Reaching out across the Ionian

Despite the serious economic problems Greece is suffering and the uncertainty that surrounds its long-term future in the eurozone, Italian investors have told Kathimerini English Edition that they still feel there are good investment opportunities in the country.

According to the Bank of Greece, in flow terms, Italy was the sixth-largest investor in Greece in 2010 with 17.6 million euros, which marks a reversal of the previous two years when there were net outflows amounting to 17 million in 2008 and 88 million in 2009. France was the top investor with 570 million euros.

Large technological innovation companies from Italy are among those investing in Greece.

One of the most important works in progress is the construction of an automatically guided, driverless metro system in Thessaloniki. A group of companies belonging to the Italian industrial giant Finmeccanica together with Greek company AEGEK are involved in this scheme.

A 798-million-euro contract, almost entirely funded by the European Community, has created 1,000 jobs until now in Thessaloniki.

Speaking to Kathimerini English Edition, Antonio Liguori, project manager for Ansaldo STS in Greece, one of the Italian companies involved in the project, said: ?The Thessaloniki metro project is currently the biggest one which Ansaldo has in Greece. This is an important market for Ansaldo and we have no intention of leaving this country.

?We have been standing by the Greek government during this tough period and we will continue in this fashion. Once the new metro in Thessaloniki is finished, we really hope to seize other business opportunities in this market.?

Another Italian company active in Greece is Pieralisi, a major worldwide producer of equipment for the extraction of olive oil. It is also one of the top producers of centrifugal separators used in other industrial sectors such as milk, wine and juice processing.

In the last few years, Pieralisi has invested 20-30 million euros in Greece. It has facilities on Crete, in the Peloponnese, in central Greece and Macedonia.

In the energy sector, the Greek-Italian company Elpedison has emerged through a joint venture between Italy?s Edison and Hellenic Petroleum, which is one of the largest Greek commercial and industrial energy groups in Southeast Europe.

Elpedison Power, with privately owned natural gas-fired power plants in Thessaloniki and Thisvi, which have a total installed capacity of 820 megawatts, was in 2011 the largest private energy producer in Greece, covering 9 percent of national production.

Michel Piguet, managing director of Elpedison Trading, told Kathimerini English Edition: ?Elpedison has established an important presence in the market so far. Despite the economic crisis in Greece, it is dynamically continuing with all its operations, while looking at all opportunities that may emerge in the Greek energy market.?

As for Edison?s investment in gas, it has partnered up with DEPA, Greece?s national gas company, and is currently developing the Interconnector Greece-Italy (IGI) pipeline through IGI Poseidon SA, a joint venture between Edison and DEPA.

Despite the fact that foreign direct investment has been falling for the last few years, Italian firms appear to be among those who see significant opportunities in Greece, particularly in the sectors of energy, tourism, transport, new technologies and infrastructure.

The Italian business community has confidence in Greece, according to lawyer Yiannis Tsamichas, president of the Hellenic-Italian Chamber of Commerce in Athens.

?The big companies are increasing their investments. They want to stay in Greece; they are not thinking of leaving,? he told Kathimerini English Edition.

Moreover, the geographical proximity between the two countries traditionally facilitates economic and trade relations, which has led to an established Italian presence in Greece over the years.

For example, the Italian food company Barilla has become a leader in the agri-food market after buying the Greek company Misko. Barilla has a factory in Thebes, from which it also exports to Balkan markets and where it produces many products sold in Europe.

Furthermore, the Italian insurance company Generali has become one of the leading insurance companies in Greece, where it has had a presence for 125 years. It is currently the tenth-biggest insurance company active in the country, with a market share of 2.2 percent.

According to the country?s official investment promotion agency, Invest in Greece, the Italian presence is composed of 155 companies, of which 22 have more than 50 percent capital participation in the projects. Most are small and medium-sized enterprises, which are less visible than the big firms, such as Fiat, which is third in terms of car sales in Greece.

Italian private investors, meanwhile, also seem willing to put money into infrastructure and Greek bonds. ?We decided to invest in Greece because the economic situation facilitates it and we think there may be a good chance of making a profit,? Alessandro Proto, who represents a group of Italian investors, told Kathimerini English Edition. The group is poised to invest 150 million euros in Greek short-term bonds and in the completion of infrastructure projects. ?We are still confident that Europe will never allow Greece to fail,? he said. [Kathimerini English Edition]

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