For the most current version of this Note, see Background Notes A-Z.
Area: 131,957 sq. km. (51,146 sq. mi.; roughly the size of Alabama).
Major cities: Capital--Athens. Greater Athens (pop. 3,566,060), municipality of Athens (772,072), Greater Thessaloniki (pop. 1,057,825), municipality of Thessaloniki (363,987), Piraeus (175,697), Greater Piraeus (466,065), Patras (171,616), Iraklion (137,711), Larissa (126,076).
Terrain: Mountainous interior with coastal plains; 1,400-plus islands.
Climate: Mediterranean; mild, wet winter and hot, dry summer.
Population (2010 est.): 11,295,002. (Legal immigrants make up approximately 6.95% of the population.)
Population growth rate (2010 estimated): 0.1%.
Languages: Greek 99% (official), Turkish, others. Albanian is spoken by approximately 700,000 Albanian immigrants. English is the predominant second language.
Religions: Greek Orthodox (approximately 98% of citizens), with Muslim (1.5%), Jewish, Catholic, Protestant, and other religious communities.
Education: Years compulsory--9. Literacy--97.5%. All levels are free.
Health: Infant mortality rate--5.43/1,000. Life expectancy--male 77.69 years, female 82.35 years.
Work force (2009 estimated): 5.0 million.
Type: Parliamentary republic.
Independence: 1830. National Day: March 25 (1821).
Constitution: June 11, 1975, amended March 1986, April 2001, May 2008.
Branches: Executive--president (head of state), prime minister (head of government). Legislative--300-seat unicameral Vouli (parliament). Judicial--Supreme Court, Council of State.
Political parties: Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK), New Democracy (ND), Communist Party of Greece (KKE), Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS), and Coalition of the Left (SYNASPISMOS).
Suffrage: Universal and mandatory at 18.
Administrative subdivisions: 13 peripheries (regional districts); 325 municipalities; two wider metropolitan area administrative councils to encompass the whole of the Attica region and the Thessaloniki agglomeration.
GDP (2010 forecast): €236 billion (about $315 billion).
Per capita GDP (2009 estimated): $30,035.
Growth rate (2010 forecast): -4.00%.
Inflation rate (2010 forecast): 4.6%.
Unemployment rate (annual average, 2010 forecast): 11.8%.
Natural resources: Bauxite, lignite, magnesite, oil, marble.
Agriculture (5.4% of GDP): Products--sugar beets, wheat, maize, tomatoes, olives, olive oil, grapes, raisins, wine, oranges, peaches, tobacco, cotton, livestock, dairy products.
Manufacturing (21.3% of GDP): Types--processed foods, shoes, textiles, metals, chemicals, electrical equipment, cement, glass, transport equipment, petroleum products, construction, electrical power.
Services (73.3% of GDP): Transportation, tourism, communications, trade, banking, public administration, defense.
Trade: Exports (2009 estimated)--$21.37 billion: manufactured goods, food and beverages, petroleum products, cement, chemicals. Major markets--Germany, Italy, Bulgaria, U.S., U.K., Romania. Imports (2009 estimated)--$64.27 billion: basic manufactures, food and animals, crude oil, chemicals, machinery, transport equipment. Major suppliers--Germany, Italy, France, Netherlands, Russia.
Greece was inhabited as early as the Paleolithic period and by 3000 BC had become home, in the Cycladic Islands, to a culture whose art remains among the most evocative in world history. In the second millennium BC, the island of Crete nurtured the maritime empire of the Minoans, whose trade reached from Egypt to Sicily. The Minoans were supplanted by the Mycenaeans of the Greek mainland, who spoke a dialect of ancient Greek. During the Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman Empires (1st-19th centuries), Greece's ethnic composition became more diverse. The roots of Greek language and culture date back at least 3,500 years, and modern Greek preserves many elements of its classical predecessor.
Eastern Orthodox Christianity is the dominant religion in Greece and receives state funding. During centuries of Ottoman domination, the Greek Orthodox Church preserved the Greek language and cultural identity and was an important rallying point in the struggle for independence. There is a centuries-old Muslim religious minority concentrated in Thrace and an estimated 300,000 legal Muslim immigrants living elsewhere in the country. Smaller religious communities in Greece include Old Calendar Orthodox, Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Jehovah's Witnesses, and Mormons.
Greek education is free and compulsory for children between the ages of 6 and 15. Overall responsibility for education rests with the Ministry of National Education and Religious Affairs. Private colleges and universities (mostly foreign) have campuses in Greece despite the fact that their degrees are not recognized by the Greek state. Entrance to public universities is determined by state-administered exams.
The Greek War of Independence began in 1821 and concluded in 1830 when England, France, and Russia forced the Ottoman Empire to grant Greece its independence under a European monarch.
At independence, Greece had an area of 47,515 square kilometers (18,346 square mi.), and its northern boundary extended from the Gulf of Volos to the Gulf of Arta. Under the influence of the "Megali Idea," which in its most broad interpretation meant the expansion of the Greek state to include all areas where significant Greek communities existed, Greece acquired the Ionian islands in 1864; Thessaly and part of Epirus in 1881; part of Macedonia, Crete, Epirus, and the Aegean islands in 1913; western Thrace in 1918; and the Dodecanese islands in 1947.
Greece entered World War I in 1917 on the side of the Allies. After the war, Greece took part in the Allied occupation of Turkey, where many Greeks still lived. In 1921, the Greek army marched toward Ankara, but was defeated by Turkish forces led by Kemal Mustapha Ataturk and was forced to withdraw. In an exchange of populations under the Treaty of Lausanne, more than 1.3 million refugees from Turkey poured into Greece, and nearly 800,000 Greek Turks were sent to Turkey. This large influx of people created enormous challenges for the Greek economy and society.
Greek politics, particularly between the two world wars, involved a struggle for power between monarchists and republicans. Greece was proclaimed a republic in 1924, but George II returned to the throne in 1935. A plebiscite in 1946 upheld the monarchy, which was finally abolished by referendum on December 8, 1974.
Greece's entry into World War II was precipitated by the Italian invasion on October 28, 1940. Despite Italian superiority in numbers and equipment, determined Greek defenders drove the invaders back into Albania. Hitler was forced to divert German troops to protect his southern flank and overran Greece in 1941. Following a very severe German occupation in which many Greeks died (including over 90% of Greece's Jewish community) German forces withdrew in October 1944, and the government-in-exile returned to Athens.
After the German withdrawal, the principal Greek resistance movement, which was controlled by the communists, refused to disarm. A banned demonstration by resistance forces in Athens in December 1944 ended in battles with Greek Government and British forces. Continuing tensions led to the outbreak of full-fledged civil war in 1946. First the United Kingdom and later the U.S. gave extensive military and economic aid to the Greek Government. In 1947, Secretary of State George C. Marshall implemented the Marshall Plan under President Truman, which focused on the economic recovery and the rebuilding of Europe. The U.S. contributed hundreds of millions of dollars to rebuild Greece’s buildings, agriculture, and industry.
In August 1949, the Greek national army forced the remaining insurgents to surrender or flee to Greece's communist neighbors. The insurgency resulted in 100,000 killed, 700,000 displaced persons inside the country, and catastrophic economic disruption. This civil war left Greek society deeply divided between leftists and rightists.
Greece became a member of NATO in 1952. From 1952 to late 1963, Greece was governed by conservative parties--the Greek Rally of Marshal Alexandros Papagos and its successor, the National Radical Union (ERE) of Konstantinos Karamanlis. In 1963, the Center Union Party of George Papandreou was elected and governed until July 1965. It was followed by a succession of unstable coalition governments.
On April 21, 1967, just before scheduled elections, a group of colonels led by Col. George Papadopoulos seized power in a coup d’état. The junta suppressed civil liberties, established special military courts, and dissolved political parties. Several thousand political opponents were imprisoned or exiled to remote Greek islands. In November 1973, following an uprising of students at the Athens Polytechnic University, General Dimitrios Ioannides replaced Papadopoulos and tried to continue the dictatorship.
In July 1974, the Greek junta sponsored a coup in Cyprus led by extremist Greek Cypriots against the government of President Makarios, citing his alleged pro-communist leanings and his perceived abandonment of enosis, or political union with Greece. Turkey, citing the 1960 Treaty of Guarantee, intervened militarily to protect Turkish Cypriots. In a two-stage offensive, Turkish troops took control of 38% of the island. Almost all Greek Cypriots subsequently fled south while almost all Turkish Cypriots moved to the north.
Senior Greek military officers withdrew their support from the junta, which toppled. Leading citizens persuaded Karamanlis to return from exile in France to establish a government of national unity until elections could be held. Karamanlis' newly organized party, New Democracy (ND), won elections held in November 1974, and he became Prime Minister.
Following the 1974 referendum, the parliament approved a new constitution and elected Constantine Tsatsos as president of the republic. On January 1, 1981, Greece became the 10th member of the European Community (now the European Union--EU).
Parliamentary elections were held March 8, 2004, and ND won 165 seats to the Panhellenic Socialist Movement’s (PASOK) 117; Konstantinos Karamanlis, ND leader and the nephew of the former prime minister of the same name, became Prime Minister. Karolos Papoulias was elected President by parliament in February 2005. On October 4, 2009, PASOK won an early parliamentary election with 160 seats to ND’s 91. PASOK leader George Papandreou succeeded Karamanlis as Prime Minister. On February 3, 2010, Papoulias was re-elected President by parliament with a majority of 266 votes out of 300.
GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL CONDITIONS
Greece is a parliamentary republic and last amended its constitution in May 2008. There are three branches of government. The executive includes the president, who is head of state, and the prime minister, who is head of government. There is a 300-seat unicameral "Vouli" (legislature). The judicial branch includes a Supreme Court. Greece is implementing a program (“Kallikratis”) that reorganized and consolidated its system of local governments into 13 regional districts and 325 municipalities. Suffrage is universal at 18.
Greece has recently confronted an upsurge in domestic terrorism after successfully dismantling groups that had been active from the 1970s to the early 2000s. In the summer of 2002, Greek authorities captured numerous suspected members of the terrorist group "November 17." In 2003, 15 members of the terrorist organization, which since 1975 had killed many prominent Greeks and five U.S. Mission employees, were found guilty and convicted of a number of crimes, including homicide. In 2007, an appellate court acquitted two of the defendants, but otherwise largely upheld the results of the initial trial, leaving the leadership of the defunct group serving multiple life sentences and others serving long prison terms. The defendants exhausted their appeals in the Greek legal system in 2010.
On January 12, 2007, terrorists fired a rocket-propelled grenade that struck the U.S. Embassy. The terrorist group Revolutionary Struggle later claimed responsibility for the act. Revolutionary Struggle also claimed responsibility for a number of other attacks on Greek officials, police, financial institutions, and other targets. In April 2010, police arrested six suspected members of Revolutionary Struggle, and discovered hideouts containing bombs, rocket launchers, attack plans, and other evidence connected with the group. An additional new group, Sect of Revolutionaries, has claimed responsibility for shooting attacks on police, including the murder of an anti-terrorist unit officer in June 2009, as well as the murder of a Greek journalist in July 2010. A domestic terrorist group called Conspiracy of Fire Nuclei has claimed responsibility for a number of bomb attacks of varying size. Two suspects believed to be connected to the group were arrested for taking part in an October 2010 attack designed to send over a dozen parcel bombs to foreign embassies in Athens and political leaders in Europe. Unknown domestic terrorists carried out bomb attacks that killed a 15-year-old Afghan immigrant boy in March 2010 and an aide to the Minister of Citizen Protection in June 2010.
Principal Government Officials
Prime Minister--George Papandreou
Foreign Minister--Dimitris Droutsas
Minister of Defense--Evangelos Venizelos
Minister of Citizen Protection--Christos Papoutsis
Ambassador to the United States--Vassilis Kaskarelis
Ambassador to the United Nations--Anastasios Mitsialis
Greece's embassy in the United States is located at 2221 Massachusetts Ave., NW, Washington, DC 20008; tel: (202) 939-1300; fax: (202) 939-1324.
Greece also maintains consulates in Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, Atlanta, Houston and Tampa.
Greece adopted the euro (€) as its currency in January 2002. The adoption of the euro provided Greece (formerly a high inflation risk country under the drachma) with access to competitive loan rates and also to low rates of the Eurobond market. This led to a dramatic increase in consumer spending, which gave a significant boost to economic growth. Between 1997-2007, Greece averaged 4% GDP growth, almost twice the European Union (EU) average. As with other European countries, the financial crisis and resulting slowdown of the real economy have taken their toll on Greece’s rate of growth, which slowed to 2.0% in 2008. The economy went into recession in 2009 and contracted by 2.0% as a result of the world financial crisis and its impact on access to credit, world trade, and domestic consumption--the engine of growth in Greece.
High growth and low interest rates had masked major fiscal and structural weaknesses that were aggravated by the global financial crisis and ensuing recession. As a result of a high 2009 fiscal deficit (recently revised upwards by Eurostat to 15.4% of GDP from 13.6% of GDP), mounting aging and entitlement costs, and deteriorating competitiveness resulting from higher than Eurozone-average inflation and rigidities in product and labor markets, markets in early 2010 began to question the sustainability of Greece’s public debt (2009 debt recently revised upward by Eurostat from 115.1% of GDP to 126.8% of GDP). Ever-increasing market doubts and pressures resulted in higher and higher borrowing costs throughout the winter and spring of 2010. Eventually, unsustainable borrowing costs caused Greece to lose market access, forcing the Prime Minister on April 23, 2010 to request an emergency assistance program from his Euro-area partners and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). In early May, the Greek parliament, Euro-area leaders, and the IMF Executive Board approved a 3-year €110 billion (about $145 billion) adjustment program to be monitored jointly by the European Commission, the European Central Bank, and the IMF. Under the program, Greece has promised to undertake major fiscal consolidation and to implement substantial structural reforms in order to place its debt on a more sustainable path and improve its competitiveness so that the economy can re-enter a positive growth trajectory. Specifically, the 3-year reform program includes measures to cut government spending, reduce the size of the public sector, tackle tax evasion, reform the health care and pension systems, and liberalize the labor and product markets. Greece has committed to reduce its deficit to under 3% of GDP (the ceiling under the EU’s Maastricht Treaty) by 2014.
The global crisis and the consecutive recession caused an increase in unemployment to 9.4% in 2009 (from 7.7% in 2008). Unemployment is expected to continue to increase, reaching 11.8% in 2010, 14.6% in 2011, and 14.8% in 2012, before beginning to decrease in 2013 to 14.3%. Foreign direct investment (FDI) inflows to Greece have dropped, and efforts to revive them have been only partially successful as a result of declining competitiveness and a high level of red tape and bureaucracy. At the same time, Greek investment in Southeast Europe has increased, leading to a net FDI outflow in some years.
Greece has a predominately service economy, which (including tourism) accounts for over 73% of GDP. Almost 9% of the world’s merchant fleet is Greek-owned, making the Greek fleet the largest in the world. Other important sectors include food processing, tobacco, textiles, chemicals (including refineries), pharmaceuticals, cement, glass, telecommunication and transport equipment. Agricultural output has steadily decreased in importance over the last decade, accounting now for only about 5% of total GDP. The EU is Greece’s major trading partner, with more than half of all Greek two-way trade being intra-EU. Greece runs a perennial merchandise trade deficit, and 2009 imports totaled $64 billion against exports of $21 billion. Tourism and shipping receipts together with EU transfers make up for much of this deficit.
European Union (EU) Membership
Greece has been a major net beneficiary of the EU budget; in 2009, EU transfers accounted for 2.35% of GDP. From 1994-99, about $20 billion in EU structural funds and Greek national financing were spent on projects to modernize and develop Greece's transportation network in time for the Olympics in 2004. The centerpiece was the construction of the new international airport near Athens, which opened in March 2001 soon after the launch of the new Athens subway system.
EU transfers to Greece continue, with approximately $24 billion in structural funds for the period 2000-2006. The same level of EU funding, $24 billion, has been allocated for Greece for 2007-2013. These funds contribute significantly to Greece's current accounts balance and further reduce the state budget deficit. EU funds will continue to finance major public works and economic development projects, upgrade competitiveness and human resources, improve living conditions, and address disparities between poorer and more developed regions of the country. The EU plans to phase them out in 2013.
In 2008, the U.S. trade surplus with Greece was $1.1 billion. There are no significant non-tariff barriers to American exports. U.S. exports to Greece reached $2.4 billion, accounting for 2.7% of Greece's total imports in 2008. The top U.S. exports remain defense articles, although American business activity is expected to grow in the tourism development, medical, construction, food processing, and packaging and franchising sectors. U.S. companies are involved in Greece's ongoing privatization efforts; further deregulation of Greece's energy sector and the country's central location as a transportation hub for Europe may offer additional opportunities in electricity, gas, refinery, and related sectors.
Greece's foreign policy is generally aligned with that of its EU partners. Greece maintains full diplomatic, political, and economic relations with its Southeast European neighbors, except with the Republic of Macedonia (see below), and has played an important role as a leader of the region's Euro-Atlantic integration process. It provides peacekeeping and training contingents for Bosnia, Kosovo, and Afghanistan. Prominent issues in Greek foreign policy include Balkan integration and the name dispute with Macedonia, Greek-Turkish differences in the Aegean, the reunification of Cyprus, illegal migration, Turkish accession to the EU, regional energy development, Middle East relations, international peacekeeping operations, and Greek-American relations.
Balkans and the “Name Issue” with the Republic of Macedonia
The Papandreou government entered office with a new initiative--Agenda 2014--to spur the integration of the Western Balkan countries into Euro-Atlantic structures by the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of World War I in Sarajevo. Greece has been a strong supporter of regional economic development and Greek firms, particularly banks, are among the most heavily invested in Balkan countries. Greece has not recognized Kosovo’s independence, but remains a significant contributor to the NATO-led Kosovo Force (KFOR).
The Greek dispute with its northern neighbor over its constitutional name, Republic of Macedonia, has been an important issue in Greek politics since 1992 and has inhibited the establishment of full diplomatic relations. Greece opposed the use of "Macedonia" by the government in Skopje, claiming that the term refers to a region of Greece and is steeped in Greek identity and culture and should not be used by a foreign country. Mediation efforts by the UN and the United States brokered an interim agreement whereby Greece recognized the country as the “Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia” (FYROM) in September 1995 and lifted objections to its neighbor’s membership in international organizations under that provisional name until the two countries could reach a mutually agreeable solution to the dispute. At NATO's Bucharest Summit in April 2008, NATO Allies agreed that an invitation to the Republic of Macedonia would be extended as soon as a mutually acceptable solution to the name issue is reached.
The Republic of Macedonia’s EU accession path has been affected as well: on December 8, 2009, absent a consensus, the EU Council of foreign ministers delayed a decision on opening accession talks with the Republic of Macedonia. Talks on the name question continue under UN auspices.
Greece and Turkey have unresolved disagreements regarding the Aegean maritime boundary, the treatment of the Orthodox Church and Greek minority in Istanbul, the Muslim (primarily ethnic Turkish) minority in western Thrace, and the expanding flows of undocumented migrants, many from zones of conflict in South Asia and the Middle East, across the Aegean into Greece.
At times over the past 3 decades, tensions between Greece and Turkey have almost reached the point of armed confrontation. In 1996, President Bill Clinton intervened to help avert a possible armed exchange after a dispute over ownership of a tiny, uninhabited Aegean islet called Imia (Kardak in Turkish). A significant breakthrough in relations took place when major earthquakes hit Turkey and Greece in 1999. Both countries and peoples responded generously to the other's need, helping turn around official perceptions that rapprochement was too risky politically. Since that time, Greek and Turkish foreign ministers have increased the quantity and quality of bilateral exchanges, both official and unofficial.
Greece has endorsed and supported Turkey's bid for candidacy to the European Union since the Helsinki EU Summit in 1999. Greek opinion leaders generally believe that Greece's long-term interests are best served by Turkey's successfully fulfilling the requirements for membership and joining the European Union. The EU opened accession talks with Turkey on October 3, 2005. Negotiations have been opened on 12 of the 33 chapters required for admission, and 12 chapters have been blocked by EU members. Greece continues to support Turkey’s EU aspirations, provided that it meets all obligations toward the EU and its member states without any special concessions.
Shortly after his inauguration, Prime Minister Papandreou visited Istanbul and met with Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan, signaling his intention to reinvigorate bilateral relations and increase rapprochement between the two countries, which Papandreou had spearheaded when he was Greece’s Foreign Minister from 1999 to 2004. Following an exchange of letters between Erdogan and Papandreou and a visit to Athens by the Turkish Prime Minister, both Greece and Turkey agreed to the creation of a “High Level Strategic Cooperation Council” headed by the two prime ministers to increase bilateral dialogue. The prime ministers, as well as their foreign ministers, meet routinely on the margins of international gatherings to continue their dialogue.
Since 1974 the largest source of tension in the bilateral relationship between Greece and Turkey has been the Cyprus conflict.
After the UN-brokered “Annan Plan” to reunify the island failed to gain support among Greek Cypriots in a 2004 referendum, the Government of the Republic of Cyprus in September 2008 reopened inter-communal talks with the Turkish Cypriot side toward a comprehensive settlement on the basis of a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation. The UN has welcomed this development and continues to encourage both parties to address the key problems of the Cyprus issue. Greece has expressed its support for the talks.
Greece enjoys a geostrategic position for the transit of oil and gas from Caspian Basin and western Asia producers to the consumers of that energy in Europe. Greece is seeking to become an energy hub for these resources and has undertaken policies to that end. Taking advantage of its geographic position, Greece has identified four regional energy projects as top priorities. Greece, along with Turkey and Italy, is a partner of the ITGI (Interconnector Turkey-Greece-Italy) gas pipeline that, if fully realized, would transport up to 11 billion cubic meters of mostly Azerbaijani (and possibly other) gas to southern Europe by 2012. The ITGI currently transmits about 0.75 billion cubic meters of gas from Turkey to Greece; however, Turkey and Azerbaijan need to conclude a gas transit and pricing agreement before the full potential of the project can be realized. An ancillary project to ITGI is the IGB (Interconnector Greece- Bulgaria), which is a gas pipeline spur, linking ITGI with the Bulgarian market. Greece also has been discussing for many years the development of an oil pipeline to transport Russian oil between the Bulgarian Black Sea port of Burgas and the Greek port of Alexandroupolis on the Aegean coast. The purpose of the project is to reduce oil tanker ship traffic from the Black Sea through the crowded Bosporus strait, reducing the risk of environmental degradation and speeding the flow of oil to Western markets. The Burgas-Alexandroupolis pipeline currently is being held up by an incomplete environmental impact assessment for the Burgas terminal area. In 2007, Greece signed an agreement with Russia to participate in the proposed Russian South Stream natural gas pipeline, which would run along the Black Sea seabed and emerge in Bulgaria, eventually passing through Greece. This megaproject remains in the conceptual stages with challenges associated with the technical feasibility of transiting the Black Sea, and questions regarding the available sources and quantities of gas to fill the pipeline.
The Middle East
Greece has a special interest in the Middle East because of its geographic position and its economic and historic ties to the area. Greece cooperated with allied forces during the 1990-91 Persian Gulf War. Since 1994, Greece has signed defense cooperation agreements with Israel and Egypt. In recent years, Greek leaders have hosted several meetings of Israeli and Palestinian politicians to contribute to the peace process. While Greece has been traditionally supportive of Palestinian claims, beginning in the late 1990s, efforts to strike a more balanced relationship with Israel received a boost. Israeli President Moshe Katsav visited Greece in 2006, the first-ever official visit by an Israeli head of state. Prime Minister Papandreou and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu exchanged official visits in 2010.
Greece has supported NATO’s presence in Afghanistan since NATO took command of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in 2003. Greece has contributed approximately 75 trainers to the NATO Training Mission - Afghanistan, maintains a small headquarters element with ISAF in Afghanistan, and completed a 6-month command rotation of Kabul airport in October 2010. Greece provided over €72 million (about $96 million) in development and humanitarian aid to Afghanistan between 2002-2009.
Greece’s special political and economic relationships with countries in the Balkans play an important role in reinforcing democratic development there. The country has made positive contributions to Balkans reconciliation through its involvement in the NATO-led Kosovo Force (KFOR), NATO’s long-running (and now concluded) SFOR mission in Bosnia, and SFOR’s follow-on mission, the EU’s operation “Althea.” There are presently 44 staff members in Althea and over 700 Greek troops in Kosovo.
Greece has been an active participant in NATO’s Ocean Shield counter-piracy operation providing protection for World Food Program chartered and merchant vessels off the coast of Somalia, and routinely contributes to NATO maritime operations. Greece previously led, and it continues to participate in, the European Union’s “Atalanta” counter-piracy missions. The U.S. Navy’s naval support base at Souda Bay on the island of Crete provides operational and logistical support to European Command (EUCOM), Central Command (CENTCOM), the U.S. Fifth and Sixth fleets, and NATO forces engaged in missions in Iraq, Afghanistan, the Balkans, and the Middle East.
Greece is an important partner in many of today’s highest U.S. policy priorities. As a leader in the region, Greece has also been an ally to the U.S. in promoting Balkan stability and economic development, supporting Turkey’s bid for accession to the European Union, and supporting the diversification of Europe’s energy supplies. Greece’s geostrategic position also makes it an important ally in engagement and dialogue with the Muslim world. As an entry point into the Schengen visa area for migrants from the Middle East, North Africa, and Southwest Asia, Greece shares an interest both in humanitarian treatment of migrants and in supporting the development of conditions in their home countries that would ease the pressures for migration. Serving in the chairmanship of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in 2009, Greece navigated these problems and assisted in mediations following the conflict between Russia and Georgia.
An estimated three million Americans resident in the United States claim Greek descent. This large, well-organized community cultivates close political and cultural ties with Greece. There are approximately 90,000 to 100,000 American citizens resident in Greece. Greece has the seventh-largest population of U.S. Social Security beneficiaries in the world.
In 1953, the first defense cooperation agreement between Greece and the United States was signed, providing for the establishment and operation of American military installations on Greek territory. The United States closed three of its four main bases in the 1990s. The current mutual defense cooperation agreement provides for the continued operation by the United States of a naval support facility at the strategically located deep-water port and airfield at Souda Bay in Crete.
Greece was admitted to the Visa Waiver Program in 2010.
Principal U.S. Embassy Officials
Ambassador--Daniel B. Smith
Deputy Chief of Mission--Thomas S. Miller
Management Counselor--Mary Teirlynck
Regional Security Officer--Charles Brandeis
Political Counselor--Daniel Lawton
Economic Counselor--Paul Malik
Public Affairs Counselor (acting)--Diana F. Brown
Consul General--Matthew McKeever
Defense Attache--CAPT John Braunschweig
Commercial Counselor--David McNeill
Principal Officer, Thessaloniki--Catherine Kay
Agricultural Counselor--James Dever (resident in Rome)
The U.S. Embassy in Greece is located at 91 Vasilissis Sophias Blvd., 10160 Athens; tel:  (210) 721-2951 or 721-8401, after hours 729-4444; fax:  (210) 645-6282. The U.S. Consulate General for Thessaloniki is located at 43 Tsimiski Street, 546-23 Thessaloniki; tel:  (2310) 242-905 or 721-2951, ext. 2400; fax:  (2310) 242-927, 242-924. The email address for the U.S. Embassy is AthensAmEmb@state.gov. The Embassy's website is athens.usembassy.gov. The Consulate General's website is thessaloniki.usconsulate.gov. The embassy's youth website is www.mosaiko.gr.