Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs for Economic Diplomacy and Openness Kostas Fragogiannis’ interview with ANA-MPA and journalist Sophia Aravopoulou (19. 06. 2022)

The importance of the direct air connection between Greece and Libya, and consequently between Libya and Europe, following an interruption of eight years, which our country has already launched with a call for tenders “running” by the Hellenic Civil Aviation Authority since June 9 and the notice of the concession of the relevant rights to be announced in the first days of July, emphasized Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs for Economic Diplomacy and Openness, Kostas Fragogiannis, in an interview with the Athenian-Macedonian News Agency and journalist Sofia Aravopoulou.

Mr. Fragogiannis also talked about the economic relations that have been further developed recently, opening up new perspectives with Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Regarding Israel in particular, the Deputy Minister believes that his recent trip “offered another vote of confidence in Greece as a reliable interlocutor and a safe investment destination”. He highlighted the excellent and systematic cooperation that has been developed with the “reliable interlocutor and now a friend” Saudi Minister of Investment Khalid Al Faleh, with a roadmap that has been consolidated by the two recent reciprocal business missions to Riyadh and Athens.

He also discussed in detail Athens’ and Dubai’s shared desire “to add even more depth to our genuinely strategic partnership”. A fact that is also vividly demonstrated by the two-day visit next Wednesday in Athens by Dr. Sultan Al Jaber, Minister of Industry and Advanced Technology of the United Arab Emirates, who will launch the Greek-Emirati Business Forum with the participation of dozens of Emirati companies from the tourism, energy, agro-industry, health and pharmaceutical industries, transport and infrastructure, waste management.

Lastly, the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs provided an overview of how and where our country is headed in the key area of Economic Diplomacy and strategic investments, and its immediate further prospects. In this regard, he expressed his optimism that “we will reach the target we have set to increase Foreign Direct Investment to 4% of GDP by 2023 – from 1.8% in 2019 – and that we will soon be able to set even more ambitious targets”.

The full text of Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs for Economic Diplomacy and Openness, K. Fragogiannis’ interview is as follows:

JOURNALIST: You recently returned from Israel having signed two memoranda of understanding on targeted actions. What areas is the Israeli interest focused on and what are the prospects for strengthening bilateral economic relations in the near future?

?. FRAGOGIANNIS: In recent years we have experienced constant, unexpected and challenging disruptions resulting in significant geopolitical turbulence. In such an environment, it is essential to reaffirm our traditionally friendly relations and to understand who our allies are. In this regard, my recent trip to Israel provided another vote of confidence in Greece as a reliable interlocutor and a safe investment destination.

Actually, the two new Memoranda of Understanding we signed, the first with the Israel Export & International Cooperation Institute and the second with the Israel Foreign Trade Risks Insurance Corporation (ASHRA), ratified and institutionalized this relationship of trust. Both organisations are of recognized standing in their respective fields, while the agreements ensure, inter alia, the exchange of know-how, commercial information and information on ongoing projects.

We value our strategic relationship with Israel and our historic ties of friendship.

Our aim is to undertake joint initiatives in critical areas of mutual interest in the field of new technologies: the evaluation of projects to exploit renewable energy sources, to improve agricultural production and to carry out high-tech projects in defence and cyber security, to name but a few.

In this field, there was in fact a strong interest in the “Astypalea: Smart & Sustainable Island” project voiced by companies in the green economy sector, both regarding its evaluation and in the participation for its implementation.

JOURNALIST: How are our relations with Libya, now that the Greek side and you personally have taken important steps: the reopening of the Greek embassy in Tripoli and our consulate in Benghazi, and the large business mission with Greek businessmen last October to contribute to the reconstruction of the country and wider bilateral economic cooperation?

?. FRAGOGIANNIS: Libya is part of our immediate neighbourhood, and unfortunately still continues to suffer the devastating consequences of a decade-long civil war. The Libyan people deserve a peaceful future where their fate will be in their own hands, without the presence of foreign troops, mercenaries and foreign fighters. In terms of Economic Diplomacy, we still want to see the Greeks of Libya and the Greek business community playing a prominent role again in the reconstruction of the country.

Afterall, this is the goal of the intense activity we are engaged in, with our recurrent visits to Libya – five in 2021 – both at the level of political leadership and with a business mission. We intend to strengthen bilateral economic and trade relations as well as the Greek business presence, in the sectors of infrastructure, transport, energy and medical services.

Indicatively, some necessary infrastructure projects in Libya in which we can and want the Greek business world to play an active role include the maintenance and modernization of airports, ports and major road networks, projects to restore the electricity generation and distribution network, while the development and operation of medical units and hospitals is also crucial for the country.

I’d like to emphasize that Greece is fighting the battle for the economic development and improvement of the quality of life of Libyan citizens. Greece is present in Libya and will shortly reestablish connection with it.

JOURNALIST: What do you mean by our country is fighting the battle for economic development and what is the connection that you are referring to?

K. FRAGOGIANNIS: I am referring to the discussions on establishing a direct air connection between Greece and Libya, which we were specifically asked for in our meetings with both Libyan officials and Greek businessmen who are operating there.

We proceeded, through an open and transparent process, after a great deal of effort, and in coordination with the other relevant ministries and departments, to call for expression of interest from all Greek airlines for the direct air connection between Greece and Libya.

The call for tenders was published by the Civil Aviation Authority already on 9 June and the concession of the relevant flight rights will be announced during the first few days of July, which is a first crucial step towards the implementation of the air connection, which is expected to take place in the near future.

The prospect of resuming a direct scheduled flight connection between Greece and Libya, and thus between Libya and Europe, after an eight-year hiatus, marks the major role that our country plays in the effort to create growth momentum in our neighbouring country. The direct air connection will serve as a vehicle for enhancing bilateral economic cooperation, especially in the fields of trade, construction and tourism.

JOURNALIST: Our economic relations with Saudi Arabia have particularly increased recently. As you’ve stated, our relations, are better than ever. Last March you led a major business mission to Riyadh. A large Saudi business delegation led by Khalid Al Faleh, Minister of Investment, came to Athens about 20 days ago. A historic agreement on data transfer was also signed. The interest, as emerged from the contacts in Athens, is great. What follow-up is there to expect?

K. FRAGOGIANNIS: It should come as no surprise that we have strong ties with the Gulf region and Saudi Arabia in particular. After all, we live in the same wider region, and we share the same geopolitical challenges. Indeed, successive trips by Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, during the difficult period of the pandemic, as well as contacts with his successor, resulted in the re-establishment of strong ties with the Gulf. We are now in the process of forging a strong strategic partnership between the two countries.

In this regard, we are working diligently with the Saudi Minister of Investment Khalid Al Faleh, who, I must say, has shown to be a reliable interlocutor and now a friend. In fact, the 5th meeting of the Joint Interministerial Committee was convened on 29-31 May 2022 during the recent visit of the business delegation from Saudi Arabia. During this meeting, we also proceeded with the signing of the Heads of Terms of a Greek-Saudi agreement for the construction of a submarine and terrestrial optic data transmission cable system, which will connect Europe and Asia via Greece and Saudi Arabia. It is the East to Med data Corridor, a flagship project that takes advantage of the two countries’ geographical location to establish a much-required data corridor between Europe and Asia for the global economy.

However, it is not only transnational relations that are moving in a positive direction. The informal meeting of the Greece-Saudi Arabia Business Council, held during the recent visit of the Saudi business delegation was an important development. During this meeting heads were appointed – on both sides – per sector of activity (tourism, shipping, infrastructure, innovation, energy), who are tasked with running specific projects and private deals.

As you mention in your question, the overarching issue in our policy and in all the initiatives we take in economic diplomacy is the follow-up, that is, the monitoring of agreements, projects and expected deliverables. It is a challenging task to carry out in a purely political ministry that is not related with the production processes required by economic and business agreements. And in this process, we are now being assisted by the private sector with which we maintain close cooperation through the supervised bodies Enterprise Greece and Export Credit Greece.

JOURNALIST: There is also interest from the United Arab Emirates. Would you like to talk about that?

K. FRAGOGIANNIS: The two countries’ intensive contacts at all levels over the past two years, demonstrate the exceptional level of bilateral relations and the convergence we have on a wide range of issues. At the same time, the business missions from the Emirates to Athens, as well as Greece’s presence at the Dubai exhibition, coordinated by Enterprise Greece, indicate our common desire to further deepen our truly strategic partnership.

In the coming days, on 22 and 23 June, the Minister of Industry and Advanced Technology of the United Arab Emirates, Dr. Sultan Al Jaber, will be in Athens to launch the Greek-Emirati Business Forum that will take place in Athens. It is worth mentioning that the Forum is convened on the initiative of the Emirati side and in particular the Abu Dhabi sovereign wealth fund: the ADQ. The entire event demonstrates Emirati companies’ keen interest in cooperating with Greek companies and investing in Greece. After all, just last month the Hellenic Development Bank of Investments (EATE) and the Abu Dhabi State Development Holding Company (ADQ) signed an agreement for the realization of 4 billion euros of investments in Greece.

Dozens of Emirati companies from the sectors of tourism, energy, agro-industry, health and pharmaceuticals, transport and infrastructure, and waste management will participate in the forum. Emirates Telecommunications Corporation – Etisalat, Abu Dhabi Investment Authority – ADIA, International Petroleum Investment Company – IPIC, Eagle Hills Properties LLC, Abu Dhabi National Energy Company – TAQA, Dubai Holding Group, Al Dahra Agricultural Company and Fly Emirates are just a few examples.

The renewal, also in May 2022, of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between EATE and the Mubadala sovereign wealth fund, for joint investments in start-up and innovative SMEs is equally important.

JOURNALIST: Strategic investment is one of Economic Diplomacy’s top priorities. And the results thus far indicate this. Is there something underway? Would you like to share your thoughts about the prospects?

K. FRAGOGIANNIS: The Inter-ministerial Committee on Strategic Investments is meeting next week and it will make new announcements. It is now evident to Greek society that investments unquestionably play a key role in the economic development of a country. At the same time, they are a crucial indicator of the Greek economy’s extroversion, but also of investors’ confidence in its resilience. With our country’s new National Strategic Plan for Extroversion, all our objectives are documented and measurable, all actions are systematic and targeted, and I dare say that the results are impressive.

From July 2019 to date, thirty-five (35) projects with a total budget of around €6.5 billion have been included in the Strategic Investments, projected to create 3,740 new jobs. In addition, dossiers are currently being prepared for at least five (5) new investment projects, while we work to attract more and more and larger capital in every trip abroad and in every contact with entrepreneurs and investors, presenting the opportunities, tax incentives and the favourable environment that has now been created in the country for international entrepreneurship.

It is worth noting that the investment sectors span from tourism, energy, global service centers, information and communication technologies to pharmaceuticals and biotechnology, food and agricultural products, supply chain and audiovisual production.

We are optimistic that we will meet our target of increasing FDI to 4% of GDP by 2023 – up from 1.8% in 2019 – and that we will soon be able to set even more ambitious targets.

Source: Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Hellenic Republic