By Dora Bakoyiannis
Mayor of Athens
Greece is the main factor of stability and growth among the countries of the region; and American and Greek political and economic interests in the area are basically aligned, though they may differ in certain short-term priorities.
I will, therefore, try to present to you Greece’s current profile, to signal its importance for the political stability and economic development of the Balkan states, and to suggest ways of enhancing Greek-U.S. opportunities for cooperation in the area.
Opinion-makers, here in the U.S., often wonder whether the United States should be strongly committed to the Balkans in the first place, or rather leave it to the European Union to take care of its immediate vicinity.
In fact, American policy since the fall of Communism has ranged between near indifference and direct military intervention. The two may appear contradictory but, as is often the case with extremes, the one explains the other.
I think you would agree with me that, in the present framework, we need a balanced role-sharing between the E.U. and the U.S. in bringing about the political and social stability, as well as the economic development of the Balkans.
I claim that Greece is a stability and development factor par excellence in the Balkans and the wider region.
Let’s look at the facts:
Greece is the region’s most stable democracy, with a smoothly functioning two-party system for the last thirty years.
It is the wealthiest country in the region, with its G.D.P. twice as large the combined G.D.P of six other countries in the Balkans.
Greece is the only member both of NATO and the European Union in the region.
My country is the top investor and a locomotive for economic development in the Balkans. 3.500 Greek enterprises are active in the region and Greek Banks operate more than 700 branches there. In addition, we have committed 550 million euros of direct aid in a program of our own, while participating at the same time in similar E.U. programs.
Greece plays host to one million foreign workers, mostly from the Balkan States, whose remittances contribute greatly to the economies of our neighboring countries.
A further 500.000 people, Bulgarians, Albanians and Slav-Macedonians, enter Greece annually as farm workers adding further revenue to their countries.
In fact, Greece’s private sector has been at the forefront of investment in Southeast Europe, investing a total of more than 4 billion euros throughout South-East Europe. As a consequence, tenths of thousands of new jobs were created due to the Greek direct investment.
Though it is not entirely in the context of this presentation, I think it would be useful to add that Greece is not only a Balkan player, but a considerable factor in world trade through shipping as well.
Greek-owned ships carry 30% of total global maritime trade and constitute more than half of the E.U.’s total shipping tonnage.
It is, I believe, no accident that President Bush has called Greece “America’s strategic partner” in the region.
The scope of Greek-American cooperation is immense.
Let me start with politics:
Both countries have a vested interest in the stabilization and prosperity of the entire Balkan Peninsula.
The situation at present is much better than a decade ago, though mixed and still rather complex. Bulgaria and Romania are both expected to join the European Union by the year 2007. Turkey has entered the negotiation process with the E.U. on October 3rd. Likewise, Croatia is about to enter into the negotiation phase soon. The rest, particularly the Western Balkans, remains a problem area.
Serbia is still a long way from the path leading to Europe. Its constituent Federal Republic of Montenegro will hold a referendum on the issue of its secession from Serbia early next year.
Bosnia-Herzegovina experiences a precarious existence, following the Dayton Accords.
Its constituent Croat and Muslim Republics claim further, institutionalized, autonomy.
The case of Bosnia-Herzegovina should be relatively easy to solve. The three Communities have lived in peace for over a decade now.
Our top priority in Bosnia-Herzegovina should be to guarantee their parity, and to do so on a stable and permanent basis.
The situation in the Serb province of Kosovo, currently administered by the U.N., where the Albanians constitute 90% of the population, and agitate for independence, calls, as you know, for our immediate attention.
Kosovo might well deserve independence, but one has also to take into account Serbia’s great sensitivity vis-à-vis a province which is that nation’s historical cradle; where historic Serb monuments are to be found; and where 10% of the population is still Serbs.
I am confident, though, that the international community, led by the European Union and the United States, and with the active cooperation of all nations in the area, particularly Greece, will, relatively soon, reach a final agreement in the best interest of both communities.
Albania, though experiencing high growth rates, is still in no position to start negotiations with the E.U. And, finally, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, though temporarily stabilized and developing, faces an uneasy Albanian population and is still entangled with the issue of her name with Greece.
The situation in the Balkans presents the United States, the European Union, and Greece, with a dual priority: political and social stabilization and economic development. The two are complimentary. This is why Greece strongly advocates all the Balkan States’ eventual membership in the E.U. To this end our country has played a pivotal role in the framework of the European institutions.
The scope of Greek-American cooperation, in view of the current situation in the Balkans, is immense. There is, first, political cooperation. Our top priority, as well as our main difficulty, is the Western Balkans.
The case of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia presents a particularity for Greece: the issue of the name. It might at first appear absurd that a third party, like Greece, is interested in having a say in another country’s name. Greece is profoundly committed to that country’s stability and prosperity, and Greek business has in F.Y.R.O.M heavily invested. Greece, in fact, is F.Y.R.O.M.’s strongest and most vital partner. Greece, in addition, has no claims whatsoever against F.Y.R.OM.
In F.Y.R.O.M, schoolbooks, pamphlets, articles and other official and civic publications continuously present Greek Macedonia, the historic Macedonia, as a land under Greek occupation! This is why the people of Greece rightly worry by the neighboring state’s attitude.
I would expect it would not be difficult for one to imagine that our neighbor needs to qualify the name Macedonia with a characteristic prefix that can distinguish it from the historic, Greek, Macedonia. That compromise Greece can accept.
But there was not a single compromise by F.Y.R.O.M. Therefore, we can go no further; Athens’ stance has reached its limits.
For Greece a second, and last, problem area concerns Turkey. Greece has strongly advocated the Turkish bid for entry into the E.U. We have not only offered political support, but also technical expertise, on a systematic basis, for the negotiations and for the adaptation of the Turkish legal system to European Union norms.
We believe that this is the best way for strengthening that country’s secular and modernizing forces. It is unfortunate that, for the moment, there has been no tangible change in the Turkish attitude vis-à-vis bilateral issues with Greece.
Provocations in the Aegean continue almost on a daily basis; the Greek community in Istanbul still faces a variety of problems, and the Ecumenical Patriarchate is denied full religious freedom and the ability to train its priests and bishops as it chooses.
The climate between the two peoples, though, has ameliorated considerably and economic transactions between the two countries are soaring. Just last year Turkish exports to Greece rose by 52.8% and Greek exports to Turkey by 36,2%. Greek investments in Turkey already amount to nearly 3.5% of total FDI and 77 Greek companies are operating there.
Greece’s strategy is simple and straightforward: we encourage Turkey to continue its reforms; we support her in her European course; we actively promote the relation between our two societies and economies; and we expect to see real change in her attitude vis-à-vis the Cyprus issue, our bilateral problems and the rights of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Greek Community in Istanbul.
We hope that during the period of negotiations with the European Union Turkey will comply fully with E.U. norms and standards in all fields, as specified by the negotiation framework.
If there will be no adjustment, Greece, as in fact many other EU members, reserves the right to deny Turkey’s access to the European Union.
Experience has shown that, in most cases, rapid economic growth is a guarantee for political stability. In our need to stabilize the Balkans, therefore, Greece and the U.S. must cooperate closely in the field of development as well.
American firms, in particular, can profit greatly by turning Greece into a base for their Balkan operations. Greece is ideal for such a move.
Her infrastructures are now state-of-the-art in transport, communications, etc.
The Greek labor force is skilled and usually multilingual.
Let me rather quote Undersecretary Nicholas Burns on this issue. “In the mid-1990s there were a lot of multinationals that seemed to think that they could make it on their own in the Balkans and could ignore Greece. And now we see a number of them starting to look for Greek partners… Greece’s exposure is quite pervasive and so people want to take advantage of that…”
There are already momentous examples of American-Greek joint successes that pave the way for many more to come. I will cite four of them:
ALICO AIG Life is the leading insurance company in group insurance in Greece. The company is a member of American International Group, Inc., the world’s leading international insurance and financial services’ organization. Since 1993 ALICO operates in Athens as a regional office covering a total of ten countries.
United Parcel Service of America, Inc., already established in Greece, is now responsible for the management of the entire Balkan region.
Best Western Greece is responsible for representing the world’s largest hotel chain in Greece, Romania, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Lebanon, Syria and Armenia.
Last, but not least, I take the Coca-Cola Hellenic Bottling Company. It is now the world’s third largest bottler. With 37.000 employees, Coca-Cola Hellenic’s portfolio comprises 145 carbonated and 240 non-carbonated soft drink varieties. The company operates 78 plants, and offers its products to a market of 26 countries and 540 million consumers, from headquarters in Greece.
It is not difficult to see why such companies establish themselves in Greece, and Athens in particular. The Financial Times awarded Athens this year’s prize of “Southern European City of the Future”.
Transport infrastructure in Athens has improved enormously in the past five years, with 80 km of state-of-the-art metro lines, a 26 km new tramway system and 65 km of state-of-the-art urban freeways. Athens’ new international Airport is among the finest in the world, and Piraeus, Athens’ port, the busiest in Europe.
Leading edge telecommunications and competitive salaries have made Athens an outstanding base for companies targeting Southern European markets, which, including Russia, comprise nearly 300 million consumers. The city boasts a fantastic new athletic and cultural infrastructure, wonderful climate and a highly educated labor force.
But Greece, more broadly, has also advanced, beyond expectation. The Egnatia Motorway, for example, is the largest public work of its kind in Europe, linking Greece with Turkey and Italy, and with direct vertical axes to all Balkan states.
Greece is also rapidly becoming a hub for energy networks in Southeastern Europe; the potential for joint investment by American and Greek companies in this sector is truly great.
“Greek Petroleum” has acquired the only refinery in FYROM and last summer the pipeline connecting Skopje with Thessaloniki, has been inaugurated. Two new pipelines, starting from Skopje, will supply with oil Kosovo, Serbia and Montenegro.
A pact of strategic importance, already bearing the signatures of Russia, Bulgaria and Greece, concerns the construction of an overland oil pipeline, connecting the Black Sea port of Burgas, in Bulgaria, with the Greek port of Alexandroupolis, in the Northern Aegean Sea. The pipeline will complement the Bosporus and will thus significantly decongest the Straits, which is in the shared interests of both Greece and Turkey.
Greece has already constructed a natural gas pipeline, supplying major Greek cities and industrial areas with Russian natural gas.
One of the most interesting energy works of the area concerns the interconnection of Turkey and Greece with a network of natural gas pipelines. The agreement was signed by the two Prime Ministers a few months ago. The main pipeline, which will cost 1.2 billion dollars to construct, will traverse Northern Greece and connect with Italy.
American companies, and their CEOs, will find in Greece, and particularly in Athens, a congenial, English-speaking, environment and a great country in which to live and work.
They will find, in addition, dynamic Greek companies to cooperate with all over the Balkans, the Black Sea Region and beyond. 700 branches of Greek Banks will be ready to finance their projects.
Highly-trained Greek personnel will assist them in every single country. Greek ships will carry their goods; so will trains and trucks, running on state-of-the-art motorways and railroads. This is the time for a new great Greek-American cooperation.
I have spoken of the politics and the economy in the Balkans. Of the political priorities for both of our countries in the region. And of the immense potential of our cooperation in the field of development. The United States and Greece have fought together for liberty in two World Wars. We have fought the Korean War and the Cold War together; Today we are partners in the global war against terrorism.
Now we can join forces once more in bringing about one of the most monumental tasks ever: the transformation of the Balkans, from the black hole of Europe, to a politically stable and developed region that fulfils our shared vision of a Europe that is whole, free, and democratic.”
***Athens Mayor Dora Bakoyannis’ speech at a Director’s Forum at the Woodrow Wilson International Centre for Scholars in Washington, D.C.