Guy Parmelin: Greece offers opportunities for Swiss businesses

The Swiss Federal Councilor praises Greek potential for innovation

Guy Parmelin: Greece offers opportunities for Swiss businesses

The dynamic Greek business environment was praised in an interview with Kathimerini by the federal councilor and head of the Swiss Department of Economic Affairs, Education and Research, Guy Parmelin, during his visit to Athens (May 10-11). The Swiss minister and former president of the Swiss Confederation spoke about the historical bond between the two countries, Swiss philhellenism and the Swiss archaeological excavations at Eretria on the island of Evia, as well as the important commercial and business partnerships between the two countries.

In 2023 Switzerland became the third largest foreign direct investor in Greece. In your opinion, what are the advantages of the Greek business environment and why do the Swiss invest in it?

After a decade of financial difficulties, Greece has re-established its international credibility thanks to comprehensive reforms that support an attractive business environment. Investment procedures have been simplified, taxes have been reduced, digitalization made enormous progress, and public accounts have been stabilized. The result is visible: Greece enjoys a promising economic growth rate. The Greek implementation plan for the EU Next Generation Fund offers development perspectives in new areas like environment, sustainability, education and health. It also foresees structural reforms, focusing for instance on the development of export capacities. All these measures have strengthened confidence and created opportunities for the Swiss business sector. A symbol of this recent optimism is the creation in the near future of a Swiss Hellenic Chamber of Commerce by Swiss companies active in Greece. The chamber will serve the purpose of gaining visibility for Swiss companies and attracting more Swiss investments.

During your visit to Athens, you will meet Greeks and Swiss citizens who started their businesses in Greece with the support of the Swiss government and funds. First of all, how does Switzerland view Greece’s efforts to promote its innovation ecosystem? Secondly, could you provide us with some successful examples of joint business ventures?

‘As Swiss companies did not leave Greece during the crisis, they are in a good position to take advantage of the impressive recovery’

Each country has its way of promoting an innovation ecosystem. Switzerland follows a bottom-up approach. This means that the Swiss state sets up the legislative and financial framework conditions to allow research and innovation to be realized, and then lets the protagonists evolve within this framework. Greece has important potential in terms of innovation. It has highly skilled people who have strong entrepreneurial mentalities. Greece has to find the way it considers most suitable to provide a stable framework for promoting innovative ideas. Some reforms recently undertaken by Greece are interesting in this context, like the reduction of taxes for investments in research and innovation or the modification of the universities law making easier partnerships with foreign universities. This will provide new opportunities for the Swiss business sector. People-to-people relations are excellent between Greece and Switzerland, so many collaborations in the field of science and innovation are made without the involvement of the countries’ authorities. This is proof of the dynamism of our economies as well as our science and innovation landscapes. Two recent success stories include startups in electronics: U-blox and Bota Systems AG.

This year marks 60 years since the beginning of the archaeological excavations of the Swiss mission at Eretria. There have been dozens of findings and a new project is awaiting approval from the ministry. How has the cultural partnership between the two countries highlighted ancient Greek culture and upgraded relations between the two countries?

The Swiss School of Archaeology is one of the pillars of our relationship. It is a perfect example of science and culture diplomacy. The discovery by the school of the Temple of Artemis at Eretria was a major step in understanding our common history. We are very thankful to the Greek authorities who provided us with a great framework for our archaeologists. In the cultural field, Switzerland and Greece have many links. Ioannis Kapodistrias played an important role for both our countries: in the creation of modern Switzerland in 1815 as well as in helping the newly independent Greece in 1831. During the Greek War of Independence, Geneva was the center of philhellenism. Many Swiss philhellenes helped the country at that time, like Johann Jakob Meyer, considered the father of journalism in Greece, who died in Missolonghi, or Jean-Gabriel Eynard, who contributed to the founding of the National Bank of Greece. Philhellenism remains present in Switzerland today and a new generation of philhellenes is contributing to various projects in Greece shedding light on its cultural patrimony.

Extending the discussion to the cultural side, Switzerland is home to one of the most active commissions for the reunification of the Parthenon Sculptures under the leadership of Professor Dusan Sidjanski. What is your position on this long-standing Greek demand?

The reunification of the Parthenon Sculptures or the return of antiquities in general is an important topic for Greece. In each case, I think Greece has to find an appropriate solution with the corresponding country. In 2007, Switzerland signed an agreement with Greece to return cultural properties. Following this agreement, many cultural objects have been returned to Greece by Switzerland and Greece is a beneficiary of the Swiss State fund to restore cultural properties.

Having touched on entrepreneurship, innovation and cultural education, what are the key priorities for strengthening Greek-Swiss relations and what further actions do you expect from the Greek government to enhance this strategic partnership?

Our relations are already excellent today. I am confident that this positive dynamism in the Greek business environment will continue and encourage Swiss companies to develop their activities or to create new ones. As Swiss companies did not leave Greece during the crisis, they are in a good position to take advantage of the impressive recovery. The future Swiss Hellenic Chamber of Commerce will also play an important role in strengthening our economic ties.

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