ATHENS – In small, often hesitant steps but with eyes wide open with visions of a brighter future, Greece is moving away from the worst of its COVID nightmare, evidenced by the pleasant banter of citizens seated outside their reopened favorite restaurants and cafes as well as the gathering of public servants and businesspersons at events like The 8th Regional Growth Conference (RGC) held in Patras June 3-5.
The RGC is organized by the venerable newspaper Peloponnesos, and while its CEO Theodore Louloudis was pleased with the hybrid 2021 version featuring panelists in the house – the wonderful Achaia Clauss winery – and on the big screens made necessary by COVID, he looks forward to fully in-person future RGCs.
The conference serves as a public platform for dialogue between governmental, regional, academic, and business representatives. Offering critical and optimistic views of Greece's current situation and its COVID prospects, RGC featured prominent government ministers including Kostas Karamanlis, Infrastructure; Adonis Georgiadis, Development & Investment; Nikos Dendias, Foreign Affairs; Haris Theoharis, Tourism; Christos Staikouras, Finance – and more – as well as alternate ministers and several deputy ministers.
While he could not personally attend, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis essentially sent his team's first stringers on economic development, making presentations or taking part in panels moderated by leading academics and journalists.
Also participating were Past EU commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos, leaders of opposition parties, including SYRIZA, former PASOK PM George Papandreou, and Fofi Genimata, leader of its successor `Kinima Alagis' party. Also present were Anna Diamantopoulou, President, To DIKTIO, and Evangelos Venizelos, both past ministers of PASOK, and SYRIZA's former Greek Health Minister Andreas Xanthos.
After welcome remarks on June 3 by Peloponnesos' Director, Konstantinos Magnis, Louloudis, and Nektarios Farmakis, Regional Governor for Western Greece, EU Commission VP Margaritis Schinas gave the keynote speech. Guest of Honour Gianna Angelopoulou also participated in a `fireside chat' with Athanasios Ellis of Kathimerini.
Highlights of the second day included a One-to-One Discussion titled `A New Era for the U.S.-Greece Relations' between U.S. Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt and Apostolos Mangiriadis of SKAI, Karamanlis leading a panel on `Regional Policy and Infrastructure/Transportation' moderated by spirited journalist Ioannis Politis, and a One-to-One Discussion between Georgiadis and Aimilios Perdikaris, General Manager, Athens/Macedonian News Agency introduced by journalist Maria Nikoltsiou.
GOV'T BUOYED BY 1Q NUMBERS
The presentations of leading members of New Democracy complemented each other, representing the Mitsotakis government's can-do attitude towards governing and growth – and better than expected first quarter budget and growth numbers reflecting resilience in the Greek economy that along with reforms already implemented prompted Georgiadis to say the Greece is generating “strong inquiries” from U.S. investment funds.
In addition to cheer-leading, there was healthy self- criticism too. After Karamanlis described the Mitsotakis government's more responsible approach to transportation infrastructure – such as securing funding before announcing mega projects – he noted it is still the case that, “in Greece the self-evident is often inconceivable.”
Nevertheless, Karamanlis and others stressed the importance of the progress the Greek public and private sector has been making – especially on the digitalization front – Ambassador Pyatt is delighted investors can now monitor the status of their proposals and projects as they wend their way through the bureaucracy. Karamanlis also said Greece is in the age of `Smart Infrastructure' that is both cleaner and better managed through technological tools that help compile and analyze data to meet efficiency, sustainability, productivity, and safety objectives.
The concluding day's highlights included the keynote speech of Minister of Health Vasilis Kikilias and important panels on post-COVID reality such as `Social Cohesion During and After Crisis,'
`Equality and Diversity,' and a One-to-One Discussion titled `Recovery and Resilience Facility' with Nikos Mantzoufas, Governor of Recovery and Resilience Coordination Agency.
Numerous participants across the political spectrum emphasized making the most – by combatting waste and corruption – of the 70 billion euros in grants/loans Greece will receive in COVID-related relief, and Mitsotakis' officials stressed that is their priority.
Environmental, climate change, and energy policy were topics of several panels on Saturday and Tourism Minister Haris Theoharis led one on Sustainable Tourism.
No conference on Greece's future, no matter how focused on economics, can avoid the geopolitical dimension. Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias joined journalist Alexia Tasouli for a One-to-One Discussion, and academics and political officials joined foreign affairs specialist Angelos Syrigos – who, also being an education expert, serves as Deputy Minister of Education & Religious Affairs – and SYRIZA foreign affairs maven Georgios Katrougalos for the panel on `Geopolitical Challenges and Opportunities in the South-East Mediterranean.'
The RGC concluded with the roundtable discussion `40 Years Greece-European Union,' marking the anniversary of Greece's joining the EEC in 1981.
The conference was well planned and executed by enthusiastic staff and volunteers with everyone observing proper COVID measures. Reflecting the importance of getting out the message about the New Greece to national and international media, the RGC's Communication Director was Angela Karageorgou, past press officer for the Greek Prime Minister's office and current CEO of On Point Communication and PR.
Louloudis also had a personal message for the Diaspora: “Greece finds itself in a historic moment where economic development is ready to take off, with many investment opportunities for Hellenes abroad. They can help turn the recent brain drain into brain gain, bringing back our talented young people.”
That was echoed by Ambassador Pyatt, who was delighted to share the good news of Greek startups and regional initiatives – like Patras' Science Park – he has come to know well, declaring, “our aim is to bring investors to Greece.”