Greece sets post-corona priorities

HamburgAmbassador Prof. Julia Iliopoulos-Strangas outlines impact of pandemic
02 June 2021
Aerial view of HafenCity

The latest Hamburg News series discusses the impact of the pandemic in interviews with HamburgAmbassadors all over the world and especially those with close links to Hamburg. Prof. Julia Iliopoulos-Strangas is the HamburgAmbassador to Greece and among 39 HamburgAmbassadors who go to great voluntary efforts to raise Hamburg’s international profile to new heights. 

Hamburg News: Greece’s popularity in Hamburg is rising and airlines at Hamburg Airport are operating flights to a record 13 destinations in Greece this summer. Beautiful beaches and the much-vaunted hospitality of the Greek people as well as the easing of quarantine requirements is attracting many Germans to Hellas. Professor Iliopoulos-Strangas, how do you and people in Greece view this eagerness to travel?

Prof. Julia Iliopoulos-Strangas: The vast majority of the population, including me, is very pleased with this development. Tourism is not only a vital source of income for the average Greek. People enjoy the professions exercised in that economic sector. And the Germans are among the "regular customers", so Greeks are looking forward to their return.

Every effort is being made to ensure that both tourists and residents can get-together safely. At present, the government is pressing ahead rapidly with the vaccination drive especially of islanders. So far, vaccination has been completed on about 100 islands with a respective population of up to 10,000 people.

Hamburg News:  Prior to the pandemic, tourism accounted for almost 30 per cent of GDP. What state is Greece’s economy in presently? 

Prof. Julia Iliopoulos-Strangas: Greece has managed to contain the spread of coronavirus quite well. Among EU members, the country has one of the lowest numbers of confirmed cases proportionate to the population.

The Greek economy is highly reliant on services. Tourism and retail account for a larger share of GDP. Greece was hit harder than other EU countries with recession coming to 8.2 per cent in 2020. A return to pre-pandemic levels is not expected before 2023.

Prof. Julia Iliopoulos-Strangas, HamburgAmbassador
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Prof. Iliopoulos-Strangas

Hamburg News:  What measures are being taken to revive the economy?

Prof. Julia Iliopoulos-Strangas: The Greek government presented the "National Recovery & Resilience Plan" last March to hasten the economic rebound. The plan includes environmental and digital transformation, private investment, economic and institutional reforms as well employment, skills and social cohesion measures.

Major investments are being undertaken. Athens seeks to play a bigger role, for instance, in China's Belt and Road Initiative. Old projects have been revived - such as goldmines in northern Greece or the country's mega infrastructure project on the site of the old airport in Hellinikon (Attica Riviera).

However, the economy will not recover without co-ordinated national efforts and targeted EU intervention - such as the adjustment of the EU Multiannual Financial Framework 2021-2027 and the "Next Generation EU" scheme.

Hamburg News: Have any new business models emerged as a result of the pandemic?

Prof. Julia Iliopoulos-Strangas: Companies in Greece have no choice but to adapt their business models and strategies to new paradigms associated with new consumer awareness, increasing digitalisation and attention to environmental and social issues.

The recovery will differ in the various regions and sectors. Greek companies are now using the time to weigh up the redesign of organisational models in the Greek entrepreneurial ecosystem, e.g., in sustainable tourism or e-commerce. Shipping is also recovering from the pandemic and driving the "green transition" with innovative technology and approaches to funding.

Hamburg News: Digitalisation in Greece has been in its infancy until now. However, that has changed for the better as a result of the corona crisis, reports say.

Prof. Julia Iliopoulos-Strangas: Digitalisation has exploded in Greece and affects mainly but not only public authorities. Digitalisation has proven particularly successful in terms of the vaccination drive. Everything is run smoothly by email and/or SMS. Banks have benefited from digitalisation for a few days now. On the initiative of customers, they can access government documents, albeit under stringent conditions, to confirm or change their customers’ personal data.

Hamburg News: Has the pandemic exacerbated the extreme hardship among refugees in Greece?

Prof. Julia Iliopoulos-Strangas: Since the pandemic began, the Greek government has taken measures to protect refugees living in the so-called Reception and Identification Centres (RIC) as well as in all the refugee camps on the mainland. As far as I have been able to find out, refugees in Greece have received basic medical care similar to the population during the pandemic. Asylum seekers, for instance, are given a temporary insurance card or number (PAMKA) so that they can be vaccinated and tested under the same conditions as the local population.

Special places have been set up in refugee camps where people suffering from COVID-19 can be examined, isolated and quarantined, if necessary. In March 2020, two new refugee camps were set up in Kleidi near Serres, northern Greece, and a refugee camp in Malakassa, Attica was extended to prevent the spread of COVID-19. I would like to stress that the number of refugees suffering from COVID-19 is similar to the remainder of the population.

Hamburg News: Greece celebrated the 200th anniversary of its independence on March 25, 2021. Are there any plans for corona-compliant celebrations in Hamburg?

Prof. Julia Iliopoulos-Strangas: The Greek Consulate lit up the MARKK Museum’s façade in the national blue and white this year to mark the anniversary of the Greek revolution (March 25, 1821) and the founding of the modern Greek state nine years later. The festivities included a livestream of greetings from Dr Peter Tschentscher, Mayor of Hamburg, among others.

Hamburg News: You, in your role as HamburgAmbassador, had planned an event in honour of former Chancellor Helmut Schmidt, who was a doctor honoris causa of the University of Athens. What has become of that plan?

Prof. Julia Iliopoulos-Strangas: It has been put on hold owing to the pandemic, as I was thinking of a big event in Athens. Perhaps, it can be held later this year.

Hamburg News: Thank you for the interview, Prof. Iliopoulos-Strangas, 

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HamburgAmbassador Scheme

Thirty-nine honorary HamburgAmbassadors from 29 countries are appointed to their positions by the Mayor of Hamburg. The Senate Chancellery, the Hamburg Chamber of Commerce and the institutions involved in Hamburg Marketing set up the HamburgAmbassador scheme, co-ordinated by Hamburg Marketing and which is unique in Germany in terms of structure. The HamburgAmbassadors are supporters, networkers and impulse generators for Hanseatic politics, business, science and culture abroad to solidify Hamburg’s position on the global stage.

Prof. Julia Iliopoulos-Strangas, HamburgAmbassador

The lawyer, Professor Dr Julia Iliopoulos-Strangas, is a passionate scholar and has a global network of contacts. She was appointed HamburgAmbassador to Greece by Dr Peter Tschentscher, Mayor of Hamburg in 2018. Born in Athens, Iliopoulos-Strangas completed her doctorate in Hamburg before being appointed professor in Athens. She has also been a visiting professor to Hamburg, Strasbourg and Paris. Guest lectures have taken her to Aix-en-Provence, Berlin, Hanover, Lisbon, Madrid, Sofia, Tokyo and Vienna. Apart from earlier work as a judge at the United Nations Committee against Torture (CAT), she is also involved in numerous associations, research groups and boards on constitutional law, social law, human rights and ethical issues. Her many years as a board member of the Acropolis Museum in Athens, which opened in 2009, are a milestone in her career.