Greece’s economic perspective and the changes that will ensure strong growth in the coming years were outlined by Nikos Stathopoulos, one of the most important Greek investors living and operating in the United Kingdom, in an interview with the Athens-Macedonian News Agency (ANA) released on Wednesday.
A Harvard graduate, CEO of BC Partners and head of its investments in Telecommunications and Mass Media – with 25 years of experience in managing and investing private equity – Stathopoulos outlined how the country’s mentality, institutional framework and infrastructure must change to guarantee sustained growth in the coming years.
According to Stathopoulos, the political stability, the vision and the pro-growth policies of the current government have allowed for a spectacular rebound this year, when growth is expected to reach 7 pct, while growth rates of around 5 pct can be confidently forecast for next year, if not for longer: “The performance of our economy is clearly being closely monitored by the international markets, with economists around the world predicting the same significant levels of growth for the years to come. In all of this, we should also consider the Recovery Fund which, with the resources it mobilises, represents a unique opportunity for the Greek economy to turn the page and for the country’s businesses to be shielded against future challenges,” he underlined.
The full interview given by Nikos Stathopoulos to Spyros Mourelatos follows:
Q: Do international markets share the government’s optimism for the upward trajectory of the Greek economy? In your opinion, what will be the economic development of the country in the coming months based on the current data and what its main features?
AN: During a twelve-year period in which the global economy has been growing strongly, the Greek economy has suffered three blows that have held it back. From the bankruptcy and memoranda of 2010, the threat of Grexit, the political instability and the new memorandum of 2015, to the unpredictable COVID-19 pandemic of 2020, the circumstances have been anything but favourable for Greece. The political stability, the vision and the pro-growth policies of the current government have allowed for the spectacular rebound this year when growth is expected to reach 7 pct, while we can already confidently forecast growth of around 5 pct for next year, if not for longer. The performance of our economy is clearly being closely monitored by the international markets, with economists around the world predicting the same significant levels of growth for the years to come. In all of this, we should also consider the Recovery Fund which, with the resources it mobilizes, represents a unique opportunity for the Greek economy to turn the page and for the country’s businesses to be shielded against future challenges.
Q: Public and private sector investment has become an integral part of the government’s narrative. Why would a foreign, institutional investor choose our country? In your opinion, what are the reasons for the increased investment interest that has recently been expressed in Greece?
Greece has always had great potential and significant competitive advantages, such as its strategic geographical location, its natural beauty and its mild climate. Equally importantly, it is a country with significant human capital. Despite the wounds opened in recent years by the brain drain, the country remains rich in people with ideas, knowledge and skills. However, the long-standing socioeconomic issues, the political instability and a general lack of a convincing growth narrative prevented the country from capitalising on this huge potential in the past. What has changed today? Greece has started to prove that it’s both willing and able to overcome what has held its economy back in previous years. Despite the challenging global macroeconomic context, the country has managed to establish and start to implement a strategic plan with clear and measurable objectives. This resounding message that the country is sending out is reaching the markets and investors, who believe that now is the right time to invest in Greece and in particular in sectors with significant growth potential. Greece may be a small country, but if its economy continues to grow at the current pace, investment interest will grow even stronger in the coming years.
Q: Which sectors or branches of the economy do you think will benefit from the investment funds that are expected in the country and at which level do you think that interventions are required in order for Greece to gain a comparative advantage over its peers?
AN: The tourism, real estate, technology, telecommunications, healthcare and pharmaceuticalssectors, which are already advanced in terms of research, as well as the specialized agricultural sector are only a few examples of the parts of the economy that can attract foreign investment funds. However, there are several issues that we, as a country, need to focus on resolving for Greece to complete the puzzle of the ideal investment destination. For instance, the country’s road and rail infrastructure needs further improvement. In addition, there is a need to step up investment in port facilities, technological networks and logistics, as well as in research and education which lead to better services and products. Equally important is the strengthening of the Digital Economy and Society Index, especially for SMEs (cloud infrastructure, digital security, digital communication tools, e-commerce, etc.). There are numerous proposals in this direction, many of which are already being implemented. With boldness and determination, I believe that in a few years from now, the Greek economy will have significantly upgraded its position on the international investment map.
Q: Do you think that the international markets consider the government’s initiatives towards the creation of a pro-investment environment to be sufficient? What additional actions do you have in mind in order to further facilitate the attraction of foreign investment?
AN: International markets have given Greece a vote of confidence. But we should not forget that the relationship with the markets is dynamic and ever evolving. What we call the pro-investment climate is constantly being assessed against the performance of other, competitive, investment destinations. Complacency is perhaps the biggest pitfall. Attracting foreign investment is a race, in which the finish line is also the starting point for the next one.
Good is the enemy of great. There is still much room for improvement to facilitate investment. A stable political and fiscal environment, eliminating red tape, expediting justice administration, and modernising the state are some of the objectives we need to set as priorities. However, the government has already established a positive track record. Amid the pandemic, a modern digital state has emerged, Greece has regained its international standing, while the Prime Minister himself is constantly setting the tone for a development path that puts entrepreneurship and investment at the very centre.
Q: For the vast majority of citizens, the term “investment” seems a distant concept that does not concern them. Is this really the case? How can economic growth have a real social dimension? How can the risk of exclusion from the labour market of part of the population due to the increasing prevalence of new technologies be avoided?
The country has just emerged from the dark tunnel of a long economic, political and social crisis. In this turbulent climate, words often lost their meaning. We should not forget that, for a long time, the word investor had a negative connotation. For a section of the political world, it meant something hostile, toxic. That era is now a thing of the past, hopefully for good. Today, citizens understand that the prerequisite for social well-being is economic growth.
I believe that the government’s strong desire for a Greece that is pro-investment and growth goes hand in hand with the pursuit of creating value that is distributed fairly and equitably in society. This, after all, is the path that a country must follow for the growth to be sustainable and lasting. I am not a politician, I do not want to make suggestions, but I am sure that the country is following an inclusive development plan.
With regards to new technologies, fear will continue to exist so long as a segment of the country’s workforce remains cut off from them. Obviously, technological development is an important factor in the transformation of the labour market, but that does not mean that we should fear it, let alone avoid it. On the contrary, technological development and innovation are directly linked to the improvement of living standards and to the overall evolution of humanity. Access and, above all, education are the key catalysts.
So instead of being hostile to the wondrous world of new technologies, let us try to familiarise ourselves with it and make it our own.