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Greek President: IMF Ignored the Recovery of Our Economy | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Greek President Prokopios Pavlopoulos- Reuters

President of the Hellenic Republic Mr. Prokopios Pavlopoulos, in an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper, stressed the critical role played by Saudi Arabia and Gulf Cooperation Council countries in fighting extremism and fostering stability in the region.

Read below the full text of the interview with Mr. Pavlopoulos.

I. How do you assess the level of Greek-Saudi relations in various fields as well as their development in recent years?

Bilateral relations between Greece and Saudi Arabia are excellent. We belong to the Mediterranean region, while you are in the heart of the Arab World and this relationship exists for centuries. Developments in the Middle East highlight the need for frequent exchange of views and cooperation between all the countries having a particular interest in the wider Mediterranean region. Saudi Arabia, especially nowadays, plays a key role in the Arab World.

The 4H Joint Ministerial Commission is one more step towards strengthening our already excellent relations in various areas, including Research and Technology, Athletics and Cyberspace policies.

Saudi Arabia is one of the most important economic and trade partners of Greece, occupying the tenth place of the relevant list. We certainly regard Saudi Arabia as a strategic partner in the energy sector. Energy is a vital sector of our multiannual bilateral constructive cooperation and we are looking forward to further expanding and strengthening it.

Today in Greece there are great opportunities for attracting investment in tourism, energy, health, infrastructure and the real estate market. These arise either in the form of Greenfield investments or by way of participation in the ambitious privatization program announced by the Greek Government and implemented by the HRADF.

Cooperation among our Universities, with a view to exchanging expertise, especially in the fields of medicine and construction, could greatly contribute to the prosperity of our Peoples, and I think that we should move in this direction. Moreover, we appreciate the interest shown by your Country to cooperate in the field of Archaeology. Greece, with its accumulated experience, may suggest successful methods and approaches with respect to monument preservation and restoration.

ΙΙ.Which are the most important issues corresponding to the vision/goals of the two Countries as well as their coordination potential?

Eastern Mediterranean and the Gulf region are a geographical continuum, where multiple problems and multiple opportunities meet. We have much in common and there is a broad scope for everything that connects us to multiply and develop even further. Stability of each State in the region reflects on all of us. Security of each one of us is inseparable from the others’ security. We live in a world where even a random event may have multiple effects on our Peoples.

Interconnection and mutual comprehension constitute the “cornerstones” in the search for common positions and solutions to the problems of the region. They are, moreover, the pillars of initiatives aimed at actions for the common good.

The area has proven that synergies between different cultures and religions can produce major results. Fanaticism is the enemy of any religion. We must all contribute to the culture of tolerance and peaceful coexistence among different religions as well as to encourage interfaith dialogue. To this end, the second International Conference on Religious and Cultural Pluralism and Peaceful Coexistence in the Middle East will be held in Athens this year, as a follow-up of the 2015 First International Conference in Athens.

I would like to underline the particular importance we attach to Saudi Arabia as well as to the Gulf Cooperation Council States (GCC) in general, with respect to tackling extremism and promoting peace and stability. We believe that the assistance and contribution of Saudi Arabia, precisely because of its key role in the Arab World, is of paramount importance in this respect and, therefore, highly appreciated.

The challenges and problems in our wider region cannot be solved by outside interventions, as our history has taught us that such attempts usually fail. Policies supported by the Peoples themselves, policies that respect institutions in our respective Countries, have always been crowned with success. Our Peoples and Institutions are the ones that can encourage cooperation, dialogue, team spirit. For this reason, Greece is opposed to any interference in the internal affairs of States, as this often leads to tensions. In this context we wish to promote the spirit of cooperation in all fields and at all levels.

Our actions and the strengthening of our cooperation are based on International and European Law, on the United Nations’ Resolutions, on the existing synergy among the Arab States and the relevant institutions expressing it.

I am sure that, by combining your mastery and your key role in the Arab World with our long experience from our involvement in both the European Union and the NATO, we can shape a climate of better understanding between Europe and the Gulf.

ΙΙΙ. How does Greece see Saudi Arabia’s leading role in the fight against terrorism, and the establishment of an Islamic military alliance to combat extremist groups?

Terrorism and violent extremism are global threats that go well beyond geographical borders and civilizations, and should never be associated with any religion, nationality or ethnic group.

In order to successfully counter these challenges, the entire international community has to demonstrate decisiveness and coordinated efforts in a sustainable and consistent manner.

Greece and Saudi Arabia, as U.N. Member States and in the context of the Global Coalition to Counter ISIS, both fight for a safe world and condemn terrorism in all its forms and manifestations.

Furthermore, we appreciate Saudi Arabia’s important role in the framework of the international initiative of the Global Counter Terrorism Forum, while, on a regional level, Saudi Arabia’s initiative to form the Islamic Counter Terrorism Coalition, can be a significant contributor to the fight against terrorism.

Combating this phenomenon requires a comprehensive strategy, especially in the UN context, involving all international partners and a wide anti-terrorist agenda, focusing not only on operational measures but also on the prevention side, addressing, in particular, the root causes of radicalization which lead to violent extremism.

IV: How do you see the future of relations between the two Countries, especially in the light of the ambitious Saudi ‘Vision 2030’ project and the possibility of participation of Greece in achieving this vision?

We view Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 as a great project of the size of a great Country. We do hope that the ambitious goals set by this plan will be met for the benefit of the Saudi people.

It is our earnest belief that Greece will be given the opportunity to prove its skills in helping the realization of some of the related projects which compose the overall scheme, consulting, construction and tourism, to name but a few sectors where Greece can contribute to the success of this visionary program.

V. During the first ten months of 2016 more than 22 thousand Saudi citizens visited Greece, an increase of 45% (or, perhaps, even more) in comparison with the same period of last year, 2015. How do you see this increase in Saudi tourists visiting Greece?

The significant increase in the number of visitors from Saudi Arabia to Greece is not accidental. The Hellenic Ministry of Tourism in 2015 has attempted a strategic opening to the tourist market of Saudi Arabia. Through highly targeted actions and activities, we showcase and promote our country as an attractive global destination and ideal travel proposal in the Mediterranean and Europe. This growing demand is also reflected in the attempt to enhance the air connection between the two Countries with direct flights.

We believe that the recent ratification of the Memorandum of Understanding for Tourism Cooperation between Greece and Saudi Arabia on October 22, 2016, will further contribute to strengthening our already excellent relations. We hope that this positive momentum will continue in 2017 and subsequent years and will create a new environment for the development of synergies with mutual benefits.

VI. What is the status of Greek economy now, following the outbreak of the crisis?

The main issue of concern to all stakeholders in the negotiation for closing the Greek assessment is whether the Greek program is on the right track. This can be evidenced by the presentation of data for the enactment and implementation of structural reforms, the state of revenue and other relevant indicators of the economy.

Greece has seen in 2016 two consecutive growth quarters until the third quarter of 2016. The growth will be positive for the entire year and is expected to exceed 2.5% in 2017. The relevant European Commission’s forecasts speak of a 2.7% development in 2017 and a 3.1% in 2018. At the same time, in the same text the cyclically adjusted primary surplus for 2016 is placed at 7.0%, while for the next two years at 5.5%, making it the highest in Europe, a ranking which is maintained also in non-cyclically adjusted estimates for 2018.

For this reason, and because there is a concerted effort to tackle the problem of tax evasion (e.g. the collectability of VAT has increased, especially in some of the most famous Greek islands like Mykonos and Rhodes), revenues have significantly increased. As a result, the budgetary target for primary surplus in 2016 has been exceeded by about 1.7% of GDP. In 2015 the IMF forecast for 2016 a primary budget surplus of 0.3% (i.e. it expected a deficit), while the target had been set at 0.5% surplus. According to the latest estimates the result will exceed 2%. At this point it should be noted that the IMF includes in its basic scenario the most unfavorable forecasts without even revising them in the light of recent positive developments in the course of Greek economy.

Thus, despite its positive stance on the issue of restructuring of the Greek debt, a stance with which the Greek side agrees, the overall attitude that keeps the Fund is, at least for the time being, uneven. While exerting great pressure on the Greek government to legislate measures for 2019 and henceforth considering that these will enhance debt sustainability, it does not simultaneously exert the respective pressures where it would have to for the clarification of the middle-term measures of debt restructuring. It should also be noted that Greece, as a Member State of the European Union cannot accept some of these measures because they are outside the framework of International and European Law. It is important to stress that the Fund itself states that restructuring is the key point for ensuring debt sustainability, while continuation of austerity to the levels suggested by particular European circles is, as daily practice shows, ineffective.

Moreover, it fuels a dangerous sovereign debt crisis, which concerns not only Greece but many other States of the European Union, particularly in the South.

Regarding the issue of structural reforms it is a matter the facts that Greek authorities have been praised by the creditors for the creation of an independent fiscal authority. Regarding the purchase of products and the liberalization of closed professions, the Greek Government has already completed the first and second OECD toolbox and approximately 160 out of the 360 third toolbar actions. These results led the OECD to place Greece in the category of ‘star performer’ with respect to structural reforms.

At the same time, the privatization program proceeds normally on the basis of what has been agreed with our Partners. What is more, the Law on the Hellenic Holdings and Property Company (EESP), which will manage public assets, has already passed and the company has a board of directors, CEO and a President, being prepared to increase the value of public enterprises and public property both for servicing debt as well as to increase public investment in Greek economy.

VII. What is the impact of the refugee crisis on Greek economy?

First of all, I have to stress that Greece is, to a considerable extent due to its geographical position, alone in facing a large part of the refugee crisis. What is more, some -fortunately few- of our EU Partners show a lack of solidarity, which violates the basic principles and values of European Democracy and European Civilization, as acknowledged by the European Commission itself. This certainly has an impact on Greek economy. However, such effects are not able to curb Greek economy because the Greek People has shown in practice that, through its well-known dynamism can absorb those economic shocks. But here I want to emphasize also this, which indicates how we, Greeks remain faithful both to our timeless legacy and the European Ideology: In any case, Greece does not calculate the refugee crisis in terms of economic impact, but has Humans, human value and the free development of personality as measure. We will defend the real refugee, in particular the war refugee, without counting financial costs. This alone shows how Greece is in fact a European country but also how a Europe without Greece would lose the identity on which it was founded to never let the nightmares of the Second World War revive.