“Bring all your young people back to Greece, create an environment where it will be easy to start businesses and make it easier to finance these new businesses.” This is the advice given to the Greek government by Shlomi Fogel, CEO and major shareholder of one of the largest groups in Israel, Ampa Capital, with activities in ports (Haifa, Elat), hotels, real estate, finance, industry and agriculture.
Speaking to Kathimerini, Fogel said that the key to Greece’s recovery is to focus on its strengths, namely tourism, shipping, ports, logistics, technology and agriculture. This is a message he also conveyed to Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis at a meeting during the premier’s visit to Jerusalem last week.
As for the 32 billion euros Greece expects to receive from the European Union’s Recovery Fund, Fogel stressed that these resources should be used for infrastructure, technology, and education, but also to reduce corporate taxation. “A partnership in the gas, tourism, shipping, logistics and high technology industries could work very well,” he said.
Israel has a similar population but almost twice the GDP of Greece. What is the secret of Israel’s economic success?
We made some important changes when Benjamin Netanyahu was finance minister. We have reduced corporate taxation from 36% to 24%, the government has invested in infrastructure (roads, railways, airports, ports, high-speed internet), reformed education and taxation, and identified the top 10 areas of business where we have an advantage – such as digital industry, defense industry, tourism, natural gas and manufacturing products, agriculture, etc – so that entrepreneurs can move forward and establish new companies. We have great entrepreneurs who have amazing infrastructure at their disposal to “fly” and push the country forward.
Do you see room for strengthening Israel’s economic ties with Greece?
Yes, especially now. The Middle East is turbulent and Israel needs allies, and we see that our strategic partners in the nearby region are Cyprus and Greece, because we cooperate and support each other on the “high seas.” A partnership in the gas industry, tourism, shipping, logistics and advanced technology could work very well.
With your accumulated experience and excellent track record in business and investment, what would you advise the prime minister to do for the Greek economy?
Bring all your young people back to Greece, create an environment where it will be easy to start businesses and arrange the financing of these new businesses. Build infrastructure! Reduce corporate taxation so that people will want to return to work and start their own business. Downsize the public sector, digitize the land registry, improve and digitize the management of the state so that public sector bureaucracy does not hold back entrepreneurs.
Do you think the global recession caused by the pandemic is controversy that will soon be forgotten or a total game-changer?
Covid-19 will affect many businesses and many people will be left without income. The big question for any leader is how to create new jobs for his people. But if we understand that entrepreneurs and businesses are the ones who create new jobs, not governments, then what we need to do is clear.
History teaches us lessons. The Spanish flu of 1919 took time, while in Europe economic problems arose and nationalism rose. Even in the great economic crisis of 1929 in the United States, new industries were created, such as the Hollywood film industry or the construction of airplanes and even tourism.
Today, we expect that drugs and vaccines will provide the solution in 12 months, maybe even faster. The internet and international cooperation will be the ones that will accelerate the finding of solutions to future problems.
In which areas of the Greek economy do you see better room for growth?
Greece must focus on its strengths: tourism, shipping, ports, logistics, advanced technology and agriculture.
How should the Greek government use the 32 billion euros that the EU will allocate?
Build infrastructure, educate your people about the technology industry and reduce corporate taxation with that money.
Can the Greek economy recover quickly from the lost ground of the last decade by focusing on the fourth Industrial Revolution and creating an ecosystem of high-tech businesses similar to that of Israel?
Young Greeks are talented and capable. They, along with experienced entrepreneurs, need to join forces with the government to improve technology production (robotics, artificial intelligence, cyber) and pave the way for pension funds to invest in high-tech businesses (with the use of external companies to assess risk), so that new industries and jobs can be created. The prime minister himself must monitor the process, and it is important that the media support the effort.
What are the strengths and weaknesses of the Greek economy?
Weaknesses are the large public sector, the inefficiency of the public sector, the cadaster that is not digitized and the fact that taxation does not benefit the investor – whether he is a local or a foreigner: Points I stressed to your prime minister during our meeting in Israel and I was glad to see that he is launching reforms in them as well.
The strong points are the fantastic people, the good entrepreneurs, the beauties of the country and all this can work in many different areas.