In an exclusive interview at EBR, H.E. the Ambassador of Spain in Greece, Mr. Enrique Viguera Rubio, expressed his optimism about the current economic developments in Greece, highlighting the need to attract more investments in a wide range of strategic sectors, such as renewable energy and tourism
I have noticed an increased interest by Spanish companies to invest in Greece lately, particularly in renewable energy, real estate and tourism. Those companies are trying to divert their exposure to the Spanish market and are looking at countries with similar characteristics.
In addition, he stressed that the constructive collaboration among EU and the third countries are of paramount importance in order to tackle efficiently the crucial issue of migration flows and complex global issues in general.
Undoubtedly, the current economic crisis has affected both Greece & Spain crucially. However, the Spanish unemployment rate fell in 16,38% the first quarter of 2017 and as a result the strong economic growth has led to the creation of more job positions after the deep recession of 2013. Moreover, there was a 3.4% increase in GDP last year. It is clearly illustrated that Spain's economy is significantly developing thanks to the structural reforms promoted by the government. Can Greece take any lessons from these developments? How did Spain manage to overcome the crisis?
Structural reforms made the difference. It was clear for the voters in Spain back in 2011 when the general elections were convened that it was necessary to rigorously implement some measures. The government that resulted from those elections had four years to carry them out and it did so. Particularly the financial sector and the labor market experienced deep reforms and partly as a consequence we are experiencing the economic growth right now. This help Spain to overcome the financial crisis but unfortunately there were also side effects such as growing social inequalities which gave rise to further political polarization. Although many targets were accomplished, there are still some structural reforms pending in other sectors.
Spain is considered a strategic ally for Greece in its efforts to attract investments. How is the overall economic climate among the countries in terms of bilateral business relations?
Many Spanish companies left Greece during the crisis. Some of them also left Spain and targeted other more interesting markets in America or Asia. Nevertheless, I have noticed an increased interest by Spanish companies to invest in Greece lately, particularly in renewable energy, real estate and tourism. Those companies are trying to divert their exposure to the Spanish market and are looking at countries with similar characteristics.
There are also, of course, interesting opportunities in infrastructures tenders, like roads and metro and in other business sectors linked to privatizations processes, like gas. But I feel Greece is now in a very interesting economic juncture, experiencing some growth and accomplishing relevant structural reforms. It can’t go backwards and the future looks pretty good and stable as a full member of the Eurozone. That may attract direct investments in other sectors. I am telling everybody that this is the right moment to invest in Greece.
Turkey's geographical position is of vital geopolitical importance as it seeks to become an energy hub for the European market, particularly in the natural gas. In this light, it intends to make use of the gas fields in the eastern Mediterranean. Do you think its ambitions could upset the balance between Greece and Spain or Spain and the EU?
There are many countries that would like to become an ‘energy hub’ for Europe. In the South Mediterranean Basin I have heard this not only from Turkey but also, legitimately, from Greece but also from Italy. Spain has also ambitions in this field and we are well prepared to channel the new American non-conventional gas to Europe through our numerous regasification facilities. Unfortunately our interconnections with France need to be further enlarged. The same happens with electricity. We need to increase our interconnections with France to be able to export to Europe our energy excesses, including our electricity possibilities and those coming from North Africa from renewable energy sources.
But I don’t think our interest in developing interconnections with France and further investing in the gas pipelines coming from Azerbaijan collide with one another. Both aim at increasing Europe’s energy security. Don’t forget that there is a Spanish gas company with an important investment portion (15%) in the Trans Adriatic Pipeline. So we have also a direct interest here.
According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the arrivals in Spain have tripled, with more than 14,000 migrants and refugees this year compared with 2016. The majority of experts claim that this number might outperform Greece. How can we deal effectively with this challenge? Do you think that a plausible collaboration among Greece and Spain might help in the long term?
Illegal immigration occurs where the roads are easier. Once the Eastern Mediterranean road has been more secured, other routes, such as the western Mediterranean or the Central Mediterranean roads are used. Although the irregular immigration inflow coming from the Western Mediterranean and the African Atlantic coast were dealt with exclusively by national means in the 90’, because at that time there were few EU tools, nowadays the European Union has developed several instruments, some of them based on our own national experience, which can benefit all member States equally, not only bordering countries.
In this sense, EU relations with third countries are essential. But it has to be the EU the one defining which external borders have to be reinforced, which third countries have to be our security cooperation partners, with which there is a need to negotiate readmission agreements, increase development cooperation etc. in order to try to better manage the flows. Of course this has to be a global approach, in our case, the whole Mediterranean Sea, because otherwise member countries will always try to benefit first their own geographic interests. This is a matter affecting the whole of Europe.
In which sectors should Spanish-Greek cooperation be strengthened?
There are many sectors that could be strengthened. I have mentioned some of them where due to our similar backgrounds there may be an objective economic interest, such as renewable energy or tourism. Infrastructures are essential for tourism and is a sector that has experienced a great development in Spain, partly using the European structural funds. We may clearly cooperate further here.
Beyond the economy, being both South Mediterranean countries we share similar interests in many fields, including foreign policy issues. Take the Middle East Peace Process for example or the need to bring further stabilization to the Sahel or Northern Africa. We share the same views with regard to the Barcelona process and the need to keep a fruitful Euro-Mediterranean dialogue.
Culture is clearly a field where our societies recognize our similarities. Everything action we do to enhance our cultural cooperation will be very positive. Institute Cervantes is doing a great job in Greece not only on behalf of Spain and the Spanish language but also for all Latin American countries.
Do you think that the Catalan issue might destabilize the whole EU in general, posing significant threats?
Certainly! We have been speaking about immigration or energy but there are many other fields where we the best way to tackle complex global issues is at European level. I have always been a convinced Europeanist and I believe that what we need now in Europe is more Europe, further integration. Not disintegration.