GIG: When it comes to Greece’s operating environment, what is the first thing you say to foreign investors?
Andreou: Getting out of a 10-year recession, Greece is at an inflexion point with a forecasted growing GDP for a third consecutive year and gradual improvements in unemployment and household spending. The country is entering a period of significant opportunities over a multitude of sectors. Mergers and Acquisition (M&A) activity is progressing with a prominent shift from deals lower than €10 million toward higher value transactions ranging between €50-100 million.
The competitive position of Greek companies coming out of the crisis has improved, with more than 2,000 showcasing high investment interest, solid growth prospects, and sustainable debt.
At the same time, a variety of projects in infrastructure and hospitality have great potential for investments.
GIG: Where do foreign businesses encounter the most problems when setting up in Greece?
Andreou: Investors have two categories of criteria when choosing a country and investment to dive into: minimum requirements and expected returns. Today, minimum requirements include political stability, speed of licensing, and a stable tax regime. Expected returns include the rapid growth and the return on capital of the investment.
There are still elements that discourage foreign investors from investing in the Greek market, such as the constantly changing tax regime that leaves no room for long-term planning by companies, the slow public administration, as well as the multiplicity and the large legislative framework of the Greek state, which delay foreign investments in Greece.
However, the government supports investment initiatives through law acts and amendments that will minimise all associated legal barriers and accelerate licensing processes.
GIG: What incentives are there for businesses to get started in Greece?
Andreou: Incentives to attract significant strategic investments in Greece and to improve the business environment have been granted. Examples include fast-tracking licensing and approvals within 45 days, Golden Visas for non-residents, tax incentives in specific investment sectors, wage cost subsidies, and site-specific and spatial development incentives, including immediate expropriation of property.
GIG: During the last few years, there have been several reforms to improve Greece’s business environment. Which of these reforms do you believe are the most important? Where is there more work needed?
Andreou: Greece has moved towards a reform period in order to facilitate and improve its business environment. Several reforms that have been applied aim to improve flexibility in the labour and product market, and to reduce unnecessary barriers and impediments. All of the above will help increase competition, reduce consumer prices, and rein in monopolies.
Despite this reform impetus, licensing remains one of the thorniest issues concerning investments in Greece. In the past, a lot of investment projects remained stagnant or took years to conclude due to extensive bureaucratic procedures. The state has currently focused on enhancing investments through a number of reforms, with the important ones concerning the simplification and acceleration of licensing procedures, by lowering the minimum threshold, as well as the reform of the restructuring and insolvency law. By making insolvency proceedings more effective and allowing indebted firms to be restructured, many firms can avoid closure.