ΑΤΗΕΝS — This is a moment of "big opportunity" for boosting investments in Greece via the country's National Recovery and Resilience Plan "Greece 2.0", which has transposed the guidelines of the EU programme "Next Generation EU", and through the European Green Deal, German Ambassador to Greece Ernst Reichel stated in an interview with the Athens-Macedonian News Agency (ANA), given while in Thessaloniki for the 85th Thessaloniki International Fair (TIF).
"We are at the moment of big opportunity I believe through the EU programme 'Next Generation EU', through the European Green Deal. 'Next Generation EU' has been transposed here in Greece into 'Greece 2.0' which has received a lot of applause throughout Europe so this is really a chance to create a moment of significant progress for the country and to overcome the investment gap, the lack of investments that exists here in Greece," said the German ambassador.
He pointed out that "foreign investors – and Germany is the number one foreign investor in Greece – will have to play a major role in that."
Specifically for "Greece 2.0", Reichel made special reference to the emphasis on digitalisation and "green energy", stressing that these are exactly the areas in which Greece is well placed to become a major success story.
"You certainly know about a really big investment of RWE, the German electrical company, with PPC in Western Macedonia, of over one billion euros. I think there is much more that can happen. The framework conditions seem to be there, we can improve them further, the prime minister has made announcements to this direction, so I think this is a moment of opportunity," the ambassador said.
He noted that Thessaloniki is, from a German perspective, a place where there is a particular German presence and German interest, as it has a very well educated young population and some traditional strong areas of cooperation, such as tourism and logistics. He highlighted the new airport building as a "beacon" of German investment in Greece, which was finished ahead of time in line with a lot of other regional airports.
"I think there is a lot we can build upon, a lot of opportunity and it's now up to Greece and Germany to grasp this opportunity," Reichel said.
However, the German ambassador did not hide his concern about the negative stereotypes about Germany in Greek society, adding that his job was to counteract them:
"In essence we have very deep and substantial relations in all areas. Economical, cultural, societal – especially here in Northern Greece you can see that very clearly…the relations between the governments and the parliaments are excellent. What bothers me is that there is a sort of negative fixation in Greek society about Germany, that there are stereotypes, and I consider it my job to work against such stereotypes," he said.
He clarified, however, that he does not think that "this is a job only for the German side but also for the Greek side, for the opinion leaders here in Greece. And since we are … close partners through the EU, I think that it is in the interests of everybody that we overcome the negativity which exists in public opinion."
"Recent polls show that there is a remarkable negative sentiment and it is striking to see how this is completely contrary to the way Germany is perceived in other countries," he added, pointing out that Chancellor Merkel was declared "person of the year" by "Time" magazine and was very popular throughout the world, whereas the opposite was the case in Greece.
Commenting on vaccination, he said that this was a key for returning to a normal life:
"We have a way at our disposal to really return to a normal life and that is vaccination. And it is of great importance for everybody, for the vaccinated and for those that have not been vaccinated yet that we get to this goal…" Reichel noted. Consequently, he added, the major problem that people created for themselves by not getting vaccinated was short-sighted and unecessary.
Discussing concerns about a new wave of migrants as a result of developments in Afghanistan, Reichel highlighted the need for European solidarity.
"The EU interior ministers when they met recently… [shared] the opinion that one has to do what one can to avoid uncontrolled flows of numerous migrants towards Europe. We will have to – with all the means we have at our disposal – work in the region to offer refugees, people who are in danger, opportunities in neighbouring countries and to offer humanitarian aid, possibly also within Afghanistan if we can, and thereby reduce the pressure that may come to our borders," he noted.
"If we work together as Europeans I believe that we can do quite a lot. But yes, we have to be realistic, even the best border control will not be able to avoid the arrival of migrants in the EU and it is important to show European solidarity when that starts," he added.
Regarding Turkey's role and the "instrumentalisation" of migrants at the Evros border in 2020, Reichel said it was an oversimplification to attribute all future migrant flows to Ankara.
"It is true that at the Evros border there was an instrumentalisation of migrants by Turkey. But I think it is oversimplification to say that any future flow of migrants that comes via Turkey is an instrumentalisation by Turkey," he said.
"Just think back to 2014 when there was a much bigger flow of migrants than at the Evros border and nobody considered this an instrumentalisation by any particular country. My advice would be to resist the tendency to blame everything on Turkey here. Evros yes, but in other possible future instances one has to take a differentiated and closer look," Reichel said.
Regarding the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, the ambassador said that Germany and the United States have agreed on a common position on how to jointly deal with possible adverse consequences for third countries, particularly Ukraine.
"The idea is to create opportunities also for Ukraine and maybe to compensate what they fear might be the adverse consequences. And secondly the US and Germany have agreed to react if indeed Russia uses Nord Stream 2 as a geopolitical weapon. Energy pipeline politics is a very complex area. Political judgments flow from assessments and predictions…. So we will have to see what really happens but the important thing is that there is a common political will between the United States and Germany to make sure that the feared dangers for third countries don’t materialise," he said.
The ambassador also referred to the legacy of German Chancellor Angela Merkel after 16 years in office, as Germany heads towards elections:
"After 16 years in office it is obvious that the legacy of Chancellor Merkel will remain in many areas. We will now move into the elections and then we will have certainly new faces, new personalities that come to the fore but I don’t think there will be radical changes in foreign policy for a couple of reasons: One is that we are certain to have a coalition government. Such coalition governments tend to orientate themselves in the political center, particularly if you consider that a three-party coalition is a strong possibility. And secondly, foreign policy in Germany has traditionally been an area of broad consensus," the ambassador said.
He ended the interview with a reference to the recent cooperation of Greek and German fire fighters against the recent great fires in Greece, noting that European solidarity was key in fighting climate change, as in other issues.