The new extroverted face of Greece with remarks by Panos Leivadas at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.
In March 2004, Panos Leivadas was appointed Secretary General of Information by the Greek Prime Minister, Costas Karamanlis, and the Minister of State, Theodoros Roussopoulos. Among other duties, he is in charge of Greece's communications strategy abroad.
Born in Athens in 1964, he graduated from the Athens College. He studied Business Administration and Political Science at Hofstra University, New York, and at the University of Florida, Florida. While in college, he interned at the U.S. Senate and was elected Senator as well as Minority Leader in the University Senate, at the University of Florida. He has worked in the private business sector both in the States and Greece.
In 1997, he graduated with a Master's of Science in Electoral Sociology, from the University of Athens; in 1998, he registered as a PhD student. His Doctorate thesis, submitted for approval, is titled A Synthetic Interpretation Model of Electoral Behavior. He has published extensively on analysis of social studies, polling, economic analysis, political theory, and issues of globalization. He served as elected representative for the Political Science and Sociology Graduate Program, at the University of Athens.
John Sitilides is Chairman, Board of Advisors, of the Woodrow Wilson Center Southeast Europe Project, launched in January 2005 to analyze U.S. geopolitical, commercial, and security issues and interests in southeastern Europe and adjacent regions.
He is also on the Board of Directors of BioVest International, Inc, which manufactures individualized cancer immunotherapies, and on the Board of Trustees of Leadership 100, a national Orthodox Christian endowment fund.
Let me begin by expressing my delight in speaking before such a distinguished audience!Mr. Sitilides, a special thank-you for having me.Everyone, thank you indeed for coming.While in college here in the States (and, trust me, that was quite a few years ago), I hadthe chance to take a step back and look anew at my country. And although beautycertainly is in the eye of the beholder, I could see what some found not always appealingabout Greece. Of course, my country is loved, and admired and respected forits remarkable ancient civilization. This has been chronicled, after all, in a tremendouswealth of books and even in the revival of Ancient Greek Drama in America. By the sametoken, there is no doubt that every single person that visits Greece is trulycaptivated by her landscape and natural beauties. Such positive feelings, however, wereoften shadowed over, for three reasons.First, Greece was not considered a front-liner, in terms of economic performance.Although she was growing steadily, there certainly were things to be done on her part inorder to ensure a brisker and more durable growth rate. In order to build a moreforward and outward-looking economy. Secondly, Greece was perceived to often beconfrontational in her neighbourhood. In other words, not always seeing the big picture,and, therefore, not contributing to the solution of various issues. Last but not least,occasional incidents of domestic terrorism.But like I said, that was quite a few years back. Today, ladies and gentlemen, Greece isdifferent. Greece has changed for the better. And although I am the first to admit thatthere are things that need to be done and, trust me, will be done, Greece now offers brandnew reasons why to be respected. And I think you will agree with me that this is not just in my eyes!Let me take a few minutes to explain. I will begin with everyone's favorite: the economy!To start with, Greeks have implemented bold domestic reforms to achieve both animpressive economic performance and fiscal consolidation. To name just a few:the New Tax Reform Act that simplifies the tax system and reduces corporate tax ratesthe Investment Incentives Act, with the approval of applications worth more than $7bn so faror the Public-Private Partnerships Act that has approved projects amounting to $3,3bn.A member of the Eurozone, the most exclusive group in the European Union,Greece enjoyed a brisk GDP growth rate of 4,3% in 2006. She is expected toalmost match this rate in 2007. And this, my friends, is way more than twice theaverage Eurozone growth rate.Other figures also speak loud and clear about the state of Greek economy today:budget deficit down to 2,6% of GDP from 7,8% in 2004unemployment rate reduced from 11,3% in early 2004 to 8,9% in 2006(creating 250.000 new jobs, 80% of which in the private sector!)receding inflation rate, at 2,6%.With these macroeconomic figures as the background, let me give you somespecific examples of the way Greece grows. capitalizing, in part, on the tangibleand intangible heritage of the Olympic Games. Tangible in terms of infrastructure,knowhow and specialized human capital; intangible in terms of perceptions. WhatI mean here is that the Athens Olympics were a major factor in enhancing thereputation of Greece internationally. Despite widespread predictions of doom,Greece demonstrated to a watching world that a small but proud country can riseto difficult challenges and acquit itself with honor, a fact very much appreciatedby Greeks around the world. At the same time, Greece had the chance to unveilcomparative advantages of hers that were not widely known. In the process, herpartners came to perceive her anew as a credible strategic player with greatqualities and great potential. As a country that enjoys a very special status in aregion that extends from the Balkans to the Black Sea and the Caucasus.So, let me proceed with the examples I told you about. First, recent developmentshave rendered Greece an energy hub, benefiting her economy and her internationalstatus alike. Specifically, in an elaborate ceremony in Athens in March 2007,Greece, Russia and Bulgaria signed the final deal for the construction of the"Burgas-Alexandroupolis" oil pipeline, expected to transfer 35-50mn tons of oilper year by 2012. In fact, it is the first oil pipeline to be built in Europe after 40years. Offering economies of scale and complementing the Dardanelles, it will bea cost-efficient way for cheap and fast oil to be transferred to Europe and theAmericas, in an environmentally-friendly way. At the same time, the GreekAt the same time, the Greek Turkish gas pipeline under-completion,which has been agreed to extend towards Italy, is also bound to reposition Greece on the world energy map.Last, my country played an important role in the creation of the European EnergyCommittee (in October 2005) that establishes a single energy market in South-Eastern Europe and promotes cooperation and solidarity.Second, Greece has maximized her distinct advantage in shipping and themaritime industry, with great economic results. With the Greek-owned fleet beingthe largest in the world and more than 260 new ships currently being built, Greecetransfers an increasing number of commercial goods and oil globally. She, thus,provides an important strategic asset. At the same time, she is turning herself intoan important distribution hub. In fact, the $4bn Protocol with the EuropeanInvestment Bank to upgrade our ports adds to the list of promising developmentsthat draw growing investment interest from the Mediterranean, Middle East, and Asia.Third, Greece is a credible financial and business center in her neighbourhood,holding the position of the leading foreign investor in Albania and F.Y.R.O.M.and ranking among the first three in Bulgaria, Romania, and Serbia. With morethan 3.600 Greek companies in the area and Greek investments exceeding so far$16bn, she is the base for reaching out to a market of 160mn consumers, in all ofSoutheastern Europe. At the same time, Greek exports in the area rose by 10% inthe period 2004- 2005. It is only telling that, in Turkey alone, there was an almost25% increase in 2006 compared to the average overall exports increase of 18% in the same year.In addition, her banking sector, which holds 16% of the region's banking marketshare, has invested millions of euros to acquire and build networks in countrieslike Albania, Bulgaria, or Romania. More than 1000 branches now operate in theregion, while the National Bank of Greece is among the first five banks in termsof activity in Southeastern Europe. At the same time, Greek banks areprogressively penetrating such promising markets as these of Turkey and Egypt.It becomes clear that the solid performance of the Greek economy attracts ourpartners' attention. It is only indicative, for instance, that foreign direct investmentwas eight times higher in 2006 compared to 2005! Most importantly, however,Greece is a vivid example of how a country can accomplish for her self at thesame time that she is a positive influence for others. Greece, ladies and gentlemen,is justifiably perceived as a beacon of stability, progress and prosperity in herneighbourhood. She enjoys, for that reason, great leverage and significant "softpower" to promote the shared goals of the international community in the region:economic development and integration to the Euro-Atlantic institutions.And this brings me right to Greek foreign policy, which is directly linked, afterall, to economic diplomacy. In that field too, it becomes apparent that my countryhas, in some ways, "shifted gears". Now thinking more globally, we bettercontribute to the solution of problems in a spirit of cooperation and with muchincreased credibility and regional influence. Specifically, we are buildingnetworks of cooperation that foster mutual trust as well as set the ground for thefurther development of our region. For instance, the Greek Plan for the EconomicReconstruction of the Balkans, a 5-year development aid program, allocates$700mn from the national budget. At the same time, it fosters economicdevelopment, supports the democratic institutions and the rule of law andfacilitates the European orientation of the Balkans.Along the same lines, Greece plays a decisive role in the Black Sea EconomicCooperation organization and actively supported both Bulgaria and Romania'saccession to the E.U.. As to Turkey's European perspective, we offer our fullsupport provided, of course, that Turkey fully complies with her Europeanobligations. The active Greek participation at the U.N. Security Council in 2005-2006, the constructive way we handled the presidency of the European Union inthe first half of 2003 and our significant role in humanitarian missions around theworld all add to the reasons why Greece is now respected as a reliable player onthe international scene. As a strategic partner in peace and progress.Last, Greek authorities were successful in eradicating the deadly November 17terrorist group in the summer of 2002. The absolutely safe Olympic Games, ofcourse, came to confirm that Greece takes security seriously and cooperatesclosely with other countries to that end. At the same time, she doesn't grudgeputting in the money and the energy necessary to guarantee that our country is assafe as she can be. The world has once again, taken notice: tourism, whichrepresents around 18% of GDP and contributes almost $16bn a year togovernment revenues, showed a 10% increase in 2006. With arrivals in 2005being the highest ever, we now offer Greek hospitality to more than 16 milliontourists annually! In fact, we count a growing number of friends here in the States,too: the number of American tourists in the Athens International Airport showedan almost 400% increase between 2005 and 2006.Ladies and gentlemen, every time I am abroad, and as Secretary General ofInformation I do get to travel quite often, I do exactly what I used to do as acollege student: I take a step back and look anew at Greece. Today, I see adifferent Greece, with great self-confidence, more optimism and much faith initself. And I am not the only one. The whole world now recognizes a strategicpartner with a strong economy, a strong vision, and a strong mission in the world.I invite you all to rediscover Greece.As American citizens of the world who want to spread the word on Greece, eitherbecause you have roots and family there or simply because you share our commonhumanitarian values of peace, freedom and democracy.As businessmen who want to reach the broader region of Southeastern Europe.As tourists who want to enjoy high-quality services and be exposed to one of thegreatest ancient civilizations.Ladies and gentlemen, no matter which hat you choose to put on, Greece awaitsyou all! Thank you for your attention.