GIG: The Greek government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic has received international acclaim, having succeeded so far in curbing the outbreak through the implementation of early containment measures. What do you believe this says about Greece today? How do you believe the legacy of the crisis years has contributed to shape the country’s response?
Pyatt: The Greek government’s immediate response to the pandemic, one of the fastest in Europe, has saved lives and given a strong, positive boost to Greece’s reputation. All of us at the Embassy feel very lucky to be here in Greece right now, and we have nothing but admiration for the way that Prime Minister Mitsotakis and his team have managed this issue so professionally, basing their decisions on scientific advice and data.
Greece’s emergence from its last economic crisis proved the resiliency of Greek democracy and Greek society, and once again, I see the Greek spirit of solidarity and discipline in action as people support each other and make sacrifices to respect the government’s social distancing measures and stay at home, especially over the Easter weekend.
Greece has received international acclaim for its response to the pandemic. This is another sign of the ‘New Greece,’ and I am hopeful that this brand equity will aid Greece as it returns to the market and looks for new investors as the economy reopens.
GIG: During this difficult time, Greece has benefited from large contributions from many of its leading corporates. How have U.S. companies gotten involved? What do you believe has driven this response?
Pyatt: American companies in Greece are showing incredible generosity, and their ingenuity is helping Greece respond to the crisis. For example, Google, Cisco, and Microsoft are working with the Ministries of Education, Health, Tourism, and the OAED (the Greek unemployment authority) to ensure that students are able to continue their studies from home, doctors can connect with patients remotely, and job seekers can improve their chances of employment.
Hewlett Packard, Oracle, Enterprise, Coursera, Envipco, ONEX, Avis, and MAC Cosmetics have all made donations to assist the Greek government. Coca Cola, Pfizer, SAS, IBM, Airbnb, Medtronic, and Ford are also supporting Greece’s fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. This is the type of support you can expect from American companies with shared values, transparency, accountability, and a long tradition of corporate responsibility and supporting local communities.
Pyatt: While the Greek government has been quick to adopt measures to mitigate the impact of the containment measures on the national economy, a recession is all but inevitable in 2020. Looking ahead, what role can we expect the U.S. to play in Greece’s recovery from this global crisis?
Pyatt: Just as the United States stood by Greece through its decade-long financial crisis, we will continue to stand with Greece through its response to COVID-19. The strategy behind U.S. engagement in Greece has not changed.
The bond between our countries is stronger than ever, and we are working with the Greek government to support Greece’s economic recovery, encouraging American investment in key sectors like energy, infrastructure, tourism, and technology,
and helping to get the word out to American investors about the fantastic human capital that Greece enjoys and how we can leverage a very strong government-to-government relationship with Greece to help build the economic foundation moving forward.
I’ve been in steady contact with Minister of Development Georgiadis throughout the pandemic, and I recently had video conferences with several groups of American companies, and one of the things that I discussed with them was the opportunities that we continue to see in Greece, and also the success story of Greece’s response to the crisis.
Now is the time to remind investors of the value proposition that Greece represents, and the government’s commitment to market-led growth and our strong bilateral trade and investment ties.
GIG: What effect do you expect this pandemic to have on investment projects that were already in the pipeline involving U.S. interests?
Pyatt: We remain strongly engaged on all the projects where U.S. investors have expressed interest: the Hellinikon project, Elefsina shipyards, the port and floating regasification unit in Alexandroupolis, continuing to build our energy ties – both in LNG and also in renewable energy, where we see so much potential – and in the start-up sector, where I recently had a video call with Greek start-ups to share experiences from the U.S. start-up sector and the tools that the U.S. government has been using to help reinforce this important sector against the challenge of COVID-19.
The global economy has been put into an induced coma to protect it from further damage amid the pandemic, and all our leaders are now focused on how to bring the patient out of that coma. I have no doubt that we will succeed. So, I think you’re going to see some temporary slowdown in expenditure plans because of the shock that the global market has suffered. But overall, the strategic case for Greece won’t change.
GIG: With the fall in oil prices, could this be an opportunity to forge greater bilateral cooperation on the energy front? In which sectors do you foresee new opportunities opening up?
Pyatt: The global energy marketplace has faced two severe disruptions over the past few months: one is the energy price war between Russia and Saudi Arabia; the other is the demand shock from the slowdown in the global economy and global commerce. That’s going to cause severe short-term disruption. But it’s important to remember that energy companies make their plans at the level of decades, not months or quarters. The structural aspects, all of the things that have helped to propel Greece’s new role as a regional energy hub, are unaffected by the COVID-19 crisis. The EastMed pipeline remains important. TAP remains tremendously important. The IGB Pipeline is moving ahead. We continue our work in support of the FSRU in Alexandroupolis. I think that the pandemic could spur greater collaboration and growth in the renewable energy sector.
I’ve also spoken with Minister Kikilias about increased U.S. investment in Greece’s health sector. Pfizer is the flagship example of American investment in this sector, but there’s much more that can be done, leveraging Greece’s strong history in generics manufacturing, its fantastic human capital, and its emerging strengths in technology and innovation. I’ve been in regular contact with Michael Kratsios in the President’s Office of Science and Technology, and we’ve concluded negotiations on a U.S.-Greece Science and Technology Agreement. Once that agreement is signed, it will enable U.S. and Greek scientists to more freely cooperate on all types of research, including COVID-19 research.
In recognition of the Prime Minister’s commitment to procure licensed software for government systems and the issuance of a tender for software in March,
the U.S. Trade Representative’s Office announced on April 29 that Greece, after 12 years, was removed from the Special 301 watch list of countries that do not adequately protect intellectual property, opening the path for more U.S. investor interest in innovative sectors.
Minister Pierrakakis recognised early that the protection of intellectual property is an essential component for the development of a vibrant technology sector, ranging from information and communications technology firms to pharmaceuticals and film production. We are confident that the measures the government is taking will lead to further investment in these important innovative sectors in Greece.
GIG: During the course of this pandemic, we’ve witnessed digitisation come to the fore in Greece, yet the country still has a great deal of catching up to do in this respect. What lessons do you believe can be learned, and how can this be built upon to help Greece leapfrog ahead?
Pyatt: First, I want to congratulate my friend Minister Pierrakakis for the Ministry of Digital Governance’s fast tracking of new technology initiatives to help make us all safer in this unprecedented and challenging environment. One of the first issues that I worked on with the Minister was connecting him with Apple to enable the government to deploy the emergency SMS alerts that we’ve all been getting. That’s an area that has natural synergy with American technology companies, some of whom have done a lot to support the Greek government.
At the same time, Greece’s agile and creative start-up ecosystem can help government and industry retool and rebuild after the pandemic. For example, the Greek start-up isMOOD, an alumnus of our delegations to the South by Southwest technology and innovation festival, is now providing software to run the new gov.gr site. These advances in digital governance will cut through red tape and make government run more efficiently, making Greek democracy more responsive to citizens and helping to build the business environment.
GIG: According to some estimates, social distancing measures may need to be in place for an 18-month period, posing significant questions as to how certain activities that have traditionally required personal contact will be carried out. How do you see this pandemic affecting your role as Ambassador, and what are the biggest challenges in adapting to this ‘new normal’?
Pyatt: Throughout the pandemic, many of us have embraced virtual platforms and technologies to stay in touch, to carry out government functions, and to continue working and learning. Like the rest of the Embassy, I’ve been working from home and adhering to all the government’s protective measures. Over the past few weeks, I’ve recorded video messages to AmCham and to American citizens in Greece, participated in virtual interviews, meetings and town halls, and had many phone and video conversations with Greek government officials. We are all going to be working through this together, and I’m confident that we’ll continue to find new ways to connect as we adjust to the new normal this pandemic has created.