An ancient landscape
THE CRADLE OF DEMOCRACY AND WESTERN BELIEFS HAS LAUNCHED INTO THE 21ST CENTURY WITH GREAT CONFIDENCE, UNDERTAKING MASSIVE PUBLIC INFRASTRUCTURE INVESTMENT, COUPLED WITH WIDESPREAD REFORM AND LIBERALIZATION
NEXT YEAR Greece takes over the EU presidency with a mission to expand Union membership.
is an air of expectation about Greece these days. It is not surprising given
that this is the country with the fastest economic growth rate in Europe; gross
domestic product (GDP) growth for 2002 is predicted to reach close to four percent.
Huge investment in infrastructure and public services driven by massive European Union (EU) and federal government funding has transformed the Greek landscape, helping to cut unemployment rates and boost consumer demand. Widespread reforms and liberalization of the economy have also paid dividends and integration programs with the EU are ongoing.
On January 1st, 2002 the ancient currency of Greece the drachma was symbolically replaced with the euro and next January the country takes on the EU presidency for a six-month period.
Then, of course,
there is the Olympic Games in 2004. There was immense pride when Greece
the birthplace of the Games was chosen back in 1997 as the host nation
for the worlds biggest sporting extravaganza. Since then, everyone has
been working to make Athens ready for the big event. There is a new international
airport and metro system serving the capital. Preparation for the Olympics has
been a collective effort between the government, big business and the Greek
The importance of the Games cannot be overstated. Prime Minister Costas Simitis said earlier this year: Every discussion about the Olympic Games in Athens is a discussion about the countrys future.
With its own house in order, it has built stronger links with the rest of the Balkan peninsula
Minister for Foreign Affairs
event will thrust Greece into the international spotlight. There is a belief
that this could well be the start of a new era for the country, something that
will raise Athens to the heights of Barcelona after the 1992 Olympics; the Spanish
city is now one of Europes hot spots drawing millions of visitors every
George Papandreou, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, believes that the Games have sparked the imagination of the Greek people. He describes it as a sort of homecoming. It is an event that has multiple layers of symbolism and importance for Greek society, he says. One important area is that it will show Greece as a modern country, and a country that is capable of organizing the biggest event in the world with accuracy and competence.
But this new-found confidence also brings with it new responsibilities. As Greece has got its own house in order, it has moved to build stronger links with the rest of the Balkan peninsula, an area of conflict during the 1990s. Athens is now exerting its influence in this region as a force for stability.
There is rapprochement with its old rival, Turkey, as well. Bilateral trade and tourism are on the up and they have even launched a joint bid for the European soccer championships in 2008.
Mr. Papandreou who grew up in the U.S. says that there is a new vision of peace for the Balkans emanating from Athens. In 2004, he notes, the Olympic torch will travel through the region on its long journey from Sydney to Athens.
Greece is looking
to overcome the historical effects of isolation as a result of the Cold War,
where it was effectively cut off from its western and northern neighbors. It
is one of the chief advocates of EU enlargement and this will be a primary issue
on the agenda when Greece assumes the EU presidency.
When one looks at the geographical position of Greece one can understand why enlargement is so important to us, he says.
Greeces support in the stabilization of the Balkans, through trade, cultural links as well as in the political sphere, has been recognized by the United States. Trade with, and investment in, Greece has risen steadily, with exports up by over 30 percent since 1999, including military exports worth $7 billion in the past five years.
The U.S. Ambassador to Greece, Thomas Miller, recognizes the important role that Greece has carved out in the region. He also welcomes efforts by the Greek government to collaborate in the wider fight against terrorism and other security issues. President Bush recently praised the Greek governments arrest of 15 suspected members of the terrorist organization November 17, which was responsible for the death of Athens CIA chief Richard Welch in 1975.
In terms of business
potential, there is an active program to encourage more American companies to
trade with the country. Mr. Miller sees further opportunities in energy, telecommunications,
consumer products, pharmaceuticals, technology and tourism.
He says the investment climate has changed radically from just a few years ago. From a largely state-run economy, with no stock market, Greece has emerged into one of the shining stars of todays Europe.
The macro figures look good, the government has been in place for six years now, so the big picture is a lot more positive than it was in the past, he says.
With the Olympics just around the corner, Greece is finally ready to project its new positive image to the world.
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