The Greek Foreign Minister, Dimitris Avramopoulos, arrived in Ottawa on an official two-day visit last week where he held talks with his Canadian counterpart, John Baird. Amidst a climate of mutual respect and friendship, the officials emphasized the historic ties that bond the two nations and pointed to the fact that 2012 marked 70 years of formal diplomatic relations.
In an open invitation to Canadian business to explore the numerous opportunities available in Greece and especially its energy, mining, trade and tourist sectors, Mr. Avramopoulos asserted that the Greek government has made the long overdue necessary reforms to facilitate investment in the country.
Speaking to journalists, he declared:
"I briefed Mr. Baird on the deep changes we are making during this period in Greece -- deep radical changes -- because we have taken a decision through the crisis to lead our country in a new era. Changes that are putting us on the road to recovery and a return to growth... And we talked about the actions we are taking within the European Union to fight the wider European crisis. Investment is vital to Greece's return to growth... We also discussed the new potential for Greek-Canadian business co-operation in sectors where we can capitalize on the comparative advantages of both societies and both countries--sectors like energy, mining, trade and tourism."
Mr. Baird, on his part, praised the close working relationship of the two countries by way of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, delineating the key role of Greece in the region and declaring:
"Greece plays a very stabilizing role in the Eastern Mediterranean. They're obviously a good NATO ally. I think the biggest concerns we have in the Eastern Mediterranean is obviously the situation in Syria where I think we have like-minded views. Obviously security remains a significant concern whether it's the fight against terrorism, the recent events in Bulgaria, for example. Greece is a NATO ally and a like-minded security partner for Canada and we value our relationship."
Both the Canadian Foreign Minister as well as the Speaker of the upper house of the Canadian Parliament or Senate, Noël Kinsella, alluded to the fact that the Greek debt crisis has not been effectively addressed by Greece's European partners. Said Mr. Baird, "One is the fiscal side and the other is growing the economy," and, during a reception hosted by Mr. Kinsella in honor of Mr. Avramopoulos, the Speaker mentioned that the Greek Parliament has progressed by taking many measures but the Europeans are only now coming around to it.
It should be noted that Canada has always been clear about its insistence on a fiscal correction for Greece but has stressed that, on the other hand, economic development must take place as well. Through the words of Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, the government has continuously urged the European Union to tackle its economic problems by adopting policies that include strong stimulus measures alongside fiscal reforms: "It seems to me if you are going to have an economic entity like the eurozone, you have to be prepared to stand up for your neighbor in the eurozone," he has often stated.
Unfortunately, however, it appears that Canadian pleas have fallen on deaf ears as Greece continues to suffocate under ever-increasing measures of austerity demanded by its allies in the European Union. The country's descent into the economic abyss is evidenced by a gross domestic product that has contracted by over one-quarter over four years and by a rate of decline that continues to accelerate, exceeding, incredibly, 8 percent on an annual basis in the last three months of 2012.
Bravely, the Greeks forge on. Its leaders may, indeed, as the Foreign Minister said, be exploring and defining areas of potential foreign investment and fast-tracking new rules to eliminate much of the red tape surrounding these endeavors.
However, the inability of the government to implement measures to reduce rampant tax evasion continues to place an intolerable burden on the salaried and the retired and to discourage potential business.
Mr. Avramopoulos repeatedly called upon the Greeks of the Diaspora to invest in their homeland during his travels, claiming that the government has created an attractive place for capital inflows but, here, too, rules that stop the fiscal mistreatment of the expatriate community must be instituted if they are to heed his call.