Interview with Mrs Natalia Maria Karageorgou, the Ambassador of Greece
Greece’s economy is rebounding at a stronger-than-expected pace. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects on the world economy, Greece’s GDP grew by 8.3% in 2021 and is expected to grow by at least 4.9% this year.
Through a combination of Greek government and European Union support, the Greek economy is well positioned for further recovery. The country’s positive prospects also reflect the far-reaching reforms Greece has undertaken over the last 10 years.
This means that Greece offers highly rewarding prospects in a variety of key economic sectors, from tourism and agribusiness, long the backbone of the Greek economy, to emerging sectors like tech, life sciences, logistics, green energy, and the creative industries.
Which kinds of business opportunities are there for Finnish companies in Greece in these or other sectors?
The recent foreign investment activity shows that Greece offers a unique investment proposition, combining the advantages of a developed country, with the opportunities for growth usually associated with emerging economies.
Greece has attracted growing international investor interest, particularly in the areas of innovation, technology and all sectors of real estate from hospitality to commercial, residential and industrial. Tech & innovation is a Finnish strength and Greece offers interesting possibilities for synergies and collaborations. In tourism, ongoing privatizations offer opportunities for developing projects from sun & sea facilities to spas and ski resorts, including conference facilities.
Expansion of production capabilities in both foods and pharmaceuticals is also attracting increasing investment at the moment. And both industries have further room to grow, on the strength of robust export activity. Greek exports increased even during the pandemic and rose almost 30% in 2021.
However, all active business sectors in Greece currently show potential for growth and are attracting investor interest.
Specific sectors include:
Tourism & Real Estate
Food & Beverage / Agribusiness
Energy & Clean Technologies
Logistics & Supply Chain
Export-oriented manufacturing and assembling facilities for EU certified products
Information & Communications Technologies
Life Sciences & Pharmaceuticals
Shared Service Centers – Business Process Operations
Cultural and Creative Industries
There is also investment opportunities in:
Privatization of state-owned assets (e.g. state-owned companies, concessions)
Alternative Investment Funds / Real Estate Investment Corporations
Infrastructure / construction & building sector
How do you think we could increase not only direct investments from Greece to Finland and Finland to Greece but also between companies and businesses in both countries?
Expanding contacts, networks and cooperation in all relevant directions is very much the focus of the Organization Enterprise Greece, an Agency in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, designed to promote and support Greece’s substantial investment opportunities and to engage the global business community with first-class, high-end export products / goods and services made in Greece.
In the last two years, Enterprise Greece has developed a range of new strategies and tools to achieve this, in response to the pandemic, moving many of its activities and outreach efforts online and holding a series of digital events were held, in collaboration with the embassies, where we brought business people from Greece and key foreign markets together for explorating business synergies. As we slowly return to in-person trade fairs, business delegations, road shows etc., these digital strategies will continue alongside, for example virtual B2B meetings.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has established a section solely focused on economic diplomacy and outreach. In practical terms this means greater coordination across various agencies within Greece, and also means that the Embassies and their commercial and trade sections are now getting more and more involved.
We are always open to collaborate with stakeholders to foster greater engagement between Greek businesses and businesses abroad, whether for trade, investment, research or innovation and we would be more than happy to collaborate on events involving the Finnish business community as well.
In which sectors do you see most opportunities for collaboration?
Greece offers great opportunities both in traditional powerhouse sectors like tourism and food products, and emerging sectors, like tech, green energy, life sciences, and logistics. The Greek economy is in a period of profound transformation, focused on building a sustainable future with long-term growth, and diversifying into new areas.
The startup ecosystem in Greece is rapidly maturing. The first Greek unicorn emerged just recently, with JP Morgan acquiring a 49% stake in Viva Wallet, a Greek fintech, reportedly valued at €2 billion. We have also seen tech and R&D investment by Microsoft, CISCO, Pfizer and others in the last few years, driven by the attractive business environment in Greece and the highly educated workforce, especially in STEM fields. This is particularly relevant for Finnish entrepreneurs, who are established world leaders in tech.
Energy, especially RES, is definitely another field for promising investment synergies. The advantages of Greece in terms of climate, the green transition commitment, and the local entrepreneurial know-how are drawing major investors.
Greece already hosts a number of international energy companies like Gamesa, Iberdrola, Vestas, Acciona, Enercon, and Valorem. And domestic, well-established energy players with international exposure are looking for new business synergies and joint ventures to develop a dynamic portfolio of RES projects.
Logistics is also a growing sector in Greece, leveraging on the country’s geostrategic location and its long history in shipping. The country is an important transportation hub connecting three continents. The ports of Piraeus and Thessaloniki have been significantly upgraded, and more infrastructure upgrades are in the pipeline under Greece 2.0, the national recovery plan.
Thanks to Greece’s highly skilled workforce and their language skills, Greece is also becoming a hub for international business services. A number of multinationals have set up their regional headquarters in Greece, but the country is also attracting leading international companies in shared business services and business process outsourcing, like France’s Imerys and U.S. companies Sitel and TTEC.
In tourism & real estate, the long-term prospects are excellent and asset prices very attractive, as an after effect of the debt crisis. In recent years we have seen the entrance of large groups in the market like Melia, Blackstone, Accor Hotels, Wyndham Hotel, Grivalia Hospitality, Four Seasons, Oaktree Capital, Prodea Investments, McArthur Glen, US Hines and many others. Even during the pandemic, tourism investment continued unabated, reflecting investor confidence in destination Greece.
Enterprise Greece is always ready to consult with potential investors to explore the opportunities available and to offer support through every step of their project.
Digital transition and green transformation & EU’s RRF – any business possibilities for Finnish companies in these sectors in 2022?
The shift towards digitalization and green innovation is at the heart of Greece’s economic and investment strategy. This is already creating new business opportunities and is expected to boost the economy further.
Greece is investing in its digital infrastructure in a number of ways. That includes a national campaign to build out broadband networks, and we are one of the first countries in the world to begin licensing 5G spectrum. Some €415 million in European Union funds have been allocated to broadband infrastructure in Greece, and €700 million has been budgeted for ultrafast broadband infrastructure. By 2023, it is projected that Greece’s mobile network operators will have invested about €3 billion in upgrades.
Τhe shift to a digital economy is central to the government’s long-term strategy for a sustainable and resilient economy, and a means to achieve diversification. The clear commitment of Greece to the digital economy – starting with the digitalization of public sector services – was a key factor in Microsoft’s decision to launch its "GR for GRowth" initiative last October. The initiative will boost digital transformation in both the public and private sectors with access to local cloud services and digital education for at least 100,000 people.
Greece’s comprehensive Green Deal is one of the most ambitious worldwide. Over the last decade, Greece has undertaken one of the most dramatic transformations in its energy sector since the electrification of the country after World War II. Significant reforms have reshaped the energy market to make it more competitive, while major infrastructure projects are under way to connect the grid to Europe, and the mainland to the islands.
The emphasis on renewable energy in the Green Deal and Greece 2.0, as well as the new frameworks on e-mobility and energy efficiency, are creating an entirely new energy landscape that will shape the future in significant ways. In the past few years, we have seen foreign investors responding with a series of new projects, particularly in renewable energy and e-mobility.
For the Green transition in particular, the plan foresees:
The interconnection of Greek islands
The installation of millions of smart telemetric energy meters
A program to improve energy efficiency through renovation of residential buildings, commercial and industrial spaces, as well as public sector buildings and infrastructure.
The development of publicly accessible charging infrastructure for electric vehicles.
The reform of urban planning with the introduction of zoning plans that will offer clear land use rules for almost four fifths of the country.
Greece has made the transition to a low carbon economy and towards a new energy model a high priority. That is already driving developments into a new era.
If a Finnish company decides to invest in Greece, what are the most important issues this enterprise must take into its consideration to succeed in the market?
The general guidelines and business development techniques applicable in all European countries also apply in Greece.
Apart from that, as in any country, we would advise investors to have a local team for expert legal and tax advice. And needless to say, Enterprise Greece can provide companies with essential guidance and useful information through each step in the local market.
A brief guide for establishing a company in Greece may be downloaded from Enterprise Greece’s website.
Which kind of assistance and which kind of benefits / incentives there are in Greece for Finnish companies that would like to invest in the country?
Over the past two years, Greece has undertaken further investment-friendly reforms. These include significantly reduced taxation, labor market reforms, special tax incentives for foreigners to live in Greece, as well as streamlining regulations and cutting red tape on strategic and other investment projects.
The international investment community is responding. According to official data from the Bank of Greece, published recently, the net inflows of Foreign Direct Investments in the country for 2021 showed a y-o-y increase of 74.3% and is the largest FDI inflow to the country since 2002.
Enterprise Greece consults with investors to identify the best framework for their project. Greece offers a great variety of incentives, via a state-of-the-art legal framework, fully compatible with EU regulations. The main avenues to incentives are the development law and the strategic investments framework.
Through the development law, which is the country’s main investment tool, investors can access generous incentives, including cash grants, leasing subsidies, labor cost subsidies, and tax breaks, which can reach up to 70% of the investment cost, depending on relevant geographic zones.
The strategic investments framework provides another significant grid of incentives consisting of grants, fast-track licensing procedures, special spatial planning initiatives, tax exemptions, and R&D subsidies, for projects that fulfill specific quantitative and qualitative criteria and have been approved as strategic by the competent Interministerial Committee.
But we also have incentives for specific high-priority activities, for example R&D business activities, with companies investing in research and development receiving an additional tax deduction. Specifically, R&D expenses are deducted at the time of their realization from legal entities’ gross income, incremented by 100%.
Another sector-specific initiative is a brand new package of incentives for e-mobility projects that offer a 5% reduction in taxes for 5 profitable years, reduced employer payroll taxes during project construction phase, CAPEX deduction from gross income increased by 15%, and fast track licensing.
Today, Enterprise Greece offers a set of integrated investment promotion and facilitation services to prospective, as well as to existing investors:
Customized investment proposals
Matchmaking services to investors
Site location services for project development
Guidance on sector-specific licenses and assistance in the process of getting permits and approvals
Guidance on labor regulations, taxation, business cost related topics and the investment environment in general
Guidance on available financial tools and incentives
Please, tell us something about your culture or places to visit.
Greece is today, as it has been for thousands of years, an inspiring place to be, combining some of the world’s most famous landmarks, living symbols of the ancient heritage and unique landscapes with a rich culinary tradition, including local varieties of high quality wines. That is why it is among the top destinations for Finns for decades.
Starting from the capital, Athens, with monuments like the Acropolis and its stunning museum, its vibrant cultural scene, full of scientific events, conferences, avant-garde theatre, art and music and the lively cafés, one can easily visit Epidaurus and the former capital, Nafplion, enjoying a road-trip across the charming countryside of the Peloponese.
On the other side, Northern Greece, offers a completely different picture, from the busy port-city of Thessaloniki, in Macedonia, famous for the rich Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman history the delicous food and the lively atmosphere, to the nearby archaeological site of Vergina, the palace and burial site of the Macedonian kings and the high mountain of Olympus, or to Chalkidiki, a wonderful summer holiday destination.
Whether in Central Greece, Thrace or Epirus, one finds him/herself amidst some of the most beautiful samples of Greek architecture, in cities like Xanthi, with its popular carnival and Greek Muslim tradition or Ioannina and Kastoria, close to magnificent ski resorts, as well as picturesque villages hidden deep in the gorges, up on the mountain slopes or by the sea, on the coast of the Ionian Sea and the Ionian Islands, a cultural hub with a remarkable Venician past.
When it comes to the sea and the islands, the Aegean Sea, a crossroads between Europe, Asia and Africa, presents a wide variety of famous tourist destinations, from Samothraki, in the North, to Santorini, Rhodes and Crete, in the South, known worldwide for their architectural beauty, the archaeological sites, the exquisite wines and food and the wonderful beaches.
Finding itself in a truly unique location and despite its small size, the country enjoys a particularly pristine and diverse natural environment that offers everything from scenic island getaways to cozy mountain retreats. Whether you like hiking, water sports, rock climbing, skiing, a day sunbathing by the crystall clear waters of the Mediterranean, or even need to organize a conference, the country’s stunning natural advantages make it all possible. What is more, during the last years, Greece, providing ideal conditions for the ever growing number of people favouring teleworking, has also become a favourite destination for nomad workers.
The inhabitants of each region retain their unique character, comprising of differing customs, gastronomic and musical traditions, bound together by a strong national pride and love for their home country. The spirited lifestyle that blends the Mediterranean’s ancient and modern culture makes Greece a wonderful place to call home and the foreign visitor is bound to feel welcome, thanks to the Greek people, their kindness, generosity and hospitality.
From the links below you can find more information about life in Greece:
Please, tell us what is the main goal during your stay in Finland?
My goal is to contribute in promoting our many common interests with Finland and deepening bilateral relations, including enhancing the cooperation on trade and economic matters, as much as possible.
On a more personal note, I can say that I have been living in southern and central Europe e.g. in Athens, Brussels, Lisbon and Skopje. The nature in Finland is quite different and I plan to visit the country as much as I can, enjoying winter, my favourite season of the year. With regard to my free time, I intend to make the most of my stay, to explore and enjoy the unique landscapes, get acquainted to the tradition, the way of life and, of course, meet people, make new friends and try to learn the language.
Thank you for the interview, Mrs Natalia-Maria Karageorgou, the Ambassador of Greece!
Anne Hatanpää, Keskuskauppakamari