Greeks go back to the land
In the wake of the crash, the Greeks, like the Irish, are pinning their hopes on farming and tourism
Published 27/05/2015 | 02:30
Modern Thessaloniki is Greece's second city set in the north of the country on a gulf that bears its name. The place is a treasure trove of monuments and reminders of a rich past; a city that is decidedly Greek, but one strongly influenced by its Roman and Ottoman past, and which retains a strong Balkan flavour.
Along with reminders of the distant past the city has more than its share of monuments to the modern economics of boom and bust. The road from the airport is lined with empty car showrooms, idle service stations, half finished apartment buildings and abandoned industrial units. Yet, there is plenty of traffic, lots of people in a hurry and life goes on.
Everyone talks about 'the crisis', it peppers every conversation. Two other issues join it in a trio of recurring themes; the embargo on exports to Russia and the flood of refugees and immigrants. On all three counts Greeks feel at best abandoned by Europe and at worst victimised.
The Greek crisis bears some comparison with the Irish experience. Just as in Ireland, agriculture is becoming something of a beacon in the darkness of economic despair. The Greeks are also looking to tourism as the other key indigenous industry with the capacity to lift them from the abyss. The similarities end there in so far as the Greeks are working from quite a higher base with tourism at 18pc of the economy while farming and food make up just over 4pc.
Tassos Haniotis is director of Economic Analysis, Perspectives and Evaluations at DG Agri in Brussels. As a Greek native and an agricultural expert he believes farming will play a significant role in a Greek recovery.
"Agriculture is not a huge part of the Greek economy, just about 4pc but it has an increasingly important role at a number of levels; in terms the social sustainability of rural life, environmental sustainability, as a source of growth and a source of expertise and innovation."
Mr Haniotis believes the current CAP should deliver strongly for Greece. Worth €19bn for the current programming period, it exceeds all other EU funding to Greece for the same period. He says the shift of the CAP from historical production to land use favours the Greek shift to more environmentally friendly production and production based on high value, quality products.
He believes that exports, expertise and high quality are the keys to success for Greek farming. He makes a comparison between Spanish and Greek agriculture to illustrate the challenge and opportunities for the agri export sector.