GIG:Having recently taken up your post as Germany’s Ambassador to Greece, what are your initial impressions of the country and its people? Looking ahead, what is the top item on the agenda for diplomatic and business ties with Greece? What are your priorities?
Reichel: I was extremely well received, and my first months here have been very enjoyable. Greece and its people enjoy a lot of friendship, affection, and respect in Germany, and Germans are acutely aware that Greece has suffered through a full decade of socio-economic crisis. Now Greece is entering a new phase.
The time is ripe to open a new chapter in the relations between our two countries. I will try to assist in seizing the many opportunities offered, both for Greece’s further economic development and for our bilateral partnership.
That is why I am particularly pleased to have Germany be the honoured country at the 2020 Thessaloniki International Fair (TIF). With lots of support from the federal government in Berlin, and from the Greek authorities, we want to use the TIF as a reference point to strengthen our economic cooperation with Greece, but also our cooperation in research, education, and cultural affairs.
GIG: Germany is a leading investor in Greece. In which main areas of business cooperation and key sectors in Greece are Germany and German investors most interested? How do you see this evolving in the coming years?
Reichel: Indeed, Germany is traditionally Greece’s largest trading partner and the major foreign investor if you, for instance, think about the major airports in this country.
Greece offers many attractive investment opportunities and German companies have already successfully taken them, but the potential has not yet been exhausted. Sectors such as information services, renewable energy sources, health, freight services, food processing, and, of course, tourism are high on the investment agenda of German enterprises.
Generally, I see a new momentum in improving the business environment in Greece with the aim of achieving more and more sustainable growth. This will definitely help to give our bilateral trade an additional boost. An important milestone is the Greek-German Economic Forum in 2020 in Berlin, which was agreed upon by Prime Minister Mitsotakis and Chancellor Merkel in 2019.
GIG: What do German businesses that operate in Greece tell you are the biggest advantages of investing in Greece? What are the main obstacles they face? How much of a problem is excessive bureaucracy and other legal obstacles when it comes to potential German investments and strategic alliances?
Reichel: The high level of training of the Greek labour force and the comparative advantages of living and working in such a unique and safe country are a motivation for potential German investors.
With regard to the energy sector, the fact that Greece is seeking to become a local hub is also very positive. Tourism is thriving as well. It is worth noting that large German enterprises did not abandon Greece during the crisis years but strategically stayed in the country and remained engaged.
For German investors eyeing new investments in Greece, a stable political and economic framework plays a fundamental role. Backlogs in the judicial system, too much bureaucracy, and overregulation remain stumbling blocks for some of our companies. Another disincentive is the high tax rate for people who are sent to, or hired in, Greece.
GIG: What difference will recent tax breaks, investment incentives, and reforms announced by the new Greek government make to potential German investors? What are the outstanding problem areas you would like to see tackled as a priority?
Reichel: Greece is on a good track and the macroeconomic data, including the economic climate, are on the rise. If this course is pursued further, I am convinced more and more citizens, in particular the talented young generation of this country, will be able to enjoy the fruits of success.
The omnibus bill for promoting investments and growth, which was passed at the end of October 2019 by the Hellenic Parliament, creates conditions to increase the gross domestic product, investments, and, of course, employment. The effects to potential German investors who have a long-term perspective remain to be seen, but generally speaking the growth bill is good news!
Attracting more domestic and foreign investments is one thing. What I believe has at least the same significance is to improve the rate of investments in research and development in Greece, which is unfortunately below the European average. We have seen some improvements initiated by previous governments. But transferring know-how into globally marketable products is still a problem. To help address this, my embassy, in cooperation with the Greek-German Chamber of Commerce, organised a big conference at the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Centre with the title, Innovation as a Lever of Growth. We will be pursuing this avenue further because research and science are among Greece’s strong points.