Last week, the Speaker of the Hellenic Parliament, Evangelos Meimarakis, paid an official visit to Canada where he was received by the Speaker of the Senate, Noel Kinsella, the Speaker of the House of Commons, Andrew Scheer, and various Ministers of the Harper government.
The message that Mr. Meimarakis brought to Ottawa was clear, outlining how the political forces in Greece have succeeded in turning the corner and lauding the maturity of the Greek people and their hope for the future. "Today, there is a stable economic environment in Greece which is the basis for overcoming bureaucratic barriers and creating an investment-friendly climate with particular emphasis on tourism," he declared.
Gerald Keddy, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Trade, Ed Fast, welcomed the Speaker's message that Greece has overcome her problems and emphasized the interest of Canadian companies to invest in Greece.
Jason Kenney, Minister of Citizenship and Multiculturalism, also praised the progress made by Greece and noted that Canada has been an ally in this effort by highlighting the contribution of the Greek Community in Canada at large and stating that "it has worked hard and achieved a lot."
Without exception, the Canadian contingent informed Mr. Meimarakis that they found the investment climate in his country greatly improved, boosted by a stable political environment. In turn, he assured them that the government was determined to eliminate any remaining bureaucratic obstacles that were an impediment to investment.
The fact that Canada has been supportive of Greece's efforts is apparent from a couple of recent developments.
First, Canada's Public Sector Pension Investment Board, PSP, agreed to buy the airports division of Germany's Hochtieff AG which holds stakes in, among others, the airports of Athens, Budapest, Dusseldorf and Hamburg for 1,5 billion euros (US$2 billion), thereby demonstrating its confidence in the future of Greece and the eurozone.
Second, the predominant Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) selected Athens as this year's subject for its "City to City" sidebar in its upcoming 38th edition in September. "Where others saw devastation, they saw inspiration," said TIFF programmer Dimitri Eipides at a press conference last March, referring to numerous young Athenian filmmakers and announcing TIFF's focus on their production this year. "Working with minimal means and often exchanging or sharing services, they churned out films which garnered world-wide attention." He noted that many of the young Athenian directors that will be participating "are just out of film school and making short films."
As part of his official visit, Mr. Meimarakis also travelled to Quebec City where he was warmly received by Premier Pauline Marois and briefed on the province's bestowing of its highest civilian distinction, the Ordre National du Québec, on Greek singer Nana Mouskouri. Internationally renowned but truly adored in Quebec which she first toured back in 1965, Ms. Mouskouri was also awarded an honorary doctorate by McGill University in a special ceremony in Montreal.
With Speaker Meimarakis' visit as evidence, it seems that Greece is finally headed in the right direction and with Canada's support, through the tireless work of its dynamic ambassador in Athens, Mr. Robert Peck, and the concrete efforts of the ambassador of Greece to Ottawa, Mr. E. Angelopoulos, the country's crisis may indeed eventually be overcome.
However, with an unemployment rate that marches on towards an incomprehensible 30% and an economy that continues to contract, the Greek government must continue its reforms in order to prove that it is worthy of this international trust and support and foment further investor confidence.