Greece: New Silicon Valley, energy belt for climate neutral EU, LNG axis and military base against AKP-Turkey, Xi-China and Putin-Russia?
Greece experienced during the financial crisis 2008 and the afterwards developing Euro and state debt crisis, its area austerity program and the title to be the laziest and chaotic people and state in South Europe. The big bail out and the nonimplementatiation of the No-referendum to leave the Euro were the results and a big debate if the EU and the Euro was a valueable project and might be better of without Greece in the Euro club. Austerity programs were the result, the state should be transformed in a Prussian discipline house and world of statistics and normal state craft and China bought the port of Pireaeus and other infrastructures and companies Even when Russia made offers during the Greek crisis, Greece resisted too openly think about a change of the camps and while it abstained in some EU anti-China human rights resolutions didn´t went as far as Italy which became the first official treaty state with China´s BRI New Silkroad project.during Xi´s visit to Europe and Italy Whlie German finance minister Schäuble at that time rejected a bailout for Greece and even thought about the expulsion of Greece from the Euro, he proposed to develop Greece to a solar energy belt for renewable energies, the powerhouse for the EU and a source and economic incentive to pay back its debts or interest rates and become a important element of an EU energy union. However, Fukushima happened in 2011 , 3 years after the financial and Greek crisis and until then there was no talk of an energy transistion and the leading conservatives didn´t focus on climate change, a climate neutral green hydrogen EU till 2050 or the importance of renewable energies. Therefore Schäuble´s proposal to develop Greece to an European sun and wind energy belt for the EU didn´t find any longer lasting reactions and supporters.
Greece is in the meantime discovered as an interesting geopolitcal partner after Erdogan-Turkey becomes more assertive and aggressive and often against the West, NATO, the USA, Israel and other states. The USA built two new military bases in Greece for the Balkan and the Greater Middle East and against Turkey, Russia and China. Greece becomes now the distribution center for the US-GB- israel- Cyprus- Greece LNG axis as some companies want to build a central LNG terminal in Greece. Now the SPIEGEL reports that Greece could become Europe´s IT center and praises the initial successes of the Greek region Epirus to attract foreign IT capital. The report is however a little bit biased with euphoria about some start-ups which are calculated for the future as sustainable trend. After the energy belt for the EU, now there seems to be the hope that Greece could “leapfrog” its economy like Kagame in Ruanda or as former Russian oligarch and dissident Chodorkovsky demands in his book in the chapter “The Future of Russia”: Not become a traditional manifacturing center for heavy and old industries , but leapfrog the economy to a scienticfic digitalizised knowledge and service- IT economy.
“IT boom in Ioannina:Why German tech companies are moving to Greece’s poor North
Epirus was previously known primarily for unspoiled nature and cheese products, now the Greek government is planning a small Silicon Valley here. German IT companies like Teamviewer are moving there – and praising the possibilities. By Giorgos Christides, Ioannina July 10, 2021, 7:56 a.m. When Thanasis Moutsioulis emigrated from his hometown of Ioannina in 2015, he thought he would never return. It was the height of the Greek financial crisis. Jobs were rare, especially for software engineers like him. With a heavy heart, he moved to Great Britain – like hundreds of thousands of highly qualified Greek graduates who fled abroad. A “brain drain”, a devastating wave of talent and experts leaving the battered country.
Around six years later, one morning in mid-June, Moutsioulis was sitting behind a large screen in the office of a large IT company in Ioannina. His workplace is no longer in Surrey, UK, but in the capital of the north-west Greek region of Epirus. The region he had left years ago. Moutsioulis has had a well-paid job at the German software company Teamviewer since 2019 and works in the innovation and development center that the company from Göppingen, Baden-Württemberg, has set up in Greece. “The first time I heard that Teamviewer was opening a development center in my hometown, I thought it was a joke.” But then he saw the job posting, applied and was hired. „My mother was perhaps even more enthusiastic than I when she found out that I was coming back home.“
Moutsioulis works on software for web conferencing and digital meetings, specializing in mobile applications. Teamviewer currently employs 21 people on site who come from the Epirus region – almost half of the entire workforce in the company’s northwest Greek branch. In the coming years, the company plans to employ a total of 150 to 200 software engineers in Ioannina. Teamviewer is not an isolated case. The two German tech companies P&I AG and Prodyna are either also planning to invest in Epirus or are already there. According to information from local authorities and the Greek government, other companies want to join.
The fact that Epirus is attracting IT companies seems surprising at first glance. The area in the northwest is one of the two poorest regions in Greece, with an unemployment rate of almost 17 percent and a gross domestic product of only 11,879 euros per inhabitant. Epirus is known in Greece for its picturesque villages, rugged mountains, untouched nature and for its cheese products. So far, high-tech entrepreneurship has not been featured in the characterizations of the guidebooks for the area. So what is driving all the companies to Epirus? According to company bosses who spoke to SPIEGEL, one of the main reasons for moving abroad is the shortage of skilled workers in Germany.
According to a study by Bitkom, around 86,000 positions were vacant for IT specialists in this country at the end of 2020. Epirus as a location alternative to Eastern Europe or India Teamviewer has also stagnated for around a year in the past because it was not possible to hire enough skilled workers, according to company circles. The question was where to go. In such a situation, some IT companies decide to expand to India, Eastern Europe or Spain. Teamviewer also considered these options, it is said, but eventually chose Greece for a number of reasons, including the enormous staff turnover at the other locations.
In fact, Epirus combines some location advantages for technology companies such as Teamviewer. Well-trained talent can be recruited here, for example at universities such as Ioannina. The computer science faculty there was even ready to meet the needs of the companies and to include the programming language they needed in the curriculum – contrary to a long tradition of Greek universities, which oppose such a focus on the profitability of their studies. Other important local authorities are also ready to open doors to the IT sector. The Orthodox Church in the Epirus region is headed by an entrepreneurial, pragmatic metropolitan who also speaks German. In addition, of course, there are the locational advantages, that Epirus means relatively lower costs for employers and that Greece is part of the EU, which is a clear advantage over alternatives such as India.
„We need software developers with a very good education who are committed, hardworking and well networked at the same time,“ says Oliver Steil, CEO of Teamviewer. All of this was found in Epirus. „Greek graduates have a great education, a high level of motivation, are flexible, international and speak good English,“ says Steil. “This ambition and drive, this energy cannot be taken for granted and cannot be found anywhere else.
Last but not least, Epirus has a regional governor who appears determined to bring about change in his region. Alexandros Kachrimanis told SPIEGEL that he had already secured an area of 15,000 square meters on which he wanted to build a tech hub. It’s said to be state-of-the-art, and funding will come from the more than € 30 billion that Greece will receive from the EU as part of the Corona bailout package. „After its completion in 2022, the hub will be able to accommodate tech companies from all over the world and employ 1,600 people in well-paid jobs,“ Kachrimanis told SPIEGEL. „We are already in contact with tech companies from all over the world.“ Is the hype from the Greek Silicon Valley justified? Given the developments in the region, the Greek press is already speaking of Epirus as the next Silicon Valley in Europe.
When it comes to Greece’s Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, it shouldn’t be just baseless hype or empty words. „I believe that more and more tech companies are realizing that Greece offers ample opportunities for investment,“ Mitsotakis said in an interview with SPIEGEL during a visit to Teamviewer’s offices. Greece is now a safe country, said Greece’s prime minister. „There is no longer any discomfort on the part of companies to invest in Greece, and that is extremely important.“ Before the election that brought him to power two years ago, Mitsotakis had said in another SPIEGEL interview that the litmus test for his success as prime minister would be to reverse the brain drain. He sees the return of experts like Moutsioulis as a clear sign that the efforts of his authorities are paying off: „Here I spoke to employees who live in the region or who have returned to Greece from careers abroad,“ said Prime Minister Mitsotakis.
500,000 young people left Greece during the financial crisis and many wanted to come back. „There are enough talents in this country to create well-paid jobs.“ To attract foreign companies, Greece offers a plethora of incentives, from lower taxes to simplified bureaucracy. Several large global corporations, including the medical company Pfizer, which has opened a center in Thessaloniki, have been attracted by it. „Exceptionally high human capital“ It will be crucial for Greece to diversify its economy. The country currently relies heavily on tourism – a volatile sector that can grow exponentially in good times and plunge the country into one of Europe’s deepest recessions in bad times.
This is shown by the example of the Covid pandemic, which was a disaster for Greece’s tourism industry. For Mitsotakis, the message is clear: „Greece not only has beautiful beaches, culture, history and traditional sectors that will always attract investments such as tourism, but also an exceptionally high level of human capital,“ he told SPIEGEL. „We have hardworking, creative, very well-trained graduates, especially in the MINT subjects of mathematics, computer science, natural sciences and technology,“ says Mitsotakis. That’s the main reason tech companies are seriously considering investing in the country.”
Maybe Bidens Green New Deal as well as his project of a Western Silkroad for Eurasia and Africa and the EU´s Green New Deal lead to a redefinition of Greece in geopolitical terms and the renewal of the idea of Greek as powerhouse for renewable energies for the EU and a leapfrogged IT center for the EU. At the moment however, it is more important fro military and LNG purposes:
US Secretary of State Pompeo visited Greece in October 2019 after Erdogan’s offensive in northern Syria. On the one hand because of the refugees, on the other hand to arm Greece as a potential front-line state against Turkey, should Erdogan take on the USA and move closer to Russia or even leave NATO. Greece seems to be a potential new front-line state against Turkey, Russia and China on the southern flank of NATO, especially since Turkey and Greece could become parts of China’s New Silk Road.
Even before Pompeo signed the US-Greek military agreement, there was lively discussion in military circles about the question of the Balkans and, in particular, access to Greek military bases. In July, the US ambassador to Greece, Geoffrey Pyatt, pointed out in an interview with Stars and Stripes that the US base in Souda Bay, which played a role in the war in Syria, was “quite full”. US military spokesmen added they were concerned about Chinese investments in the Athens port of Piraeus: “If we want to bring a ship, a warship, to Piraeus, China can say no.”
Prior to Pompeo’s visit, Pyatt explained US policy as follows: “In a new era of great power conflicts and the race for the greatest hydrocarbon discoveries in the last decade, this global hub between Europe, Asia and Africa is once again at the forefront of American strategic thought. After the Eastern Mediterranean was taken for granted by the United States for years, the US is taking the time to analyze precisely and comprehensively how we can better assert US interests …”.
This has led to the signing of the new US-Greek mutual defense agreement. The open-ended agreement, which its supporters at that time claimed would not require the approval of the Greek parliament, provided for an expansion of the naval base of the US Sixth Fleet in Crete, the creation of drone bases in central Greece and a military base and a natural gas plant in Alexandropoulis. This latter base would allow US natural gas to be shipped to Greece. This could break the Russian gas monopoly in the region over the entire Balkans via gas pipelines still to be built.
Militarily, the Alexandropoulis base threatens Russia and the Balkans as well as Iran and the Middle East. It would allow Washington to send forces to the Balkans without traveling through Turkish and then Russian-controlled waters into the Black Sea. As the Greek defense analyst Efthymios Tsiliopoulos told Al Jazeera, Washington could “support operations in the Balkans much faster than via other ports” with this base in Alexandropoulis. He added that the US troops on the Greek bases are “easily deployable” in the Middle East.
The Pentagon could also use these bases to block ships carrying refugees trying to flee across the Aegean Sea from the Middle East to Greece and Europe.
With regard to the resurgent conflicts between Greece and Turkey over Cyprus and over the oil drilling rights in the Eastern Mediterranean, Pompeo has unequivocally reaffirmed Greece’s position vis-à-vis Turkey. Pompeo said he met with Greek, Cypriot and Israeli officials: “We have made it clear that operations in international waters are governed by a number of regulations. We told the Turks that illegal drilling is unacceptable. “
Now a year later, after Erdogan has also sent Turkish troops to Libya, sparked a dispute with Greece over gas reserves in the Mediterranean and now also intervenes in the Caucasus War, Pompeo visited Greece again in September 2020. MENA-Watch reports on the visit:
“USA supports Greece against Turkey
In the face of Turkish threats, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo backed Greece with a state visit and specific commitments at the end of September – diplomatically, militarily and economically.
Together with the Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, Pompeo visited the American-Greek naval base in Souda in Western Crete on September 29th. There he was received with military honors.
In terms of the number of ships, Souda is the second largest naval base in Greece and the most important US base in the eastern Mediterranean. In a speech, Pompeo underlined the importance of military relations between the USA and Greece, which is evident in the fact that the USS Hershel “Woody” Williams, “the newest expedition base of the US Navy, will call Souda Bay its home” as Pompeo said.
This announcement is likely to make Turkish President Erdogan sit up and take notice, especially since the USA does not own many ships of this class. The USS Hershel “Woody” Williams is a 239-meter-long expedition base ship with a 4,800-square-meter landing pad, a fuel and equipment store, magazines, and repair and mission planning rooms. She has work and living quarters for several hundred men and can put small ships at sea and take them back to sea.
The V-22 Osprey tilt rotor aircraft is also stationed on it, which can take off and land like a helicopter, while at the same time being able to fly as fast as a turboprop aircraft with its rotors tilted forward. The V-22 Osprey has proven itself in humanitarian missions such as the rescue missions after Hurricane Dorian in the Bahamas in 2019, but could also support military operations – for example, dropping Navy Seals on an island.
The foreign affairs correspondent for the New York Times, Lara Jakes, sees the stationing of the USS Hershel “Woody” Williams in Crete a “step that can be seen as symbolic support for Greece in the confrontation with Turkey. Jakes points out that the ship will be stationed less than a thousand kilometers from the Turkish coast. According to Jakes, the Hershel “Woody” Williams “is not the type of ship that could intervene in a high-intensity conflict if the increasing tensions between Turkey and Greece should boil over … But its deployment near the place where Turkey sent surveying and drilling vessels to search for natural gas earlier this year could be read as a symbolic warning of America’s growing anger over Ankara ”.
In his speech, Pompeo said Souda was “literally the perfect choice and symbol of a defense partnership that will continue to expand and grow”. Security cooperation between the two countries is “particularly important as Russia continues to destabilize the region, especially in Libya, where the US is demanding the withdrawal of all foreign forces and support for military de-escalation and Libyan reconciliation.”
Controversy about natural gas
Pompeo reiterated “US support for Greece’s ongoing efforts to diversify energy routes and supplies across the region” – referring to the plan for a natural gas pipeline connecting Israel and Egypt to Greece through Cyprus, which is threatened by Turkey.
“Free markets” should decide “instead of Russian Gazprom” on the energy supply, according to Pompeo. This is to be understood as an allusion to the pipeline projects planned by the Kremlin from a geopolitical point of view: the Nord Stream pipeline, which is also controversial in Germany, which is to connect Russia to Germany via the Baltic Sea, and the TurkStream pipeline, which has been carrying Russian gas since the beginning of the year the Black Sea to Turkey and from there to Bulgaria.
In a joint declaration, Pompeo and Mitsotakis welcomed the establishment of the East Mediterranean Gas Forum (EMGF) a week earlier and confirmed their support for cooperation within the framework of the “3 + 1 format” between Greece, Cyprus, Israel and the USA.
The US Secretary of State last visited Greece in October 2019. At that time, he signed a military agreement that expanded a bilateral partnership that had existed since 1990 and allowed the US to use Greek military bases, including the Larissa and Stefanovikio air bases.
The agreement, which was ratified by the Greek Parliament in January 2020, includes the training of soldiers, the refueling of aircraft and ships, short-term maintenance work, storage of materials and operations in the event of a crisis. American drones are also allowed to take off and land on the airfields. In return, the United States had announced that it would support Greece with maneuvers.
Agreements that were made during Pompeo’s current visit include, among other things, a modernization of the Greek F-16 fighter aircraft and the Greek shipyards.
There was also talk of the planned floating LNG terminal, which is to be built with American support at Alexandroupolis, near the Greek-Turkish land border in Thrace. From 2023, liquefied natural gas (LNG) is to be delivered there by ship from the USA, regasified and delivered to consumers in Europe via pipelines.
The US produces far more natural gas than it consumes, while the EU countries depend on imports to meet their needs. 40 percent of the natural gas consumed in the EU comes from Russia, 18 percent from Norway and 11 percent from Algeria.”
So while a strategic energy axis USA-UK-Greece-Cyprus-Egypt-Greece (maybe Lebanon after the border agreement, if the Iran-controlled Hezbollah should agree) versus Russia-Turkey-Iran is emerging, the USA are strengthening the Greek position, initially more symbolically and signaling to Erdogan that they will only tolerate his expansions as long as they oppose Russia and are not directed against US interests. Especially since Erdogan threatens to exhaust himself not only militarily but also economically.