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The Warsaw Voice » National Voice » June 27, 2013
Grece in Poland
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Getting Back on Track
June 27, 2013   
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Tasia Athanasiou, ambassador of Greece to Poland, talks to Ewa Hancock.

Has Greece bounced back from its financial, economic and social crisis?
Undoubtedly, Greece was hit harder by the crisis than any other EU country and many analysts were deeming the so-called “Grexit” inevitable. Today, however, thanks to many painful but necessary measures implemented by the Greek government, this risk is significantly reduced and the Greek economy is getting back on track. On the domestic front, pessimistic expectations have dissipated considerably and confidence is improving, resulting in a reversal of the downward trend in deposits. Abroad, the climate is also turning around. The changed climate is reflected in a sharp narrowing of the yield spread between Greek and German 10-year government bonds. In the fiscal domain, the deficit reduction has been remarkable. Between 2009 and 2012, both the general government deficit and the corresponding primary deficit were reduced by 9 percentage points of GDP, while the fall in the structural deficit, at 15 percentage points, was even larger. What is more, the general government primary balance is expected to move to a surplus this year. Regarding the external sector, the current-account deficit shrank to 2.9 percent of GDP in 2012, down from a peak of almost 15 percent in 2008. More importantly, between 2010 and 2012, Greece recovered more than 75 percent of the loss in cost competitiveness incurred over the 2001-2009 period. Also, exports have increased. In fact, in 2012 Greece had the highest year-on-year growth in the export of goods among euro-area countries. Finally, we are looking to a significant boost from the tourism sector, since we are expecting more than 17 million tourists to visit our country this year.

How would you assess the European Union’s role in coping with the crisis?
The crisis that hit mainly countries in southern Europe was unique and unexpected and proved that the EU lacked the necessary experience and institutions to tackle it. However, the EU took a series of measures to support the crises-stricken countries and created frameworks and institutions in order to be more prompt in its reactions and more efficient in tackling similar situations in the future.

What is the Greek people’s attitude to the European Union right now and how do they see its future development?
It’s true that there is a sentiment of bitterness within a certain segment of Greek society that has suffered more from the crisis and the structural reforms implemented to tackle it. Even now there is a lot of discussion about whether it is worth staying in the eurozone. However, there is a widespread feeling among the Greeks that there is no real alternative to being a member of the European family and eurozone in particular. Greek society realizes that the recession was mainly caused by a lack of fiscal consolidation and lower competitiveness. And these are the problems we strive to correct. The idea is not to demonize the EU institutions and their performance, but how to make them more efficient in tackling the problems that many EU countries still face.

What is the current state of Polish-Greek relations and what’s their potential for growth? In what areas are the two countries particularly attractive to each other?
Greece’s political relations with Poland have traditionally been good and close, since both countries share the same democratic principles and respect the same values, as EU and NATO member states. Our cooperation is being enhanced continuously and there is a growing number of bilateral visits by officials. As we speak, the possibility of an official visit to Warsaw by Greece’s President Karolos Papoulias is being explored.

Our economic relations also look good. Greek-Polish bilateral trade and economic relations have been growing steadily for the past 20 years, especially since Poland’s accession to the EU in 2004. According to the Greek statistics office, in 2012 the volume of bilateral trade was at 627 million euros, while Greek exports to Poland stood at 274 million euros. Poland ranked 13th among our export markets in Europe and 23rd worldwide. Also in 2012, the value of Polish exports to Greece amounted to 353 million euros, which makes Poland Greece’s 13th most important import market in Europe and 25th worldwide.

The growing and promising trade relations are complemented by Greek investment in Poland. There are 45 Polish companies with Greek capital in Poland, with the outward FDI stock of over 800 million euros. Greek-owned companies employ some 3,000 people in Poland. Some of the best-known examples are Play in the mobile telephony sector, Coca Cola HBC in the bottling industry, Chipita in the food industry, Totolotek in betting, Mellon and Mantis in the IT sector, and Terna in wind farms. However, the level of Polish investment in Greece is not as high as we would wish. A rough estimate puts Polish outward FDI stock in Greece at a mere 3 million euros. There is clearly room for improvement here, mostly in the energy, tourism and real estate industries, while also bearing in mind that a very ambitious privatization program is currently being implemented in Greece.

Another important aspect of our relations, tourism, is an area we can be proud of. Anywhere from 250,000 to 400,000 tourists from Poland visit Greece every year. Greece steadily ranks among the top four tourist destinations among Polish travelers and is currently number one as regards charter flights. We are particularly glad that Aegean Airlines recently decided to include Warsaw in its flight schedule.

How would you describe the state of the Greek tourism industry this summer?
Tourism is the country’s heavy industry. During the last three years, despite the crisis, tourism continued to contribute over 15 percent of Greece’s GDP. In both 2011 and 2012 there were more than 16 million international tourist arrivals, and preliminary data suggest that this year’s arrivals are likely to reach 17 million. In this sense, I would say that Greece remains one of Europe’s favorite holiday destinations, as a result of factors including the competitive prices that one may now find in Greece, the landscape diversity, the excellent facilities, the superb food and the renowned hospitality of the Greek people. With regard to Polish visitors, I would like to draw your attention to data recently released by the Polish Tour Operators Association (PZOT). Almost 90 percent of Polish tourists prefer charter flights. According to PZOT data for the first 23 weeks of 2013 (that is until the end of May), bookings for Greek destinations, such as Heraclion, Rhodes, Corfu, Zante, Chania and Kos, made up about 19.8 percent of all charter flight bookings. Greece ranks first, for the first time in recent years, ahead of other very popular destinations. Taking this into account, there is a good chance that more than 350,000 Poles will visit Greece this year, compared to 255,000 in 2012.
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