ATHENS – What a difference a decade makes. Pulling out faster from a long crisis worsened for many by austerity – and then the COVID-19 pandemic and soaring inflation – Greece is The Economist’s top economic performer for 2022.
The British magazine gave that honor after reviewing 34 richer countries that saw a startling turnaround, even if it was hampered by the Coronavirus, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis chasing foreign investors and benefiting from a big tourism year that nearly broke records.
Greece pulled in more than 18 billion euros ($19.17 billion) from foreign visitors in 2022 – a few more days left to rake in more – and was on course to surpass 27 million tourist arrivals.
That’s a big chunk of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of 202.98 billion euros ($216.2 billion) and helped provide more than 9 billion euros ($9.59 billion) in state aid for soaring electricity bills for households.
The ranking was based on five key indicators in its analysis of Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) countries that saw Greek top ranked for its GDP, consumer prices, inflation breadth, share prices, and public net debt as percentage of GDP.
The performance for debt took into account how much it has fallen – while still nearly unsustainable – as Greece will take decades to pay off the remainder of 326 billion euros ($347.23 billion) in three international bailouts given from 2010-18 to prop up an economy nearly shattered by decades of wild overspending and runaway patronage by governments.
Greece was followed in the top nine by Spain, Japan, France, Italy, Britain, the US, Germany, Estonia. It was ironic, given that Germany and its banks had to loan Greece much of its bailout monies.
Mitsotakis tweeted: “The Economist ranks Greece as the top 2022 performer among 34 countries, with high growth, narrow inflation breadth, plunging debt-to-GDP ratio and outperforming stock market. Very glad to see that our efforts and reforms are making a real impact. We look forward to 2023.”
The Economist said that despite the challenges impacting world economies, especially rising energy prices driven by Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine that Greece’s performance performance was a “pleasant surprise”.
“For the first time in a long time, the economic party is taking place in the Mediterranean,” said the paper referring to other Mediterranean economies such as those of Portugal, Spain and Italy doing well instead of Germany.
Greece’s GDP rose 2.2 percent from the fourth quarter of 2021 when the effect of the pandemic was still being felt by business, to the third quarter of 2022 when tourists were still pouring in.
The economy is expected to grow 6 percent in 2022 after the GDP fell 25 percent during the austerity years and Mitsotakis – facing a tough re-election campaign in 2023 – has touted the performance and his success in luring major technology companies to set up shop in Greece.
The Economist said that, “This past year has been bad for almost everyone,” pointing out that “investors have lost out as global stock markets have plunged by 15 percent” but that “some countries have done pretty well.”
“Thanks to super-strict lockdowns and a collapse in inbound tourism, a year ago much of southern Europe was in dire straits. The region was due a decent year,” the London-based newspaper said.
For all that good economic news the benefits haven’t trickled down to much of Greek society with households struggling to make ends meet, especially with jumping food prices, the government backing away from a pledge to consider lowering a 24 percent Value Added Tax (VAT) on food because there’s not enough money, it said.