By Ambassador Christos Panagopoulos
In a region fraught with crises that challenge the United States politically and militarily, America turns to its allies for strength and support. In the Eastern Mediterranean it wasn’t too long ago that Americans worried about the strength and durability of one of their oldest and most trusted allies, Greece.
The worries have turned to wonder as the people of Greece have restored their country to its historical place as a beacon of stability, a crucible of economic opportunity and an inviting destination of millions from around the globe drawn to the mesmerizing beauty of the Mediterranean.
Greece is rich in history and culture, recognized as the cradle of democracy, science, philosophy and medicine. And in 2014, despite six years of economic adversity, Greece is delivering new, modern and innovative opportunities that are benefitting its own people and its stalwart American ally.
Change and recovery from deep recession are well underway. Greece’s promised path to economic good health — a long and strenuous route of reform — has given rise to a growing entrepreneurial environment, increasing innovation, technological transformation and expanding tourism. The dividends are increasingly palpable and are helping tackle our biggest challenge – unemployment.
One of the cornerstones of economic revival is energy. The regional economy is being buoyed by the emergence of Greece as a critical energy hub. We are a major player in the Southern Gas Corridor project to transport natural gas from the Caspian Sea to Europe, through the Trans Adriatic pipeline (TAP), linking Greece to Albania and Italy, and in plans for other interconnecting pipelines in southern Europe. Greek government and business leaders are exploring the potential with Cyprus and Israel for transporting natural gas from their newly discovered, massive off-shore reserves to Europe, while at the same time expanding the existing LNG terminal in Revythoussa, near Athens, to serve as the logical entryway.
Three gas and hydrocarbon exploration projects are being launched in the western regions of Ioannina, Gulf of Patras and Katakolo. And we remain committed to developing the enormous potential of our renewable energy sources, with solar enterprises leading the way. Greece will help ensure energy self-sufficiency and security throughout Europe.
Indeed, decisions critical to the continent’s development in numerous sectors were made under Greek leadership in the first half of this year. During its Presidency of the Council of the European Union for the fifth time, Greece steered the completion of the Banking Union on the road to consolidating the European Monetary Union — just one of many successful initiatives.
Modern Greece’s great strides in technology and innovation and a new, energized business climate are possible thanks in large part to its talented younger generation. Under their creative aegis, a significant number of business start-ups have emerged, particularly in the IT sector. The rapid upsurge was evident in the participation of 16 Greek high-tech enterprises in the 2014 “Startup Village” at the South by Southwest Interactive Festival in Austin, Texas. What’s more, Greek startups are being acquired or funded by American companies. The high-growth potential of many of these companies signal emerging job creation.
The Greek government and the US Department of Commerce, under the stewardship of Secretary Penny Pritzker, have been working for the past six months on a joint Commercial Action Plan. The result: significant market opportunities have emerged in pharmaceuticals and ICT in Greece, and US companies such as IBM, Microsoft, Coca-Cola and Onex Technologies are engaging in employment-boosting projects. Additional enterprises are expected following a recent visit to Greece by top American entrepreneurs and investors in the technology, finance, marketing, real estate and gourmet food industries, organized by the U.S. Department of State Global Entrepreneurship Program (GEP).
This new, modern Greece and its enterprising people are attracting record number of tourists, 20 percent more than last year. They visit our historical sites and modern cities, the pristine waters of the sea and the sun-kissed landscapes of the countryside and our beautiful islands.
The great 21st century transformation of Greece is a tribute to its people and their heritage of world leadership and democratic rule. They have stood another test of time. They have renewed their partnership with the American people who share a similar heritage and they have demonstrated what future contributions they can and will make to the stability of the region and the dependability of the European Union.
*** Greek Ambassador to the United States