Despite the difficulties that still exist, Greece is overcoming the crisis and is moving to the next stage, focusing on growth measures, Odysseas Konstantinopoulos, Greece Deputy Minister of Development and Competitiveness told EURACTIV Greece in an exclusive interview.
Odysseas Konstantinopoulos is also an MP from the junior coalition partner Pan-Hellenic Socialist Movement (Pasok).
He spoke to EURACTIV Greece’s Sarantis Michalopoulos.
Has Greece overcome the crisis?
After hard work, intensive efforts, and major sacrifices from the citizens, I believe that we can answer in a positive way, that yes, our country is overcoming the crisis and we are moving to the next stage. Those who doubted of our success were more than a few. But we managed, and today we are on our way out of the recession, already planning our next steps and advancing measures on growth, employment, and competitiveness. Take a look at the facts, but also the political evaluation from our partners, experts, and of course the financial markets: they are strong hints that, despite difficulties that still exist, we are ready for the next stage.
So, is investing in Greece worthwhile nowadays?
It sure is. Greece offers a secure and friendly environment for investments, which has improved and will improve even more in the near future, cutting down on the red tape, strengthening entrepreneurship, exploiting new tools for the support of entrepreneurs, but also the development of our human capital. The geostrategic position of our country, its natural wealth, together with the growth strategy we are planning for the next period, make Greece, in my opinion, a very attractive destination for potential investors, now and in the next period.
How is Greece making use of the European funds? What is the absorption of the financial framework funds up to now, and which are your priorities for the future?
Greece is using more and more effectively EU financial resources. According to the most recent data, from the beginning of November, the absorption of the co-financed programme of public investments, is over 82%. It has increased by almost 15%, or around €1 billion, compared to the same period last year. We are working intensely, so that this percentage overcomes 90% until the end of the year, so that Greece does not lose a single euro of what it is entitled to. In parallel, through a successful negotiation with the EC, almost €700 million from the new financial framework 2014-2020 has been approved, and they are available in the form of anticipating actions, which will be announced soon.
For the next financial period, our priorities are founded on two basic pillars: the facilitation of healthy entrepreneurship and the offer social protection and care services. We intend to invest in sectors characterized by innovative approach and growth potential, such as agriculture, energy, tourism, culture, environment, health, energy saving, Information and telecommunications technology, logistics. In parallel, we are planning the simplification of the procedure of access to state funding, (and) in accordance with European regulation, the wider and more effective information of the entrepreneurs, and the offer of consulting services.
Do you consider the EU financial tools effective and efficient? Do you believe that they have contributed to your country’s exit from the crisis?
The existing EU financial tools have been and still are important levers of growth for Greece. Of course, especially in periods of crisis, it is not the tools that play the major role, but the political will of our partners and of the European Institutions, for solidarity and support to the member country which is hit by the crisis. During the whole history of the EU, we have a lot of examples of similar political decisions that have led to the way out of major or minor crises.
I believe there is always space for improvement and modernization of the policies and tools available for strengthening growth and increasing competitiveness, also taking into account the special characteristics of every country. This crisis, for example, has shown us that the problems of European south have special characteristics which need to be taken into account for future planning. All these are issues for dialogue and debate with my European colleagues at the time.
What is the role that Greece can play in the EU in the next period?
Greece is a stable point of reference for the Balkans and Eastern Mediterranean. In the next period, emerging from recession and introvercy, Greece can and must be again the traditional pole of peace, democracy, growth and stability for our region. We remain permanent interlocutors of all democratic forces in our region, we promote dialogue and conflict resolution and we defend the values and interests of the EU in its southeastern borders. In parallel, through the exploitation of our fossil fuel wealth, Greece has the potential to become one of the biggest energy storage areas of the EU.
How do you envisage the general perspective of the EU in the future?
Relying on its founding values, with unity and extrovercy, the EU can move with optimism towards the future. In any way, I consider it is necessary to enhance the political union, to develop our democracy and citizens’ participation in the EU institutions, and of course the enlargement to the Western Balkans.
The European integration is a sustainable process, which must initiate from the citizens. At the same time, there are sectors such as Common Foreign Policy, Common Migration Policy, Policy for Energy, but also the citizens’ rights, which are left behind – that’s why the expectations from the new European Commission are very high.
Unfortunately, the forces of Eurosceptiscism, populism, or even extremism and neo-fascism/neo-nazism, such as the Greek Golden Dawn, either generated by the crisis or gathering the fury and despair, have been considerably strengthened in the recent EP elections, and are now represented in the European Parliament. It is the responsibility of all of us, but mainly of politicians, to answer to these phenomena in European, national and local level, and to respond to the citizens’ needs and expectations. Europe is not the others, it is us, our history, our present and future.