Washington and the Greek American Community get specific on helping Greece.
Washington, D.C.- Last week, the Congressional Caucus on Hellenic Issues hosted an inaugural “Stand with Greece” policy summit at the U.S. Capitol. Caucus co-chairs Gus Bilirakis and Carolyn Maloney hosted a consortium of business, academic and policy experts, as well as community activists from around the country and Greece to explore how U.S. policies can be utilized to provide technical and security support to our longtime friend and ally.
In 24 hours, the Summit – organized with the assistance of the Hellenic American Leadership Council (HALC) – not only spurred discussion on the details of helping Greece, but launched and announced specific initiatives to help Greece.
On the evening of September 30, the Summit kicked off with several members of Congress – including Bilirakis and Maloney, Ted Deutch (the co-chair of the Congressional Hellenic Israel Alliance caucus), Dina Titus (the only Greek-American female in Congress), Chris Van Hollen, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Mario Diaz Balart, Tim Ryan, Steve Chabot, Dan Donovan, and John Larsen – declaring their solidarity for Greece. The Caucus also announced the launch of a letter to the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, requesting technical assistance to be provided to Greece in connection with the current refugees crisis – specifically in helping Greece with fingerprinting, migrant tracking, and other intake protocols.
The master of ceremonies for the opening of the Summit, HALC’s Executive Director Endy Zemenides, reminded attendees that this Summit was “not only about what the U.S. could do for Greece, but what Greek and Greek-American civic society could do for Greece.” The opening session included a presentation from HALC member Dr. George Chiampas – an Emergency Room doctor at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, director of the Chicago Cardiac Arrest Resuscitation Education Service (CCARES), and Medical Director of the Chicago Marathon – announced the launch of new initiatives (in conjunction with Northwestern and CCARES) to help deal with the rise of Sudden Cardiac Arrest and the lack of the emergency medicine as a subspecialty in Greece. His Eminence Metropolitan Gabriel of Nea Ioania and Philadelphia referenced the work of the Church in combating the humanitarian crises in Greece, and urged people to get involved in these efforts and not merely wait for government responses. Representatives from SOS Children’s Villages thanked the community for its support of HALC’s fundraising initiative on behalf of SOS Greece and talked about the organization’s work. Later during the Summit, HALC announced a follow up initiative with SOS, in which Greek-Americans will be invited to sponsor a child that SOS provides support for in Greece. Nikos Mouyiaris also completed the initial fundraising challenge by giving his $50,000 gift to SOS Children’s Village and discussing his visit to one of their villages in Greece.
On October 1st, teams of HALC members – led by Advisory Board Member and former Congressman Zack Space – started the day spread out across the House and Senate garnering support and signatories for the letter to the Department of Homeland Security. HALC members also had to brief the staff of Senator Dick Durbin, who will be leading a Senate delegation – with Senators Elizabeth Warren and Jeanne Shaheen – to Greece to get a firsthand look at the refugee crisis.
At midday, the Summit began featuring a series of panels discussing in detail. The panels included:
Administrative and Business Reform Discussion
- Moderator: Professor Ismini A. Lamb, Director and Lecturer, of the Modern Greek Studies Program at Georgetown University
- Thanos Catsambas, PhD, retired IMF Representative and economist for Greece
- Pavlos Geroulanos, Former Minister of Tourism and Culture, head of the new Greek NGO, Solutions for Greece
- Ted Diamantis, President of Diamond Importers, importer of Greek agriculture products, and HALC Board member
A View From Greece
- Ambassador Eleni Tsakopoulos Kounalakis
- New York State Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis, board member of the World Hellenic Inter-Parliamentary Association.
- His Eminence Metropolitan Gabriel of Nea Ionia and Philadelphia
Regional Security Discussion
- Moderator John Sitilides, Principal at Trilogy Advisors LLC
- Robert D. Kaplan, Senior Fellow at the Center for a New American Security
- Jeff Rathke, Senior Fellow and Deputy Director of the Europe Program at CSIS
- Eva Kaili, Member of the European Parliament
- Nikolas Katsimpras, Senior Fellow of the Hellenic American Leadership Council, lecturer Columbia University, NATO Emerging Leader for the Atlantic Council
The first panel discussed specific administrative and commercial reforms that would make Greece more attractive for the investment Prime Minister Tsipras declared the country ready for in New York. A great deal of the discussion focused on the need for branding, institutions and processes (particularly judicial reform). During the Question and Answer session, there was an announcement that HALC’s Founder Nikos Mouyiaris was going to help battle unemployment in Greece by shifting the production and distribution of some of his European products to Greece.
The second panel explained the scale of the crisis in Greece itself, how it is perceived by visitors to Greece, and what civic society can do without waiting for government initiatives. Ambassador Tsakopoulos Kounalakis was also able to analyze the Greek crisis in the context of the larger euro and refugee crises.
Drawing on her recent trip to Athens for the World Hellenic Interparliamentary Association Conference, Assemblywoman Malliotakis expressed her thoughts that in order for investment opportunities to come to Greece the nation’s leaders must first give the international community confidence that a plan to bring stability to Greece is underway.
“Greece’s ability to recover and thrive depends on government reform and investment from abroad and, it goes without saying, the Greek government must restore confidence and some stability if it expects such investors to take on the risk. This can only be done by showing accountability for what happened and building support in its recovery plan within the global investment community. At that point the Hellenic Diaspora can, in good faith, convey their confidence in Greece’s future to potential investors,” said Assemblywoman Malliotakis. “Our ancestral homeland possesses such a proud history, has contributed so much to the world, has tremendous beauty and potential for positive development. She’s going through a difficult time right now and we must do all that we can to bring her back.”
Additionally, Malliotakis stressed the importance of the Hellenic Diaspora contributing to non-governmental organizations providing services to those in need and spreading the word throughout the world that Greece is safe for travel despite the negative reporting portrayed in the media. Greece’s economy relies heavily on tourism, especially during these troubling times.
The final panel reminded everyone what may be at stake in Greece. The Washington consensus has taken Greece’s Western orientation and stability for granted the past few decades, but some of America’s leading foreign policy commentators analyzed what is at stake today. Robert Kaplan declared that “Greece is the register of the balance of power between East and West,” and Jeff Rathke punctuated his analysis of the refugee crisis by declaring Greece as “THE most important country in dealing with the refugee/migrant crisis”. Member of European Parliament Eva Kaili argued that the economic crisis has led to a neglect of geopolitics and this needs to be corrected. HALC Senior Fellow Nikolas Katsimpras presented a number of items through which the Western alliance could really make a difference in Greece – including in helping to fund the reactivation of Greece’s surveillance fleet and advancing Cyprus’ aspirations to join NATO’s Partnership for Peace.
Congressman Bilirakis closed the Summit by announcing that the House of Representatives passed the National Defense Authorization Act and that included a measure co-sponsored by himself and Congressman David Cicilline of Rhode Island and Senator Robert Menendez which required the Secretaries of Defense and State to jointly submit to Congress an assessment of the military capability of the Republic of Cyprus to defend against threats to its national security. The language will have the United States assess the current arms embargo in light of contemporary military demands and evaluate if it still comports with U.S. strategic priorities. Both he and Congresswoman Maloney lauded the success of this inaugural summit, thanked HALC, Nikos Mouyiaris, John Sitilides and Ambassador Tsakopoulos Kounalakis for their assistance in organizing the summit, and promised to make it annual with follow up events throughout the year.
Co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on Hellenic Issues Gus Bilirakis declared the inaugural Stand with Greece Summit a resounding success. ” When Greece faced economic and migration crises, Congress heard the clarion call. Hellenes and Philhellenes, including several members of Congress listened to expert testimony from diplomats, business leaders, former government and military officials of the Hellenic Republic, and EU and Eastern Mediterranean policy experts. I look forward to publishing several key action items for both US and Greek pilicymakers to consider to help set a meaningful path of assistance.”
Bilirakis further added, “This event could not have taken place without the cooperation and key sponsorship of the Hellenic American Leadership Council. As always, HALC Founder, Nikos Mouyaris and Executive Director, Endy Zemenides provided critical support in making the Summit a huge success.”