“In the 2008 crisis, Greece resisted and has come back strong”
Ilias Fotopoulos is the Greek ambassador to Spain. On the occasion of the reopening of this country's consulate in Barcelona, he talks about the close connection of Greece with Catalonia and Spain, the good progress of the Greek economy and the challenges it faces in the context of climate change.
“If we enter the Security Council, our focus will be climate change.”
You are going to reopen your consulate in Barcelona. It is a consulate with a long history...
It is one of the oldest Greek consular authorities in the world. Greece established diplomatic relations with Spain in 1834, that is, immediately after its founding as an independent state, and a little later, in 1843, it founded the consulate general in Barcelona. It had to do with the great development of the port of Barcelona at that time and also with the rapid advance of the Greek merchant navy. During the first years, its main objective was to provide port services to the Greek commercial fleet. Under this form it operated until 1991 and, later, as a career consulate, whose operation was suspended in 2008 due to the reduction of public expenses in view of the incipient economic crisis. Its reopening is an important fact for us.
What is the Greek community like in Barcelona and Catalonia?
It is a community of about 5,000 Greeks, dynamic, with strong ties to the homeland, language and traditions, and completely integrated into the social and economic life of Catalonia. It is a very strong bridge that connects our countries and an important factor to deepen mutual understanding and collaboration.
What is the state of relations between Greece and Spain?
Greece and Spain are united by strong and historical ties of friendship, collaboration and respect. We are colleagues and allies in the EU and NATO and, in addition, countries in southern Europe and the Mediterranean. We share the immigration challenge. These challenges require the joint struggle, solidarity and collaboration of our countries to promote well-being, international stability and respect for international law. Furthermore, our economic cooperation is developing particularly favorably. The bilateral volume of transactions in 2022 reached 4,850 million euros, with an annual increase of 37.7%. However, I believe there is much room for further harnessing that potential.
Greece has improved its economic situation in recent years and has increased the attraction of investments.
Certainly, Greece suffered very serious consequences within the framework of the unfavorable global economic situation of 2008. The harsh fiscal policies that were imposed within the framework of the rescue programs had very serious consequences, especially on the social fabric. However, thanks to the sacrifices of its people, Greece resisted, and today it has returned with strength. The recent recovery of the investment grade by the rating agency Standard & Poor's seals the recovery of the Greek economy. In a period of global instability, Greek government bonds are becoming more attractive for international purchases, significantly reducing interest costs and opening the way to investment capital of billions of euros that could not be deposited in the Greek economy over the last 15 years. The Greek economy grew by 5.9% in 2022, while growth of 2.3% and 3%, respectively, is expected in 2023 and 2024. At the same time, unemployment has decreased by 10.9% and is expected to reduce further in 2024.
Greece is a tourist power. How does your country address the challenges that climate change poses for this activity?
Is right. It is a fact that Greece is one of the ten most important tourist destinations in the world. The Greek tourism industry contributes decisively to the increase in GDP, employment and the attraction of foreign direct investments. However, extreme climate phenomena set off alarm bells, since everything indicates that they will become more frequent and, therefore, require multilateral confrontation. I believe that, first at the European level, we have to recognize the need to act and lead the efforts in the EU for the establishment and implementation of a comprehensive strategic plan, considering that the European approach will have to be formed based on the needs that arise from the confrontation of the migration issue and climate change. In this sense, Greece, which, as you know, has presented its candidacy for membership of the UN Security Council, if elected, will present, among others, climate change as the central axis of its candidacy, along with respect for international law and the safety of navigation.
What is the state of relations between Greece and Türkiye?
We see positively the improvement of relations between Greece and Turkey, compared to the negative climate that existed until recently, and, specifically, from 2019 to the beginning of 2023, due to Turkey's provocative actions and statements, violating international law and the law of the sea as set out in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). It is our conviction to try to develop good neighborly relations based on mutual respect. Lately, the situation in the Aegean Sea and in the Eastern Mediterranean, regarding the Greek-Turkish question, has calmed down, and the sincere intention of the Greek Government is to preserve this climate, for the benefit of both peoples. Furthermore, the creation of mutual trust is a prerequisite for further normalization of our bilateral relations with Turkey. In this framework, both parties are striving to deepen our bilateral relations, something that was confirmed during the last meeting between the Greek Prime Minister and his Turkish counterpart in New York last September.
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