Greece’s official name is the Hellenic Republic and the official form of government is the presidential parliamentary republic. Other conventional names include the names Hellas or Ellada. It is a Mediterranean country in southern Europe comprising an area of 131,944 sq. km and with an extended coastline of 15,021 km. It consists of a mountainous mainland and thousands of islands and islets scattered in the surrounding Aegean and Ionian archipelagos. According to the latest 2001 census, the population in Greece is 10.93 million people who mostly reside in the major cities of Athens and Thessaloniki.
Greece belongs to the OECD group of developed nations and it has a mixed capitalist economy with gross domestic product (GDP) per capita estimated at around US$29,200. Moreover, annual GDP growth reaches 3.6 percent. Greece is the major business and energy hub for the eastern Mediterranean and southeast European regions with an existing network of thousands of export-oriented and investment companies. It is often the major gateway for investors seeking business access to the region and is rapidly being transformed into the major transit point for oil and natural gas carried from the Caucasus and central Asia to major European markets.
Greece is primarily a service-based economy and major industries of the Greek business landscape include shipping, tourism, food (wines, olive oil, cheese, yogurt, fruits and vegetables, honey, mastic, saffron, organic farming), tobacco, apparel, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, mining products, and financial services.
In this respect, the major trading partners of Greece are mostly western European Union (EU) countries such as Germany, Italy, France, and the United Kingdom plus countries such as the United States, Poland, Bulgaria, and Romania.
An important sector of the economy is the shipping industry—the Greek-owned merchant fleet is the largest in the world. In 2008, Greek-owned ships registered under various flags, including Greece’s flag, amounted to 4,173, meaning the Greek fleet represents about 20 percent of the world’s tonnage. Greek shipping accounts for about 60 percent of the EU’s total shipping; and approximately 23.5 percent of the world’s oil tankers belong to Greek ship owners. We can easily estimate the contribution of the Greek shipping sector to the economy of Greece and to international trade given the fact that 90 percent of the world’s goods are transported by sea.
Another powerhouse of the Greek economy is the tourism sector, which accounts for almost 15 percent of the nation’s GDP. Greece boasts an unparalleled position in the Mediterranean Sea, enjoying a pleasant and healthy climate and a unique combination of mountains (reaching up to approximately 3,000 m. and dominating 75 percent of the territory) and 6,000 islands, of which only 227 are inhabited. The country’s position at the crossroads of three continents (Europe, Asia, and Africa) has endowed Greece with the richest variety of flora and fauna in Europe, and its indented coastline of varied seascapes is easily the longest in the Mediterranean. An alluring history dating back to Ancient Greece, a legacy of being the cradle of Western civilization, and a vivid folk culture manifested in culinary traditions and performing arts are also primary reasons for a diversified tourist portfolio that makes Greece a top destination for around 16 million travelers per year.
Greece is a member of various international organizations such as the European Union (since 1979) and NATO (since 1952). A positive outcome of the country’s constant involvement with international bodies is its ranking among the world’s top 20 countries in terms of pollution control and management policies of natural resources. The country also grants US$362 million annually in foreign aid (Hellenic Aid Service) to Third World countries and holds the 16th place worldwide in Official Development Assistance (ODA).
A major milestone in the country’s modern history has been the highly successful organization of the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens. The challenge of managing the largest project on earth was met and, partly due to historical associations, Athens 2004 is considered the most authentic games ever organized. As a result, the Olympic Games projected the modern face of Greece and reinforced the country’s competitiveness in the global arena.
The event helped Greece position itself as an exclusive destination for business in a diversified spectrum of industries ranging from energy, construction, and finance to food processing, maritime industry, and tourism. The Greek state and its citizens may have spent a huge amount of money to organize the safest Olympic Games in history, but the legacy that remained in terms of infrastructure is phenomenal. State-of-the-art facilities in sports and urban transportation, accumulation of managerial know-how in organization of mega-events, and a new image for the country and its products are among the many benefits Greece enjoys in the post-Olympics era.
On the downside, Greece, despite its highly skilled workforce, suffers from a high unemployment rate. Unemployment’s negative impact is even more reinforced due to the inflation of prices since the introduction of the euro in 2002. More than 8 percent of the population is unemployed, and this phenomenon primarily affects women and the younger population. Part of the problem seems to be the disproportion between employees’ supply and the ability of the economy to generate sustainable employment for educated youth. Several sectors such as the food industry and high-tech/telecommunications have shown healthy progress, but traditional industries such as textiles have significantly declined. Moreover, agriculture, which employs more than 12 percent of the workforce, is still characterized by small farms, inadequate marketing techniques for the internationalization of the country’s agricultural produce, and low capital investment despite significant support from EU subsidies and structural funds.
Greece is a developed country that looks to the future with optimism and seems eager to exploit opportunities arising from its protagonist role in the region. Its long-standing membership in international bodies such as the EU and NATO and its traditional democratic values ensure a stable political environment in which business can be facilitated and promises for further progress abound.
- Embassy of Greece in the United States, www.greekembassy.org (cited March 2009);
- Kevin Featherstone and Dimitris Papadimitriou, The Limits of Europeanization: Reform Capacity and Policy Conflict in Greece (Palgrave Macmillan, 2008);
- Alkman Granitsas, “Shipping That’s Not All in the Family; A New Generation Is Bringing Transparency to an Industry Long Shrouded in Secrecy,” BusinessWeek (v.2946, 2005);
- Jacqueline Grosch, The 2007 Guide to Greece & South East Europe: The Partnership Grows (Euromoney Publications, 2007);
- National Statistical Service of Greece, www.statistics.gr (cited March 2009);
- Serafin, “The Exchange That Launched 1,000 Ships: With Little Fanfare, Greece Has Become One of Europe’s BestPerforming Economies and Stock Markets,” Forbes (v.180/2, 2007);
- John Shea, Macedonia and Greece: The Struggle to Define a New Balkan Nation (McFarland, 2008).
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