World Press View: Economy Greece’s Forgotten Other Crisis

With all eyes on Greece’s ongoing costly invasion of refugees and migrants, attention has been distracted from a longer-running economic crisis, world reports say.

Some excerpts:

Greece Expects Hellenikon Deal by Autumn

Reuters/Angeliki Koutantou

Greece can conclude a multi-billion euro deal to lease a prime seaside property at the former airport site of Hellenikon by autumn, the finance minister said on Monday.

In 2014, Greece signed a 915-million-euro (716.70 million pound) deal to lease the property to a consortium led by Lamda Development (LMDr.AT) with Chinese and Abu Dhabi-based firms.

But several steps are still required before the transaction is completed, including the approval of a zone planning scheme for the site and the granting of casino licences.

Greece’s privatisation fund is in talks with the investors to amend some terms of the deal and has said that it wants to wrap up those negotiations by the end of April.

“I believe… it will be concluded by autumn,” Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos told parliament without providing further details. “I believe this target is close enough and we can achieve it.”

The Lamda-led consortium plans to turn the 444-acre plot into a tourist, business and commercial hub.

Privatisation has been a part of Greece’s international bailouts since 2010 but has generated poor revenue so far due to political resistance and bureaucracy.

Uncertainty over pension, tax and other reforms Greece must implement to conclude a bailout review – a prerequisite to start talks on debt relief and the disbursement of vital bailout loans – have also weighed on investor sentiment.

Greece expects to collect an initial 345-million-euro installment for the Hellenikon lease project this year, according to the state budget.

Could the Tech Sector Save the Greek Economy?

ReadWrite/Cate Lawrence

When you think of the Greek economy, it’s easy to recall news images protests, mass unemployment and hardship. But the Greek tech sector is helping to lift the country’s economic spirits.

Plagued by one of the worst economic environments since the Great Depression, political uncertainty and capital controls that have stopped nearly all international payments in and out of the country, Greece’s mobile and tech companies have experienced it all.

Some of these companies have not only survived but grown their businesses throughout the six years of Greece’s financial crisis, a testament to the resilience of the country’s growing mobile technology community.

The good news is found in an emerging ecosystem of incubators, venture investors and university entrepreneurship programs.

There are more than 1,000 startups in Greece with over half in the technology sector in a broad range of industries, from aerospace and biotech to tourism and mobile apps. The rate of company formation has increased twelve-fold since 2010.

The tech sector is thriving, with a workforce of highly educated engineers and developers – many at a masters level or higher – according to Thanos Ganas, board member of the Hellenic Startup Association. They encompass both recent graduates and those laid off elsewhere due to the economic crisis.

With them comes a massive startup community of hubs and co-working spaces, including Coho in Thessaloniki and Colab, The Cube, Impact Hub Athens in Athens.

Business incubators and shared work spaces have sprung up across Greece, and conferences and forums on entrepreneurship and innovation abound alongside innovation hubs like Corallia, Start up Greece and Endeavour Greece and organisations like the Hellenic Association of Mobile Application Companies (HAMAC).

Many involve international support – like Orange Grove, a workspace for young entrepreneurs started by the Dutch embassy in Athens, together with a number of Dutch and Greek tech sector corporate sponsors, charity foundations and universities. Its aim is to address the “brain drain” and youth unemployment in Greece. It welcomes startup founders under 40.

Tsipras Must Purge Cabinet to Lift Economy

Bloomberg/Jonathan Stearns

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras desperately needs more competent officials in his administration to attract greater investment in the country and put the economy on firmer footing, according to the head of the main Greek business group.

Theodore Fessas, chairman of the Athens-based Hellenic Federation of Enterprises, said most Greek ministers should be replaced by people with technical knowledge and reform credentials. Otherwise, he said, Greece will struggle to enact overhauls required under its 86 billion-euro ($94 billion) international aid program and to restore economic growth.

“Neither the ideology nor the experience of the people in this government will help this transition,” Fessas said in an interview in Brussels. “Definitely some fresh ideas and fresh people are required in very crucial positions.”

The comments highlight persistent doubts in Greece and abroad about whether Tsipras’s Syriza party has shed enough of its communist roots and acquired sufficient governing skills to navigate the country back to prosperity.

First elected premier in January 2015, Tsipras caused a deadlock with creditors last year that almost forced the country out of the euro before he reversed course, embraced their budget-austerity demands and won a snap election in September.

The Greek economy, which emerged from a six-year decline in 2014 under then Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, contracted in 2015 and is projected by the European Union to shrink again this year. Samaras, whom Tsipras unseated 14 months ago, had promised foreign investors “red-carpet” treatment.

Fessas said that, while Tsipras has recently “to some extent” declared Greece “open for business,” the actions of his officials have sent a different message that threatens to keep away new investors and discourage existing ones.

He cited recent setbacks for Vancouver-based Eldorado Gold Corp. in its plan to develop a mine in northern Greece — a project involving hundreds of millions of euros of investment that the Greek energy ministry has stymied on environmental-protection grounds.

“It’s a long-term investor in Greece,” Fessas said. “The damage is much higher.”

In January, Eldorado Gold said it was suspending the Greek-mine project because of the government’s attitude — an announcement that prompted the biggest one-day decline in the company’s share price since December 2008. Last month, Greek Energy Minister Panos Skourletis said Eldorado Gold Chief Executive Officer Paul Wright shorted the shares of his own company, an allegation that the miner called “utter nonsense.”