GIG: Having recently returned to Greece to take up your post as French Ambassador, what are your first impressions of the country and its people since you were last here before the crisis years?
Maisonnave: After 12 years, I am back in Greece, which I truly cherish. There is no doubt that the Greek people have suffered a lot during the decade. Governments have made tough and brave decisions to restore the financial situation and keep Greece within the eurozone.
Reduction of public expenditure and a decline of investment have dramatically changed everyday lives. I am truly impressed by the resilience of the Greek people and their ability to lean on their traditional solidarities and adapt to new challenges. I cannot forget that thousands of young, educated Greeks have left the country, but the economic situation has been stabilised and has started to improve. I am convinced that the Greek government is determined to build a better future. Our will, as well as our duty, is to support them.
GIG: Looking ahead, what are your priorities on diplomatic and business ties with Greece?
Maisonnave: Everyone is aware that ties between France and Greece are ancient and solid, based on history, culture, mutual admiration, and respect between our people.
Regarding diplomacy, Greece faces major global but also regional challenges in terms of defence, security, and migration. I am aware of Greek expectations. I am also very proud that my country stood by Greece during the decade-long crisis.
Conditions are met to develop a special relationship. France is offering Greece its trustworthy support, both bilaterally and within the European framework. I am convinced our common security and stability depends on our capacity to deal with the instability in the eastern Mediterranean region, including the migration issue. Regarding business, challenges are big, and major French firms have clearly indicated they stand ready to participate. I am certain their expertise will be required here.
GIG: What are the main areas of business cooperation between France and Greece? How do you see this evolving in the coming years? Which are the main areas and key sectors in Greece that France and French investors are most interested in?
Maisonnave: A great number of French companies, more or less 120, decided to stay in Greece despite the crisis. I express my gratitude to them, and I confirm their interest to develop their business in a wide range of sectors in Greece, such as:
1) Energy: exploration of the resources, but also energy distribution;
2) Transport: construction of urban infrastructure and operating of Greek airports and harbours;
3) Insurance and financial services, for individuals and companies;
4) Pharmaceutical products;
5) Tourism and hotels;
6) Management of water resources and waste;
7) Renewable energy;
8) Tech and Smart cities, digital innovation, and engineering;
9) Food and agriculture.
In all these areas, French companies are ready to expand, partner, share their expertise, and contribute to the modernisation of the country.
GIG: French companies have expressed an interest in exploration for hydrocarbon reserves in Greece. Do you expect more French investor interest and business cooperation in the Greek energy sector?
Maisonnave: French energy sector companies operate important and complex projects that do require a series of skills. Once involved, they do attract partners and subcontractors that are necessary for off-shore drilling, for example.
Their interest for Greek energy resources are an important part of broader energy prospects in the eastern Mediterranean region that may transform Greece into a regional energy hub in the near future.
Other French companies, namely those involved in energy distribution and storage, have a strong interest in the privatisation plans that have been decided by the Greek government.
Other French companies have a great savoir faire in terms of renewable solutions and energy efficiency. I am glad they are already very active in the Greek market. The role of French companies might be instrumental in reaching the Greek government’s goal of a lignite-free energy mix in the next ten years.
GIG: In the past, Greece has had a bad reputation for excessive red tape and bureaucratic obstacles for potential investors. What difference will the recent raft of tax breaks, investment incentives, and reforms announced by the new Greek government make to potential French investors? What are the outstanding problem areas that you would like to see tackled as a priority?
Maisonnave: French companies and investors are closely following the new Greek government’s efforts to promote business in Greece in a more simple and efficient manner. There have been some improvements, and I am certain more will come.
We will soon arrange the appropriate forum between French potential investors and the Greek authorities. It is very important both firms and governments share their plans and objectives. The truth is that foreign companies face some public mismanagement, frequent changes of legislation, and/or lengthy judicial procedures.
Investors are looking for a predictable political, legal, and administrative framework. I am quite confident the situation in Greece will improve. As France has become one of the top world and European destinations for foreign direct investment, I think we could also share our own experience with Greece, as far as modernising the administration, when business is concerned.
GIG: What do you say to French investors who are considering doing business in or with Greece? Which key French investments in Greece can you highlight that have either been completed or are currently underway?
Maisonnave: I have no doubt it is high time for them to take a closer look at what is happening in Greece. The Greek economy has now stabilised. The new Greek government is pro-business and is determined to attract foreign investment.
Opportunities are here and Greek expectations regarding France are high. Take some examples of what both our countries and firms have achieved together in the recent years: Vinci has constructed the Rio-Antirrio bridge, which is a brilliant illustration of French know-how. Thales is a key partner in air traffic regulation. Alstom is a major player in the Athens metro project. Airbus has contracted with Aegean airline. I am not forgetting investments in the field of defence that require Greek subcontracts and excellence either.
In the meantime, other French companies have become leaders in Greece. I hope we will have many more success stories to tell in the coming months and years.