The Role of Economic Diplomacy in Greece’s Coronavirus Response

An early lockdown endowed the Greek government with precious time to bolster its national healthcare system, while the Foreign Affairs Ministry led the charge to stock the country with scarce medical supplies, leveraging international ties with countries spanning from China to Switzerland, says Gregory Dimitriadis, Secretary General for International Economic Affairs for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

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GIG: The Greek government has moved in a quick manner to limit the spread of Covid-19 while taking coordinated action to support its national healthcare and emergency systems. How has Greece coordinated its response at a governmental level through the Prime Minister’s Office, the Ministry of Health, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs? What role has the Secretariat of International Economic Affairs played in this respect?

Gregory Dimitriadis Chairman of Enterprise Greece

Dimitriadis: As soon as it was evident that the virus would hit Europe, the Greek government drafted a comprehensive plan to deal with it, which was implemented in a timely manner. The plan included different measures involving several government agencies and stakeholders: controls at airports and ports, lockdown measures across the country, public information campaigns, while remaining in close contact with European and international health organisations.

We gained precious time to strengthen the national health system by hiring staff, doubling the intensive care units, and equipping our healthcare with medical supplies. A dedicated team of officials from the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, supervised by the Prime Minister’s Office, ensured the provision of the necessary medical supplies. The General Secretariat for International Economic Affairs of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, through its extensive economic diplomacy network throughout the world, namely Embassies and Commercial Offices, responded swiftly to support the safe completion of every purchase or donation from abroad.

GIG: In a race against time, Greece has managed to successfully secure multimillion euro donations in the form of medical equipment and supplies from international partners and a shipment of chloroquine from India, while also benefiting from large contributions from many of its leading corporates. In what manner has Greece leveraged its foreign policy to support the government’s efforts in curtailing the pandemic? What lessons can be learnt from this?

Gregory Dimitriadis Chairman of Enterprise Greece

Dimitriadis: Over the past months, we have been building relations with key countries that could become strategic partners for attracting investments to Greece, along with enhancing trade ties. During this global health crisis and race to locate and get medical supplies, Greece made a good use of these relations. Not only with our traditional partners, but also with countries we just recently increased collaboration with.

I should mention and thank China and the United Arab Emirates, which have donated Greece tonnes of sought-after medical supplies. I would also like to thank all other countries that donated smaller quantities, like Switzerland, or helped us with accessing their markets despite the restrictions, like India.

All these are very important, both as a gesture and as a practical immediate assistance. I am pleased to say that, at this time, we have covered our immediate needs. Nonetheless, we still continue to be proactive and ready to respond as required. This process has paved the way to build a multidimensional strategic partnership with new countries that could be further capitalised in the near future.

GIG: What synergies have been established between the government and Greece’s corporates to coordinate this joint response?

Gregory Dimitriadis Chairman of Enterprise Greece

Dimitriadis: It is a fact that in addition to the donations we received from abroad and the purchases we made, the donations from prominent Greek businessmen were extremely generous.

SYN-ENOSIS and the Greek shipowners, MYTILINEOS Group, Onassis Foundation, AEGEAN Airlines, Hellenic Petroleum Group, Golden Cargo, Desmos Foundation, Clelia Haji-Ioannou, Theodoros and Gianna Angelopoulos are just a few names, among many others. They stood by us in the fight against COVID-19 and showed once again the strong sense of responsibility and national consciousness they have. They assumed not only the cost of supplies, but the purchasing procedures as well to facilitate the rapid procurement of the necessary items.

This represents a concrete showcase of a mentality shift where the government and the private sector trust each other and can become partners in jointly implementing complicated and demanding projects for a common and higher purpose. 

Leading players in the market donated ventilators for Greece’s Intensive Care Units. Copyright: Vadym Stock / Shutterstock.com

GIG: Given the nature of Greece’s geopolitical role in the region, the country has traditionally played an important part in supporting its neighbours. What steps have been taken by Greece to ‘pay forward’ the support it has received from its international partners?

Gregory Dimitriadis Chairman of Enterprise Greece

Dimitriadis: Greece is a pillar of stability and growth in the region. We were always open from the beginning to assist other countries in locating medical supplies. One thing is for sure: this crisis has pinpointed how interconnected our world is and that only through cooperation and solidarity will we be able to face future challenges. The struggle to secure medical supplies has brought us closer together to many nations and their officials; they will certainly be our partners in the challenging period for the global economy ahead.

GIG: Greece’s response to the pandemic has brought about international recognition with many international outlets referring to Greece as a role model for other western nations. Looking ahead, what impact do you expect this to have on Greece’s country brand?

Gregory Dimitriadis Chairman of Enterprise Greece

Dimitriadis: The way Greece has dealt with the pandemic has indeed been praised by European and international media, foreign officials, philosophers and think tanks. In its latest report, the French think tank The Bridge ranked Greece first in Europe in terms of its response to COVID-19, stressing that thanks to early and strict containment measures, we successfully managed to flatten the curve and slow down the spread of the virus.

The compliance of the Greek people is remarkable. Now we are perceived as prudent and disciplined in contrast to the stereotypes of the past. The government’s successful policies, the new image of Greeks combined with the digital revolution that we are carrying out, our cultural and tourist wealth, and our comprehensive plan for the economic development of the country will significantly improve our nation’s international positioning.  

GIG: In terms of the attraction of investments, and within the scope of your role as Chairman of Enterprise Greece, once the pandemic subsides, what efforts do you plan on undertaking to recover the momentum that was in place prior to the outbreak?

Gregory Dimitriadis Chairman of Enterprise Greece

Dimitriadis: This world health crisis is already leaving its negative impact on the global economy. The EU is discussing the ‘day after,’ and in this discussion the Greek government is actively participating with specific proposals. With a view towards mitigating the negative effects of this crisis, we are not losing sight of our strategic goals to strengthen our economy by building strong international economic relations.

In this respect, together with Deputy Foreign Minister, Kostas Fragogiannis, we have started, since last July, building a long-term strategy based on the reform of economic diplomacy in the Foreign Ministry and the reorganisation of Enterprise Greece. We are investment-friendly and are creating an innovative framework for the promotion of Greek products in the world market. We are carefully planning our steps ahead by forging new—while strengthening existing—strategic partnerships.

At the same time, Enterprise Greece is implementing a series of actions to provide companies with timely and accurate information on issues related to the promotion of Greek trade and the support of existing investments during this pandemic. Just to name a few:

  • We launched a business information campaign on the Government Support Measures that have been taken to mitigate the impact of the pandemic on the national economy.
  • In cooperation with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Economic and Commercial Affairs Offices at Greek Embassies, Enterprise Greece is providing information to Greek exporters, regarding their export markets, on changes that are occurring due to COVID-19.
  • On the organisation’s website https://www.enterprisegreece.gov.gr/covid-19-countries-map, companies can find information on an interactive map about travel restrictions, flight cancellations from / to a specific country-region, trade restrictions (bans on import-export of products), information on shortages / demand for specific product categories, and general information on the disruptions caused by the pandemic internationally with respect to trade and entrepreneurship.

On top of that, we are creating new promotional tools, such as promotional product flipbooks, FDI testimonials, free seminars through webinars, etc. The enrichment and replacement of some traditional tools for promoting products and services with digital ones is our priority.

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