do not forget, Greece has always been a crossroads of civilizations and a bridge. Bridge between Europe and the Middle East.

It will continue as a pillar of stability and security as a hub of economic cooperation and cultural exchanges and as a center of diplomatic and scientific dialogue on the future of the region.

Thank you very much and I wish good luck in the work of the Summit.