|WASHINGTON, DC —The American Hellenic Institute (AHI) hosted a forum entitled, “Greece Moving Forward: Implications and Realities” featuring three panels of experts who examined various aspects of the topic on October 27, 2015 at the Capital Hilton, Washington, DC.After AHI President Nick Larigakis provided introductory remarks, Ambassador Christos Panagopoulos, ambassador of the Hellenic Republic to the U.S., provided opening remarks and participated in a Q&A with the audience. Ambassador Panagopoulos thanked AHI for taking the lead and initiative to bring the contemporary issues affecting Greece to the forefront.|
“This is of great value for us,” he said. “It is important for Greece’s voice to be heard.”
The ambassador raised the consecutive elections that were held since 2014 that have led to “a kind of political stability” as a silver lining after six years of enduring a terrible crisis. Another positive development he cited was the July agreement, which will help to cover the country’s immediate needs and recapitalize the banking system. However, if economic development is not achieved, then there is nothing positive gained, Ambassador Panagopoulos noted. The ambassador also pointed out the levels of strong support Greece has received from the United States and cited Secretary of State John Kerry’s pending visit to Greece in November.
“Our vision is to make a new economy and to correct mistakes from the past,” he said. “This crisis provides an opportunity to correct things.”
In Q&A with Ambassador Panagopoulos, the ambassador commented on the pressing migratory/refugee issue affecting Greece in response to a question raised by U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) about how the Congressional Hellenic Caucus can help Greece.
“Greece is at the forefront of this battle,” Ambassador Panagopoulos said. “We need the support and cooperation of the United States.”
The ambassador also mentioned energy as a sector where the United States can be of help.
The first panel featured: U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney, co-chair, Congressional Hellenic Caucus; Diana Doukas, director, White House Business Council; and Philip Kosnett, director, Office of Southern European Affairs, U.S. Department of State. President Larigakis moderated the panel. Each of the three panelists brought their unique perspective from the legislative and executive branches of U.S. government.
Congresswoman Maloney noted in her opening that the panel’s representation demonstrated the concern about Greece and commitment of the U.S. government to Greece’s economic crisis. She reviewed the Hellenic Caucus initiatives undertaken to address Greece’s situation, including: hosting a summit on Capitol Hill, meeting with Greek government officials and members of Parliament, meeting with Germany’s ambassador to the U.S., participating at the roundtable discussion held by the White House in August; and outreach to U.S. government agencies and financial institutions such as the Treasury Department and the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC).
With regard to Treasury, Congresswoman Maloney cited the Caucus’ work to address the issue of overseas remittances. For example, she had a constituent who wired $10,000 to a bank in Greece to help the constituent’s relative pay for surgery that could not be accessed by the constituent’s family. The Caucus worked with Treasury Department to provide two alternatives for remittances, she said.
With regard to OPIC, Congresswoman Maloney stated outreach to OPIC is an initiative the Hellenic Caucus and AHI have pursued together. She added she has spoken with OPIC President Elizabeth Littlefield and the dialogue will continue.
“That’s a government resource we have to try to work with,” Maloney said. “It’s a win-win for Greece and the United States.”
In her presentation, Doukas provided an overview of how the White House Business Council meets its mission by ensuring the administration is working consistently with the private sector. The Council’s approach on Greece is taken from the standpoint of engagement, which is why in August the White House decided to bring Greek American community leaders into the White House to have a conversation about what has transpired on the ground in Greece. She added the White House wanted to ensure the administration was capturing feedback and that the Greek American community was being heard. Also, the White House is working with the Department of State to identify what the best mechanisms are going forward to help Greece.
Kosnett concluded the panel with three observations on Greece: 1) he is impressed by the strong and resilient ties between the United States and Greece due to shared values and security interest regardless of what political parties are in power; 2) on the migratory issue, it is an area that all parties must work together to ensure peace and prosperity and it important for Turkey to be part of the conversation as Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras stated; and 3) Greek democracy has endured whereas a lot of other countries under similar pressure, stress, and conditions, would have unraveled into violence. Greeks turned to its democratic system and the rule of law to develop a path forward, Kosnett said.
During the panel’s Q&A session, Moderator Larigakis made several points related to AHI’s work and what needs to happen in order to help Greece. He stated that AHI’s core mission upon its founding, in addition to the Cyprus issue, included economic development in Greece and Cyprus. Larigakis noted that AHI published three volumes of the publication, Doing Business in Greece and hosted 10 conferences on the topic. In addressing what needs to be done to assist Greece, Larigakis raised the fact that statistically there is zero foreign direct investment from the United States to Greece and that this “has to change.” He cited AHI’s work to identify U.S. programs with the potential to help Greece, such as OPIC, which is a tangible initiative that has moved forward. (Since the forum was held, AHI and Hellenic Caucus staff have met with OPIC to discuss areas where the agency c ould potentially be involved in Greece.) In addition, Larigakis mentioned the importance of establishing a trade or business delegation to Greece and that the most important thing that can help Greece is job creation.
Furthermore, Larigakis took a moment to pick up on developments with the Cyprus settlement talks, which was raised by Congresswoman Maloney and Director Kosnett during their remarks. Although talks have progressed, Larigakis cautioned about being overly optimistic based upon his interactions and observations and the fact that settlement talks must still address the contentious issues of property, the settlers/colonists, and government structure.
“For the United States to be helpful, it has to create the proper environment for negotiations to succeed,” Larigakis said. “Whenever appropriate, the United States needs to apply pressure to parties, namely Turkey, which will impede the process because we all know Turkey will be an impediment.”
The second panel featured Lena Argiri, Washington correspondent, Greek Public TV; and Katerina Sokou, Washington correspondent, Kathimerini. James Marketos, Esq., partner, Berliner, Corcoran & Rowe, LLP; and AHI board member, moderated the panel.
Argiri addressed the topic of the role of the Greek media in covering the events and developments of Greece’s debt crisis. She observed that the Greek media seemed to have lost its influence on the audience because the “yes” message the majority of media outlets tried to convey before the referendum was not delivered. Argiri added that economic survival and the need to just simply stay alive have become priorities for Greek media outlets. In looking at the here and now as well as looking forward, Argiri believes there is a common belief that Greece should move forward “simply because we have no other choice or alternative.” In her opinion, public opinion has been formed toward the pursuit of new reforms and policies.
Sokou presented on the topic of the role of the international media. In her opinion, the international media played a key role in the crisis because the crisis is inherently an international crisis due to the players involved such as the European Union, the Eurozone countries, and the European Central Bank.
“Everyone had a stake in the game,” she said and added that the international media contributed to the general public’s attitude toward Greece.
Sokou also conveyed her thoughts on the quality of journalism coverage during the crisis, the reliance of journalists on sources, and the media’s misgivings, including how the media stereotyped Greeks as “free riders” of the Eurozone and contributed to a sense of complacency in 2013-14. Sokou concluded with her thoughts on U.S.-based media coverage, stating they took a varied approach to covering the crisis and were less judgmental which reflected the U.S.’ more pragmatic approach.
Argiri and Sokou agreed one of the consequences of the crisis is that it has taken a toll on the media. Greece needs a strong, health media, they said.
The third panel featured: Nicholas G. Karambelas, Esq., partner, Sfikas & Karambelas LLP and AHI legal counsel; Ambassador Patrick Theros, principal, Theros & Theros LLP; Nicholas E. Chimicles, senior partner, Chimicles & Tikellis LLP and AHI board member; and Dr. Harry Dinellas, professor, U.S. Army Command & General Staff College. Serge Hadji, Esq., moderated the panel.
Karambelas presented on the topic “The Third Memorandum: Austerity versus Reality.” He explained the memorandum is essentially a political document written with general language that speaks to the constituencies of the interested parties involved and not a contractual agreement. Its terms address: 1) fiscal sustainability, 2) fostering growth, 3) modernizing administration, and 4) the creation of a financial control board based in Athens. The time period for implementing these four terms is less clear, according to Karambelas. He also identified three measures to implement these terms, including: 1) direct revenue raising measures to pay creditors such as VATs; 2) indirect revenue-raising measures meant to improve the economy, for example, recommendations that increases Greece’s competitiveness; and 3) an overhaul of business entity laws. Pension reform and recapitalization of banks are examples that fall und er the third measure. Karambelas noted that if Greek banks are not recapitalized by January 1, 2016, that by EU directive, there must be a “bail-in,” meaning funds will be withdrawn from personal accounts to recapitalize the banks. According to Karambelas, each measure must undergo an analysis that includes a determination if the measure is consistent with EU law and constitutional under the Greek Constitution.
Ambassador Theros addressed the topic “Inches of Reforms in a World that Requires Miles of Reform” in his presentation by first examining how Greece got to this point. The ambassador dismissed the notion that fault lies in DNA of the Greek people, but rather, he was critical of Greece’s political structure that lacks the ability for a checks and balances system. Ambassador Theros also expressed skepticism of the implementation of reforms and expressed the belief that the road ahead “looks bleak.”
Chimicles presented on the topic “Reforms and their Impact on the Greek Citizen.” He believes that the need for structural change was a mandate made very clear during the past year.
He discussed the importance of the word “cultural” to the discourse and addressed it by stating, “I think the cultural change that is going to be necessary, in order to make a real progressive movement for the Greek people and Greek government, is transforming a society that has been weaned on the public sector to the private sector. It is going to have to be a generational change that will require a change in the way people think about what government does for them and what they do for government.”
In addition, Chimicles examined the banking system by explaining the European Central Bank has conducted an assessment of the capital needs and health of the entire Greek banking system and what the system does for the ordinary Greek citizen. He stated a report is due soon, and Chimicles expected the report will estimate a need for infusion of 15 to 25 billion euros to prop up the banking system. (Since the forum was held, the ECB issued its report and 14.4 billion euros, or $15.9 billion is needed.)
“In essence, what you have is a vicious circle,” Chimicles said, citing that somewhere between 40 and 50 percent of all Greek bank loans are either in default or are considered troubled loans and that what is essentially happening is that they are taking new money to pay old money. He added the Greek government and its people need to break this vicious cycle. Chimicles suggested the need for creative banking similar to what the United States did during the Great Depression such as loan forgiveness or loan restructuring that provide payment terms that make sense and are realistic.
“If there is going to be an end game, there has to be a realistic beginning point and it has to begin with the ordinary Greek borrower’s ability to repay his loan,” he said.
Chimicles also explored the following: tax reform and the need to meet European standards, specifically as it pertains to the subsidies Greek “pseudo-farmers” receive; Greece’s ability to meet its military commitments as budgetary constraints under the Third Memorandum will become more pronounced, calling for a $100 million cut this year and $400 million cut next year; proper capital investment in Greek airports is an appropriate consideration, noting the benefit to Greece’s tourism industry but also the Third Memorandum calls on the Greek government to raise $50 billion. Finally, there has been a significant amount of American capital investment in Greek banks, in the billions of dollars, and Chimicles views this fact as a vote of confidence.
In the panel’s final presentation, Dr. Dinella examined the topic “Greece: Linchpin of U.S. and NATO Security in the Eastern Mediterranean.” He explained the importance of American access to military bases and extension of reach to solving problems around the world. In the eastern Mediterranean, it is Greece that provides the United States and NATO access to extend its reach into the Middle East and North Africa. He contrasted Greece’s reliability as an ally to Turkey, citing Turkey’s recent history of denying and restricting access to the United States and NATO.
“Turkey cannot always be counted on,” Dinella said. “Greece has proven time and again to be a reliable United States ally.”
Greece provides support to naval and air units, he added, citing NSA Souda Bay on Crete. Dinella likened Crete to an “aircraft carrier that cannot be sunk.”
Moreover, on its own terms, Greece is a significant combat power, he added. Dinella provided the following stats: the Hellenic Navy can deploy 13 modern missile frigates, Greece has a 100,000 standing army, and 900 modern tanks, which is more than the German and French armies combined.
“Greece will remain the lynchpin … a reliable friend,” Dinella concluded.
The American Hellenic Institute is an independent non-profit Greek American public policy center that works to strengthen relations between the United States and Greece and Cyprus, and within the Greek American community.