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GREECE


 

REPUBLICAN REFERENCE

Area (sq km)
130,800

Population 
10,623,835

Capital 
Athens

Currency 
Drachma 

President 
Costas 
Stephanopolous

Private sector 
% of GDP
over 60%

  

Background:
Greece achieved its independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1829. During the second half of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century, it gradually added neighbouring islands and territories with Greek-speaking populations. Following the defeat of communist rebels in 1949, Greece joined NATO in 1952. A military dictatorship, which in 1967 suspended many political liberties and forced the king to flee the country, lasted seven years. Democratic elections in 1974 and a referendum created a parliamentary republic and abolished the monarchy; Greece joined the European Community or EC in 1981 (which became the EU in 1992). 

Update No: 074 - (19/06/03)

The fact that the Olympic Games are to be held in Greece next year is a major event, even for those not enamoured of athletics and sports generally. For it is leading to all sorts of finds and discoveries which will alter the conceptions we hold about Ancient Greece, which spawned the Games in the first place.

Ancient Athens and US glory
The Greeks are incredibly proud of their heritage, as their constant resort to ancient Greek names attests, as in Aristotle Onassis. Plato, Alexander and Philip are common forenames.
Actually in matters of race, the present-day Greeks are quite different from the Dorians and pre- Dorians who made up the ancient Hellenic world. They are Slavs, Albanians and Bulgarians in origin. Still, they are conscious of their inheritance as a truly remarkable one. The cradle of European civilisation no less.

The Olympic Games and peace
It is worth recalling that the original Olympic Games were more than just about sport and athletics. They were a form of peacemaking among the numerous city-states of the Peloponnese, the Aegean, the Adriatic and Asia Minor. Competition for honour and awards, not for territory was the main aim, with the torch of harmony lighting the way forward.
The Games brought Ancient Greece a benefit far exceeding the pleasure and excitement of following a great athletic contest.
The Games had begun in 776BC, the starting date of their history for the Greeks of olden times. They were held every fifth year, with very few breaks, right up to the fifth century AD.
When their date was proclaimed, any wars that were being waged in the country automatically ceased. Kings and democracies alike declared a truce for the period of the Olympiad. Each city - state sent its great men as ambassadors to the Games, with valuable gifts to be laid in the Treasuries of the Gods. Then, the meeting to witness the Games provided the perfect opportunity to discuss terms of peace in an atmosphere of goodwill. Many a bitter conflict was stopped by the announcement of an Olympiad and was never resumed afterwards, to general relief and common betterment.
The 2004 Games are coming after a bloody war in Iraq, the cradle of civilisation itself. Preparations for them are already producing interesting discoveries.
The greatest find has been the Hadrian Aqueduct, started in 117AD by the Emperor Hadrian as a gift to the Athenians who had elected him as leader of the city, a great honour. The aqueduct is in the Olympic Village. The temple of Artemis (Diana) has also been found. Innumerable works of ceramics, sculpture and jewellery have been discovered. The Metro is being transformed into "outdoor" museums, adorned with the finds, obviously secure behind glass.
Athens, indeed, is being turned into a huge museum itself. The Acropolis, the Parthenon and other great works of antiquity give it a unique character. How long before the Greeks demand once more the return of the Elgin Marbles? Tony Blair likes to be liked. Nothing would make him more so than their return.

The EU presidency
The Games are overshadowing everything. But the Greeks held the EU presidency for the first half of 2003, at a particularly difficult time. Italy takes over from July.
The Greeks tried to find a compromise between the US and the coalition of the unwilling, France, Germany, Russia, to no avail. This was always likely to be the case, given the Gaullism not far from the surface in Paris, the new-found pacifism of the Germans and the KGB reflexes of Putin.
At least the Greeks were able to ensure the accession of 10 new countries on their watch, a fitting accompaniment for the presidency of the founder of the West, with its inherently expansionist ways. Greece is the natural leader of the Balkans and will want to see Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Macedonia and Albania follow on eventually into the EU.
Its businessmen are already the largest investors in the region and know how to operate there. Joint ventures with Greek firms for Balkan investment are sure to multiply.

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BANKING

National Bank to focus on retail, SME growth


The National Bank of Greece (NGB) recently held its annual general meeting of shareholders in Athens, New Europe reports. In his address to the AGM, bank President, Theodoros Karatzas, stressed that the key strategic objectives of NGB are to achieve further growth in retail banking, international activities and financing for small and medium enterprises (SMEs). At the same time, the bank will ensure that risk and operating costs are kept under close scrutiny, and enhance productivity, the bank said in a statement. "This strategic orientation is already yielding results: the bank's operating profit improved in 2002 relative to 2001. This positive trend has strengthened yet further during the first quarter of 2003," Karartzas said.
During the meeting, it was decided that a total dividend payment of €104.3m, or €0.45 per share would be made. On May 12th, the bank's shares traded ex-2002 dividend.
The AGM also approved the distribution of one bonus share for every 10 shares held, via the capitalisation of reserves. Beneficiaries of the bonus shares will be shareholders of the bank as of May 30th 2003, provided that cut-off as been finalised. Shareholders may expect further announcements from the bank regarding the matter.

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CREDIT RATINGS

S&P lifts rating on Greece to A+

Ratings agency, Standard and Poor's, recently raised its rating on Greece for the first time in more than two years, the Financial Times reported.
The long-term government debt rating was lifted by one notch from A to A+, the fifth highest grade.
David Cooling, S&P analyst, said: "The upgrade reflects a prolonged improvement in the general government deficit."
He said there had been "sustained real and nominal economic convergence with higher-rated Emu partners and commitment to further structural reform."
S&P's move follows an earlier one from Moody's Investors Service, which raised Greece to A1, its equivalent rating, in November. That was Greece's first upgrade since it joined the eurozone. Fitch still has Greece one notch lower than its peers.
"It makes a lot of sense. Many East European countries were upgraded en masse to low A, so this move puts Greece one step ahead," said Padhraic Garvey, analyst at ING.
"Having said that, it is still the lowest issuer in the eurozone. Countries like Italy and Belgium are on AA."
S&P said that even taking into account statistical revisions, the government deficit had narrowed substantially in recent years. It is forecast to widen again this year but then fall again over the medium term. By 2006 Greece is expected to have a balanced general budget.
Greek 10-year bond yields fell following the upgrade, losing four basis points to 3.71%.
The rating on Greece's short-term government debt was kept at A-1, the highest rating, with a stable outlook.

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FINANCIAL NEWS

Simitis denies industrial gloom, SEB urges business activity

Greek prime Minister, Costas Simitis recently rejected fears voiced by industry officials earlier in May that unemployment could double to 18-20% if the government failed to take the right economic measures. "Many people maintain that there will be an investment slump after the Athens 2004 Olympic Games, and they have forecast a decline in gross domestic product and a rise in unemployment.
"These forecasts are entirely erroneous," Simitis was quoted as saying by ANA whilst addressing the Association of Greek Industry's (SEB) annual general meeting through a videotaped message.
SEB President, Odysseus Kyriakopoulos warned over possible gloom, both in the industry and labour market, and urged the government to promote business activity through creation of necessary infrastructure and a business climate favouring the establishment of new firms, which would aid job creation.
"Unemployment will continue its downward course, and the era after 2004 will be better than the current one," the prime minister forecast.
In an indirect reference to the closure of a Greek operation by the multinational Schiesser Group of Switzerland that will bring 500 redundancies, Simitis said it was imperative to ensure a greater flow of high technology investments from abroad. "This type of investment would not be seeking cheap labour as in previous decades, but rather a business friendly environment, a modern telecoms and transport infrastructure, a stable tax regime, and highly trained personnel," he added.

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TRANSPORT

Verelis presents tram car system

Transport and Communications Minister, Christos Verelis, announced that the countdown for the full function of the Athens tram system has begun. The minister recently presented the first series of wagons and engines that will be used in the system, ANA News Agency reported. 
TRAM SA presented the 31.9m long rail car and engine assembly announcing that the tram system would be in full use in April 2004.

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