This week will see the first appearance of Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis at the United Nations General Assembly. He will make the customary speech before the plenary and be received by the UN secretary-general. However, the substance will be in the meetings that are to take place on the sidelines of the proceedings.
Those of us who have attended virtually all of the UN General Assembly meetings over the past quarter of a century have restrained expectations.
We have heard a lot about meetings with leaders creating new potential in bilateral ties, about Greece’s significant initiatives in the context of multilateral groups or organizations, about meetings with major entrepreneurs who have been convinced of Greece’s potential and have hastened to invest, and about the significance of the Greek diaspora, particularly in America.
Usually, however, the results – and it is on these that all are judged, including politicians – are rather scant. Occasionally there are some encouraging signs, but then invariably these are not followed through on. In most cases there is simply nothing of real substance.
Although everyone, irrespective of ideology, lays significant emphasis on the public relations aspect, clearly what is really necessary – what the country needs – is concrete advantages.
Seen from this point of view, the prime minister’s five-day visit to New York, beyond diplomacy, is a window of opportunity for economic gains which is of particular significance in the current period. He has the opportunity to promote the positive narrative of Greece’s return to normal and to highlight the significant opportunities open to foreign investors.
Although there has been much emphasis on tax cuts, which are admittedly an important incentive, the sense one gets in discussions with foreign investors is that they are more concerned about the rule of law, bureaucracy, corruption, transparency, kickbacks and the foot-dragging of state officials. That has been the same with all governments, irrespective of their ideological affiliations. And it is of as much concern to the diaspora as it is to foreign investors.
Despite the well-known, chronic ailments undermining the Greek system, the outlook is presently relatively positive. The economy is gradually returning to normal. The risk of an “accident” has disappeared.
Greece has a government that is investment-friendly, and a political opposition that is no longer vacillating over the country’s role in the eurozone, is no longer intent on “democratizing” Europe and votes for tax cuts.
The message is not only positive, but is one that promises continuity, which is what investors want.
A few hours before leaving for New York, the prime minister received top executives from the pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, which has decided to base one of six new digital hubs in Thessaloniki.
His knowledge of English, but chiefly his understanding of the mentality of entrepreneurs, particularly American ones, are strings in Mitsotakis’ bow.
The message he is expected to deliver when he dines with the US trade secretary, as with Bloomberg, and in his meetings with Goldman Sachs executives and Greek-American entrepreneurs, is simple and clear: After a 10-year crisis, when stocks saw a significant drop, Greece – a European Union country with excellent human capital – constitutes an opportunity for both big and small investments and has a government that wants to get these projects off the ground.
The next few days in the mecca of global capitalism present some real opportunities. The time is right for some substantial work to be done.
Kyriakos Mitsotakis has the means at his disposal. He will be judged on the results.