THESSALONIKI – Greece's Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis opened the 85h annual Thessaloniki International Fair on September 11 with the traditional speech that can be called Greece's `State of the Nation' address.
This year's fair, which runs from September 11-19, has two official themes, and while the first was future-oriented: Greece - Moving Forward, the second: Greece: Past, Present, Future, reflected the event's transitional character during a continuing pandemic a year after it could not be held.
The transitional feel was apparent during the two-and-a-half-hour press conference of Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis the following afternoon on September 12.
Most of the 46 questions he answered with good-natured patience – except the questions about early elections, which he fended off with some annoyance – and often in impressive detail naturally reflected current concerns more than plans for the future, but Mitsotakis did spotlight the ongoing changes – especially major infrastructure works – that are in many ways transforming Thessaloniki, Greece's second largest city.
He also answered tough questions about his recent higher education reforms by emphasizing the future benefits to students – Thessaloniki is very much a university town – and Greece as a whole from changes at universities supporters believe were a long time coming.
On a related front, after highlighting the talent of the country's young adults, especially in high tech fields, he expressed confidence that the painful brain drain is being reversed, sharing that officials from the Pharmaceutical giant Pfizer have told him that 25% of people applying for the jobs the company is generating in Greece are people who want to return from abroad.
The prime minister stressed that his government's economic development plans reflect his conviction that its human capital is Greece's greatest resource.
While questions regarding the status and continuing fears about the COVID pandemic and concerns about the apparent resumption of Turkish provocations caused the tone to be less triumphalist than in the past – Mitsotakis downplayed the usual `cheerleader' role of prime ministers at the Fair – the prime minister embraced opportunities to be enthusiastic.
Asked about criticism from SYRIZA, the official opposition party, that he has abandoned the middle class, Mitsotakis rattled off a list of actions that he said have helped Greek citizens both endure the pandemic and plan for a more prosperous future. He emphasized reductions in tax rates for individuals and businesses, reminding that reforms and initiatives – like eliminating bureaucratic red tape – that benefit small business owners help the Greek middle class.
Also on the reform front and perhaps signaling future initiatives, he noted the importance of incentives and policies in the health care area that urge public and private sectors medical practitioners and institutions to cooperate more with each other.
Regarding COVID, he took advantage of the national audience to repeat that the vaccines are both safe and effective and urge citizens to be vaccinated, also noting booster doses for at risk populations are under discussion.
Mitsotakis also emphasized the changes he has implemented that promise better planning and coordination in the future to combat wildfires, including more and better equipment.
TIF, the biggest exhibition event in Greece and a major commercial engine in the Balkans, is an annual event that is held at the Thessaloniki International Exhibition Centre. It is located in an area not far from the city's waterfront and dominated by the OTE tower that glows deep blue every night, complementing the daytime presence of the beloved `Lefkos Pirgos – White Tower.'
Observing all necessary hygiene protocols, TIF is the first major Exhibition to be organized in Europe in 2021.
According to the organizers, “Greek entrepreneurship representation will arrive from every part of Greece, with the dynamic presence of the Union of Hellenic Chambers (KEEE) and the independent participation of Thessaloniki Chambers. This year's TIF places special importance on the aspect of entrepreneurship, and especially SMEs, which are the backbone of the Greek economy.
At the same time, 13 Regions of Greece will be present at the Fair.”
The impressive exhibition space of the Ministry of Development and Investments, featuring many mature and startup firms in high tech sectors like robotics and those of growing importance for Greece like energy, was hosted by its minister Adonis Georgiadis, who was his usual high energy self.
The main exhibition sections of the 85th TIF, are: Energy-Circular Economy, Digital Greece, Greece & Entrepreneurship, Electromobility, Academia, and E-Gaming.