The Greek economy has proven resilient in recent years as it continues to rebound from the 2007 economic crisis – including the rigid fiscal constraints demanded by creditors — and the global COVID-19 pandemic. In early 2020, COVID-19 held the potential to permanently scar an economy that still suffered from legacy issues, including high debt and non-performing loans, limited credit growth, near zero capacity for fiscal expansion, and a hollowed-out healthcare system. While continuing its aggressive reform agenda, the Mitsotakis government rose to meet the pandemic challenge, as European institutions effectively welcomed Greek debt back into the eurosystem, the IMF and EU evaluated the country’s public debt as sustainable, Moody’s upgraded Greek sovereign debt, the country began borrowing at historically low cost, and strategic investors returned, favorably considering Greece’s current and long-term value proposition. Meanwhile, over the past several years, our bilateral relationship has deepened significantly via our defense and strategic partnerships, and Greece ambitiously seeks now to bring our economic ties to similar, historic heights. Far from being the problem child of Europe or the international financial system, Greece is increasingly a source of solutions – not just in the fields of energy diplomacy and defense, but in high-tech innovation, healthcare, and green energy, improving prospects for solid economic growth and stability here and in the wider region.
The Mitsotakis government was elected in July 2019 on an aggressive investment and economic reform agenda which has plowed forward despite the pandemic. During its first nine months in power, Mitostakis’s team pushed market-friendly reforms and Parliament voted through dozens of economic-related bills, including a key investment law in October 2019, designed to cut red tape, help achieve full employment, and adopt best international practices – including by digitizing government services. GDP growth reached 8.3 percent in 2021, a major leap forward following the detrimental effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Greece maintains a liquidity buffer, estimated at €30 billion, but is intent on boosting its coffers as the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic is larger than expected. So far untouched, the buffer should be sufficient to cover the country’s financing needs until at least the end of 2022, and the country’s leadership maintains its intention to reserve the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) tranche solely for sovereign debt interest payments. While capital controls were completely lifted in September 2019, Greece remains subject to enhanced supervision by Eurozone creditors. However, the European Commission’s (EC) latest positive assessment on the Greek economy, will – most likely – pave the way for the end of the country’s enhanced surveillance status in Q3 2022.
Greece’s banking system, despite three recapitalizations as part of the August 2015 European Stability Mechanism (ESM) agreement, remains saddled with the largest ratio of non-performing loans in the EU, which constrains the domestic financial sector’s ability to finance the national economy. As a result, businesses, particularly small and medium enterprises, still struggle to obtain domestic financing to support operations due to inflated risk premiums in the sector. To tackle the issue, and as a requirement of the agreement with the ESM, Greece has established a secondary market for its non-performing loans (NPLs). According to the Bank of Greece, non-performing loans (NPLs) came, on a solo basis, to €58.7 billion at end-September 2020, down by €9.8 billion from December 2019 and by €48.5 billion from their March 2016 peak. The NPL-to-total loan ratio remained high in September 2020 at 35.8 percent. The high percentage of performing loans benefited from moratoria until December 31, 2020, and contained the inflow of new NPLs. Non-performing private debt remains high, irrespective of the reduction in NPLs on bank balance sheets via transfer to non-bank entities. 2020 saw substantial reforms aimed at resolving the issue of NPLs. These involved the securitization of NPLs through the activation of the “Hercules” scheme and the enactment of Law No. 4738/2020 which improves several aspects of insolvency law. Nevertheless, NPLs will remain high, and considering that there will be a new inflow of NPLs due to the pandemic, other solutions complementary to the “Hercules” scheme should be implemented. In addition to sales of securitized loan packages, banks have exploited other ways to manage bad loans. For example, nearly all of Greece’s systemic banks employ loan servicing firms to manage non-performing exposure. Greece’s secondary market for NPL servicers now includes 24 companies including: Sepal (an Alpha Bank-Aktua joint venture), FPS (a Eurobank subsidiary), Pillarstone, Independent Portfolio Management, B2Kapital, UCI Hellas, Resolute Asset Management, Thea Artemis, PQH, Qquant Master Servicer, and DV01 Asset Management.
Greece’s return to economic growth has generated new investor interest in the country. Pfizer, Cisco, Deloitte, and Microsoft, to name a few, have all announced major investments in the past few years, due in part to improved protection of intellectual property rights and Greece’s delisting from the U.S. Trade Representatives Special 301 Watch List in 2020. In March 2021, Greece successfully raised €2.5 billion from its first 30-year bond sale in more than a decade, with the issue more than 10 times oversubscribed. The bond, which has so far received investor demand of more than €26.1 billion, will price at 150 basis points over the mid-swap level, resulting in a yield of 1.93 percent.
In January 2022, Fitch Ratings Agency maintained Greece’s credit rating at BB and noted the country’s outlook as ‘stable’ due to the financial impact of COVID-19. On April 1, 2021, Moody’s improved its outlook of the Greek banking system from “stable” to “positive.”Standard & Poor’s affirmed its credit rating for Greece at BB-in October 2020 and also kept its outlook to “stable.” The European Central Bank (ECB) included Greek government bonds in its quantitative easing program, with €12 billion worth of Greek government debt earmarked for purchase under the ECB’s €750 billion Pandemic Emergency Purchase Program in 2020. In February 2022, Greece has received the Eurogroup’s approval to repay the final tranches of bailout loans from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) early, along with a small part of bilateral loans from its eurozone partners. Greece plans to repay loans worth €1.9 billion to the IMF by March, two years ahead of schedule.
The Greek government was given strong marks for its initial response in limiting the spread of the pandemic and has implemented several innovative digital reforms to its economy during COVID-19. The Greek economy contracted by 10 percent in 2020 with a gross domestic product (GDP) of €189 billion but its GDP rose to €211 billion in 2021. This was largely attributed to the successful 2021tourism season, which brought in €10 billion to the Greek economy. The unemployment rate was 15.8 percent in 2021, a slight increase from 15.5 percent in 2020.
In response to the pandemic, Greece’s recovery and resilience plan was among the first plans that were formally approved by the European Council, in July 2021. Greece received €4 billion of the disbursement in August. The plan will disburse €17.8 billion in grants and €12.7 billion in loans over the course of five years. Greece has earmarked funding for many climate-relevant investments and digitalization efforts. Greece was also the first Member State to finalize its Partnership Agreement for the 2021-2027 programming period. The Partnership Agreement outlines the plan for deploying of more than €21 billion worth of investments to support Greece’s economic, social and territorial cohesion.
The Greek government also took measures to support businesses throughout the pandemic in 2021. In February 2021, the government approved a €500 million scheme to support small and medium-sized businesses affected by the pandemic. The state aid Temporary Framework was open to small and medium-sized enterprises active in all sectors except financial, primary agriculture, tobacco, and fisheries sectors. This public support, in the form of direct grants, sought to provide sufficient working capital for businesses affected by the pandemic. In May 2021, the European Commission approved a €793 million support measure for micro, small and medium-sized enterprises affected by the coronavirus outbreak in the form of direct grants, which is open to companies active in all sectors except the financial one. The aid aims to provide liquidity support to qualifying beneficiaries, to safeguard businesses against the risk of default, allowing them to preserve their economic activity and helping them recover after the pandemic.
Rounding out 2021, the Greek government enacted a €665 million scheme in November 2021 to support households affected by the pandemic. The scheme was adopted to assist households at risk of losing their primary residence by defaulting on their mortgage loans. On 3 November 2021, the European Commission approved modifications to ensure the extension of the loan period and a reduction of the maximum aid amount per beneficiary.
|TI Corruption Perceptions Index||2021||58 of 180||https://www.transparency.org/country/GRC|
|Global Innovation Index||2021||47 of 131||https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator|
|U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions)||2020||$74 million||https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/factsheet.cfm?Area=310|
|World Bank GNI per capita||2020||$17,930||http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD|
1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment
The Greek government continues to take steps to increase foreign investment, implementing economic reforms and taking steps to mitigate the impact of the pandemic. Greece completed its EU bailout program in 2018, allowing it to borrow once again at market rates, reflected in a rising economic sentiment since 2017. Heavy bureaucracy and a slow judicial system continue to create challenges for both foreign and domestic investors.
There are no laws or practices known to Post that discriminate against foreign investors. The country has investment promotion agencies to facilitate foreign investments, with “Enterprise Greece” as the official agency of the Greek state. Under the supervision of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Enterprise Greece is responsible for promoting investment in Greece and exports from Greece, and with making Greece more attractive as an international business partner. Enterprise Greece provides the full spectrum of services related to international business relationships and domestic business development for the international market, including an Investor Ombudsman program for investment projects exceeding €2 million. The Ombudsman is available to assist with specific bureaucratic obstacles, delays, disputes, or other difficulties that impede an investment project. However, Enterprise Greece, even with its ombudsman service, is not very effective at moving investment projects forward.
The General Secretariat for Strategic and Private Investments streamlines the licensing procedure for strategic investments, aiming to make the process easier and more attractive to investors.
Greece has adopted the following EU definitions regarding micro, small, and medium size enterprises:
Micro Enterprises: Fewer than 10 employees and an annual turnover or balance sheet below €2 million.
Small Enterprises: Fewer than 50 employees and an annual turnover or balance sheet below €10 million.
Medium-Sized Enterprises: Fewer than 250 employees and annual turnover below €50 million or balance sheet below €43 million.
Numerous structural reforms, undertaken as part of the country’s 2015-2018 international bailout program as well as a part of the current New Democracy administration’s efforts to lower taxes and reduce bureaucracy, aim to welcome and facilitate foreign investment, and the government has publicly messaged its dedication to attracting foreign investment.The 2019 investment law simplified licensing procedures in order to facilitate investment. In December 2020, parliament passed a new law allowing non-residents who relocate their jobs to Greece to benefit from half their salary being free of income tax for up to seven years. The scheme is open to any type of job, any income level and complements other tax incentive schemes put in place, including a non-dom program for wealthy investors and a low flat tax rate for pensioners. The Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP) is another example of the government’s commitment in this area. In November 2015, the Greek government and TAP investors agreed on measures and began construction on the largest investment project since the start of the financial crisis. The pipeline began operations in December 2020 and in March 2021, TAP announced that a total of 1 billion cubic meters (bcm) of natural gas from Azerbaijan entered Europe via the Greek interconnection point of Kipoi. Law 4710/2020 gave a strong push for electro-mobility, with several incentives and subsidies to those interested in acquiring an electric vehicle. The law has paved the way for greater U.S. investment. For example, Tesla has installed the first pop-up stand along with three electric vehicle (EV) charges at a major Greek shopping mall, while Blink expanded its EV network in Greece. Additionally, there are directives that have eased the bureaucracy surrounding renewable energy source (RES) projects, including establishing a deadline for the issuance of Environmental Terms Approvals (ETAs) of 120 days and limiting the environmental licensing stages to three stages instead of the previous six or seven stages required for companies to abide by.
In the past decade, the country underwent one of the most significant fiscal consolidations in modern history, with broad and deep cuts to public expenditures and significant increases in labor and social security tax rates, which have offset improved labor market competitiveness achieved through significant wage devaluation. While there has been notable progress, corruption and burdensome bureaucracy continue to create barriers to market entry for new firms, permitting incumbents to maintain oligopolies in different sectors, and creating scope for arbitrary decisions and rent seeking by public servants.
As a member of the EU and the European Monetary Union (the “Eurozone”), Greece is required to meet EU and eurozone investment regulations. Foreign and domestic private entities have the legal right to establish and own businesses in Greece; however, the country places restrictions on foreign equity ownership higher than those imposed on average in the other 17 high-income OECD economies, such as equity restrictions on airport operations and limits on foreign ownership in electricity and media. The government has undertaken EU-mandated reforms in its energy sector, opening much of it to foreign equity ownership. Restrictions exist on land purchases in border regions and on certain islands because of national security considerations. Foreign investors can buy or sell shares on the Athens Stock Exchange on the same basis as local investors. Greece does not maintain an investment screening mechanism. However, the Greek Government is currently working on the legislation for the development of an FDI screening mechanism. The plan is to finalize the text in mid-2022 and then present it to the European Commission.
The government has not undergone an investment policy review by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the World Trade Organization (WTO), or United Nations Committee on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) or worked with any other international institution to produce a public report on the general investment climate in the past three years. However, in July 2020, the OECD published a periodic economic survey describing the state of the economy and addressing foreign direct investment concerns, especially regarding needed reforms in the public sector and judicial system.In particular, the OECD report lauds the Ministry of Digital Governance’s progress in instituting digital and public administration reforms and recommends continued effort in this area. To date, the OECD has not published an economic survey for 2021, however, the economic forecast summary for Greece was published in December 2021.
Although Greece has many civil society organizations (CSOs), no CSO has raised concerns related to investment policies introduced by the government of Greece.
In 2020, Greece eased processes for starting a business by reducing the time to register a company and removing the requirement to obtain a tax clearance. Accessing industrial land in Greece is relatively quick, with only three weeks required to lease land from the government. Private land can be leased within 15 days. Arbitrating commercial disputes, however, can take almost a year. Establishing a limited liability company takes approximately four days with three procedures involved, including registering the business, making a company seal, and registering with the Unified Social Security Institution. Greece’s Ease of Doing Business score in 2020 is 96, for a rank of 11 for starting a business and rank of 79 overall. Greece is now one of the 37 countries listed on www.businessfacilitation.org.
Greece’s business registration entity GEMI (General Commercial Register) has the basic responsibility for digitizing and automating the registration and monitoring procedures of commercial enterprises. The online business registration process is relatively clear, and although foreign companies can use it, the registration steps are currently available only in Greek. In general, a company must register with the business chamber, tax registry, social security, and local municipality. Business creation without a notary can be done for specific cases (small/personal businesses, etc.). For the establishment of larger companies, a notary is mandatory.
The Greek government does not have any known outward investment incentive programs. Capital controls were eliminated in September 2019.
Enterprise Greece supports the international expansion of Greek companies. While no incentives are offered, Enterprise Greece has been supportive of Greek companies attending the U.S. Government’s Annual SelectUSA Investment Summit, which promotes inbound investment to the United States, and similar industry trade events internationally.
3. Legal Regime
As an EU member, Greece is required to have transparent policies and laws for fostering competition. Foreign companies consider the complexity of government regulations and procedures and their inconsistent implementation to be a significant impediment to investing and operating in Greece. Occasionally, foreign companies report cases where there are multiple laws governing the same issue, resulting in confusion over which law is applicable. Under its bailout programs, the Greek government committed to widespread reforms to simplify the legal framework for investment, including eliminating bureaucratic obstacles, redundancies, and undue regulations. The fast-track law, passed in December 2010, aimed to simplify the licensing and approval process for “strategic” investments, i.e. large-scale investments that will have a significant impact on the national economy. In 2013, Greece’s parliament passed Investment Law 4146/2013 to simplify the regulatory system and stimulate investment. This law provides additional incentives, beyond those in the fast-track law, available to domestic and foreign investors, dependent on the sector and the location of the investment.
In February 2021, the EU introduced new trade enforcement regulations which apply to all member-states, including new policy countermeasures to services and trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights (IPR). Former trade enforcement regulations only permitted countermeasures in goods. The following enforcement mechanisms have been enacted at the EU-level:
- the appointment of a Chief Trade Enforcement Officer;
- the creation of a new Directorate in DG Trade for enforcement, market access and SMEs; and
- the establishment under Access2Markets of a single-entry point for complaints from EU stakeholders and businesses on trade barriers on foreign markets and violations of sustainable trade commitments in EU trade agreements.
Additionally, the European Commission has also committed to developing the EU’s anti-coercion mechanism, with the goal to deter countries from restricting or threatening to restrict trade or investment.
Greece’s tax regime lacked stability during the economic crisis, presenting additional obstacles to investment, both foreign and domestic. Foreign firms are not subject to discrimination in taxation. Numerous changes to tax laws and regulations since the beginning of the economic crisis injected uncertainty into Greece’s tax regime. As part of Greece’s August 2015 bailout agreement, the government converted the Ministry of Finance’s Directorate-General for Public Revenue into a fully independent tax agency effective January 2017, with a broad mandate to increase collection and develop further reforms to the tax code aimed at reducing evasion and increasing the coverage of the Greek tax regime. The government makes continued efforts to combat tax evasion by increasing inspections and crosschecks among various authorities and by using more sophisticated methods to find undeclared income. Authorities held monthly lotteries offering taxpayers rewards of €1,000 ($1,200) for using credit or debit cards, which are considered more financially transparent, in their daily transactions.
Foreign investment is not legally prohibited or otherwise restricted. Proposed laws and regulations are published in draft form for public comment before Parliament takes up consideration of the legislation. The laws in force are accessible on a unified website managed by the government and printed in an official gazette. Greece introduced International Financial Reporting Standards for listed companies in 2005 in accordance with EU directives. These rules improved the transparency and accountability of publicly traded companies.
Citizens of other EU member state countries may work freely in Greece. Citizens of non-EU countries may work in Greece after receiving residence and work permits. There are no discriminatory or preferential export/import policies affecting foreign investors, as EU regulations govern import and export policy, and increasingly, many other aspects of investment policy in Greece.
Greece has been a World Trade Organization (WTO) member since January 1, 1995, and a member of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) since March 1, 1950. Greece complies with WTO Trade-Related Investment Measures (TRIMs) requirements. There are no performance requirements for establishing, maintaining, or expanding an investment. Performance requirements may come into play, however, when an investor wants to take advantage of certain investment incentives offered by the government. Greece has not enacted measures that are inconsistent with TRIMs requirements, and the Embassy is not aware of any measures alleged to violate Greece’s WTO TRIMs obligations. Trade policy falls within the competence and jurisdiction of the European Commission Directorate General for Trade and is generally not subject to regulation by member state national authorities.
Although Greece has an independent judiciary, the court system is an extremely time-consuming and unwieldy means for enforcing property and contractual rights. According to the “Enforcing Contracts Indicator” of the World Bank’s ‘Doing Business 2020” survey, Greece ranks 146 among 190 countries in terms of the speed of delivery of justice, requiring 1,711 days (more than four years) on average to resolve a dispute, compared to the OECD high-income countries’ average of 589.6 days. The government committed, as part of its three bailout packages, to reforms intended to expedite the processing of commercial cases through the court system. In July 2015, the government adopted significant reforms to the Code of Civil Procedure (Law 4335/2015). These reforms aimed to accelerate judicial proceedings in support of contract enforcement and investment climate stability and entered into force in January 2016. Foreign companies report, however, that Greek courts do not consistently provide fast and effective recourse. Problems with judicial corruption reportedly still exist. Commercial and contractual laws accord with international norms, and the judicial system remains independent of the executive branch.
In 2019 and 2020, Parliament passed several investment-related laws.
In December 2020, Parliament passed Law 4758/2020, which introduced amendments in the current tax legislation regarding special taxation of employment services and business activity income arising in Greece, earned by individuals who transfer their tax residence in Greece.
In October 2019, Parliament passed an economic development bill, Law 4635/2019, aimed at boosting economic recovery in the post-bailout era which entered into force in January 2020. The bill, called “Invest in Greece and other provisions,” simplifies processes for investors regarding environmental and urban planning regulations, speeding up bureaucratic processes. The bill also introduces changes to labor union alterations to encourage job creation and reforms the functioning of the General Commercial Registry.
Law 4605/2019 expands the types of investments that qualify an individual for a residence permit, allowing investments in intangible assets. In particular, capital contribution of at least €400,000 in a real estate investment company, in a company registered in Greece, in a purchase of state bonds, corporate bonds, or shares, in a venture capital investment company, or in mutual funds, allows the investor and his or her family members a five-year residency permit in Greece.
Law 4608/2019 for strategic investments was approved in April 2019, creating a favorable investment climate by providing various privileges to investors such as tax exemptions and fast track licensing.
Investments in Greece operate under two main laws: the new Investment Law (4399/2016) that addresses small-scale investments and Law 4146/2013 that addresses strategic investments. In particular:
Law 4399/2016, entitled “Statutory framework to the establishment of Private Investments Aid Schemes for the regional and economic development of the country” was passed in June 2016. Its key objectives include the creation of new jobs, the increase of extroversion, the reindustrialization of the country, and the attraction of FDI. The law provides aids (as incentives) for companies that invest from €50,000 (Social Cooperative Companies) up to €500,000 (large sized companies) as well as tax breaks. The Greek government provides funds to cover part of the eligible expenses of the investment plan; the amount of the subsidy is determined based on the region and the business size. Qualified companies are exempt from paying income tax on their pre-tax profits for all their activities. There is a fixed corporate income tax rate and fast licensing procedures. Eligible economic activities are manufacturing, shipbuilding, transportation/infrastructure, tourism, and energy. More about this law can be found here: https://www.enterprisegreece.gov.gr/files/pdf/madrid2019/2-Investment-Incentives-Law.pdf.
– Law 4146/2013, entitled the “Creation of a Business-Friendly Environment for Strategic and Private Investments” is the other primary investment incentive law currently in force. The law aims to modernize and improve the institutional framework for private investments, raise liquidity, accelerate investment procedures, and increase transparency. It seeks to provide an efficient institutional framework for all investors and speed the approval processes for pending and approved investment projects. The law created a general directorate for private investments within the Ministry of Development and Investment and reduced the value of investments needed to be considered strategic. The law also provides tax exemptions and incentives to investors and allows foreign nationals from non-EU countries who buy property in Greece worth over €250,000 ($285,000) to obtain five-year renewable residence permits for themselves and their families. In March 2019, the Greek government brought a bill to parliament to expand eligibility criteria of the existing program.
Other investment laws include:
– Law 3908/2011, which provides incentives in the form of tax relief, grants, and allowances on investments, is gradually being phased out by Law 4146 (above).
– Law 3919/2011 aims to liberalize more than 150 currently regulated or closed-shop professions.
– Law 3982/2011 reduced the complexity of the licensing system for manufacturing activities and technical professions and modernized certain qualification and certification requirements to lower barriers to entry.
– Law 4014/2011 simplified the environmental licensing process.
– Law 3894/2010 (also known as fast track) allows Enterprise Greece to expedite licensing procedures for qualifying investments in the following sectors: industry, energy, tourism, transportation, telecommunications, health services, waste management, or high-end technology/innovation. To qualify, investments must meet one of the following conditions:
- exceed €100 million;
- exceed €15 million in the industrial sector, operating in industrial zones;
- exceed €40 million and concurrently create at least 120 new jobs; or
- create 150 new jobs, regardless of the monetary value of the investment.
More about fast-track licensing of strategic investments can be found online at https://www.enterprisegreece.gov.gr/en/invest-in-greece/strategic-investments
– Law 3389/2005 introduced the use of public-private partnerships (PPP). This law aimed to facilitate PPPs in the service and construction sectors by creating a market-friendly regulatory environment.
– Law 3426/2005 completed Greece’s harmonization with EU Directive 2003/54/EC and provided for the gradual deregulation of the electricity market. Law 3175/2003 harmonized Greek legislation with the requirements of EU Directive 2003/54/EC on common rules for the internal electricity market. Law 2773/99 initially opened 34 percent of the Greek energy market, in compliance with EU Directive 96/92 concerning regulation of the internal electricity market.
– Law 3427/2005, which amended Law 89/67, provides special tax treatment for offshore operations of foreign companies established in Greece. Special tax treatment is offered only to operations in countries that comply with OECD tax standards.
– Law 2364/95 and supporting amendments govern investment in the natural gas market in Greece.
– Law 2289/95, which amended Law 468/76, allows private (both foreign and domestic) participation in oil exploration and development.
– Law 2246/94 and supporting amendments opened Greece’s telecommunications market to foreign investment.
– Legislative Decree 2687 of 1953, in conjunction with Article 112 of the Constitution, gives approved foreign “productive investments” (primarily manufacturing and tourism enterprises) property rights, preferential tax treatment, and work permits for foreign managerial and technical staff. The Decree also provides a constitutional guarantee against unilateral changes in the terms of a foreign investor’s agreement with the government, but the guarantee does not cover changes in the tax regime.
Under Articles 101-109 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU, the European Commission (EC), together with member state national competition authorities, directly enforces EU competition rules. The EC Directorate-General for Competition carries out this mandate in member states, including Greece. Greece’s competition policy authority rests with the Hellenic Competition Commission, in consultation with the Ministry of Economy. The Hellenic Competition Commission protects the proper functioning of the market and ensures the enforcement of the rules on competition. It acts as an independent authority and has administrative and financial autonomy.
Private property may be expropriated for public purposes, but the law requires this be done in a nondiscriminatory manner and with prompt, adequate, and effective compensation. Due process and transparency are mandatory, and investors and lenders receive compensation in accordance with international norms. There have been no expropriation actions involving the real property of foreign investors in recent history, although legal proceedings over expropriation claims initiated, in one instance, over a decade ago, continue to work through the judicial system.
Bankruptcy laws in Greece meet international norms. Under Greek bankruptcy law 3588/2007, private creditors receive compensation after claims from the government and insurance funds have been satisfied. Monetary judgments are usually made in euros unless explicitly stipulated otherwise. Greece has a reliable system of recording security interests in property. According to the World Bank’s 2020 Doing Business report, resolving insolvency in Greece takes 3.5 years on average and costs nine percent of the debtor’s estate, with the most likely outcome that the company will be sold piecemeal. Recovery rate is 32 cents on the dollar. Greece ranks 72 of 190 economies surveyed for ease of resolving insolvency in the Doing Business report (from 62 in 2019).
4. Industrial Policies
Investment incentives are available on an equal basis for both foreign and domestic investors in productive enterprises. The investment laws in Greece aim to increase liquidity, accelerate investment processes, and ensure transparency. They provide an efficient institutional framework for all investors and speed the approval process for pending investment projects. The basic investment incentives Law 4146/2013, “Creation of a Development Friendly Environment for Strategic and Private Investments,” aims to improve the institutional and legal framework to attract private investment. Separately, Law 3908/2011 (which replaced Law 3299/2004) provides incentives in the form of tax relief, cash grants, leasing subsidies, and soft loans on qualifying investments in all economic sectors with some exceptions.
In evaluating applications for tax and other financial incentives for investment, Greek authorities consider several criteria, including the viability of the planned investment; the expected impact on the economy and regional development (job creation, export orientation, local content use, energy conservation, environmental protection); the use of innovative technology; and the creditworthiness and capacity of the investor. Progress assessments are conducted on projects receiving incentives, and companies that fail to implement projects as planned may be forced to give up incentives initially granted to them. All information transmitted to the government for the approval process is to be treated confidentially by law.
Investment categories are:
- General Entrepreneurship
- Regional Cohesion
- Technological development
- Youth Entrepreneurship (18-40 years old)
- Large Investment Plans (above €50 million)
- Integrated, Multi-Annual Business Plans
The entire application and evaluation process shall not exceed six months (more information can be found at https://www.ependyseis.gr).
Greece offers incentive packages for green investments and expects to offer more as it receives its European Recovery and Resilience Facility allocations. In 2021, the European Commission approved a €2.27 billion Greek program to award aid for renewable energy production, including a joint competitive tendering procedure for onshore wind and solar installations and two-way contract-for-difference premiums for electricity production from renewable energy sources. The incentives have spurred increased investment in the renewable energy sector; auctions to secure long-term electricity production contracts for onshore wind and solar projects have been oversubscribed. Law 4710/2020 offers incentives to promote e-mobility, including subsidies for purchases of electric vehicles and associate charging equipment, as well as tax incentives for green investments. Law 4710/2020 offers incentives to promote e-mobility, including subsidies for purchases of electric vehicles and associate charging equipment, as well as tax incentives for green investments. In 2021, the European Commission also approved Greek plans to establish an incentive scheme to help drive renewables deployment across 47 Greek islands, for example premium payments to generators to bridge the gap between generation costs and wholesale electricity prices.
Greece has four free-trade zones, located at the Piraeus, Thessaloniki, Heraklion, and Platigiali Astakos Etoloakarnias port areas. Greek and foreign-owned firms enjoy the same advantages in these zones. Goods of foreign origin may be brought into these zones without payment of customs duties or other taxes and may remain free of all duties and taxes if subsequently transshipped or re-exported. Similarly, documents pertaining to the receipt, storage, or transfer of goods within the zones are free from stamp taxes. Handling operations are carried out according to EU regulations 2504/1988 and 2562/1990. Transit goods may be held in the zones free of bond. These zones also may be used for repackaging, sorting, and re-labeling operations. Assembly and manufacture of goods are carried out on a small scale in the Thessaloniki Free Zone. Storage time is unlimited, as long as warehouse rents are paid every six months.
The Greek government does not follow a policy of forced localization or mandate local employment designed to require foreign investors to use domestic content in goods or technology, with the exception of economic development requirements in many defense contracts (see Research and Development, below). Some foreign investors partner with local companies or hire local staff/experts, however, as a way to facilitate their entry into the market. In 2019, the government enacted a new amendment to the Greek tourism legislation, which obligates tour operators from third countries who do not own a travel agency in Greece to collaborate with a local travel agency established in the country to be able to conduct its business locally. The government is not taking steps to force foreign investors to keep a specific amount of the data they collect and store within Greek national borders.
Offset agreements, co-production, and technology transfers are commonplace in Greece’s procurement of defense items. Although the most recent Greek defense procurement law eliminated offset requirements, there are some remaining ongoing active offset contracts, as well as expired offset contracts with U.S. firms that are potentially subject to non-performance penalties. Defense procurements are still subject to economic development requirements, which are, in effect, similar to offsets. In 2014, the government committed to resolving offset contract disputes in a way that would satisfy both parties and avoid the imposition of penalties or fines.
In general, U.S. and other foreign firms may participate in government-financed and/or subsidized research and development programs. Foreign investors do not face discriminatory or other formal inhibiting requirements. However, many potential and actual foreign investors assert the complexity of Greek regulations, the need to deal with many layers of bureaucracy, and the involvement of multiple government agencies all discourage investment.
5. Protection of Property Rights
Greek laws extend the protection of property rights to both foreign and Greek nationals, and the legal system protects and facilitates acquisition and disposition of all property rights.
Multiple layers of authority in Greece are involved in the issuance or approval of land use and zoning permits, creating disincentives to real property investment. Secured interests in property are movable and real, recognized and enforced. The concept of mortgage does exist in the market and can be recorded through the banks. The government is working to create a comprehensive electronic land registry which is expected to increase the transparency of real estate management. However, the land registry is behind schedule and is not expected to be completed until 2022, two years after its initial estimate of completion. Greece ranks 156 out of 190 countries for Ease of Registering Property in the World Bank’s Doing Business 2020 Report, down from 153 last year.
Foreign nationals can acquire real estate property in Greece, though they first need to be issued a tax authentication number. However, for the border areas, foreign nationals first require a license from the Greek state (Law 3978/2011). In another effort to boost investment, the government passed Law 4146/2013, which allows foreign nationals who buy property in Greece worth over €250,000 ($285,000) to obtain a five-year residence permit for themselves and their families. The “Golden Visa” program has been extended to buyers of various types of Greek securities, including stocks, bonds, and bank accounts, with a value of at least €400,000. The permit can be extended for an additional five years and allows travel to other EU and Schengen countries without a visa.
On April 29, 2020, the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) delisted Greece from the USTR Special 301 Watch List due to progress in addressing concerns regarding IP protection and enforcement. The widespread use of unlicensed software in the public sector in Greece had been of long-standing concern to right holders. In December 2019, Greece took clear steps to address this matter by allocating over €39 million for the purchase of software licenses. In December 2020, the agreement to purchase software licenses for government workers was finalized, and the rollout is proceeding well according to government and private sector contacts. In addition, the Committee for Notification of Copyright and Related Rights Infringement on the Internet has been taking steps to address enforcement in the online environment, and Greece introduced a new law imposing fines for possessing counterfeit products. In 2019, the Ministry of Culture developed legislation which would allow for blocking of dynamic domains, in order to improve even further the protection of IP rights. Parliament passed the bill in 2020.
Greece tracks seizures of counterfeit goods; however, the Ministry of Finance, Coast Guard, and Customs Service all track their data separately. In 2019, the Hellenic Coast Guard arrested 143 people during 110 cases, seizing over 9 million counterfeit cigarettes, 10 vehicles, and over 1,300 pounds of tobacco, all representing €1.8 million in attempted tax evasion. The Ministry of Finance’s Economic and Financial Crimes Unit (SDOE) conducts investigations and seizures of counterfeit goods and products. In 2019, the SDOE seized almost 600,000 counterfeit and pirated products, down from 1.1 million in 2018. The Hellenic Customs Service also conducts inspections at exit and entry points into the EU, with over 20 million counterfeit products seized in 2019, the majority of which were cigarettes. Violators can be fined for their actions, and Law 3982/2022 provides police ex officio authority to confiscate and destroy counterfeit goods.
Greece is a member of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property, the European Patent Convention, the Washington Patent Cooperation Treaty, and the Bern Copyright Convention. As a member of the EU, Greece has harmonized its IP legislation with EU rules and regulations. The WTO-TRIPS agreement was incorporated into Greek legislation on February 28, 1995 (Law 2290/1995). The Greek government also signed and ratified the WIPO internet treaties and incorporated them into Greek legislation (Laws 3183 and 3184/2003) in 2003. Greece’s legal framework for copyright protection is found in Law 2121 of 1993 on copyrights and Law 2328 of 1995 on the media.
For additional information about treaty obligations and points of contact at local IP offices, please see WIPO’s country profiles at http://www.wipo.int/directory/en/
Embassy Point of Contact:
U.S. Embassy Athens
91 Vas. Sofias Avenue, Athens, Greece 10160
A list of local attorneys is available at gr.usembassy.gov/u-s-citizen-services/attorneys/
American-Hellenic Chamber of Commerce
109-111 Messoghion Avenue, Politia Business Center
Athens, Greece 11526
Phone: +30-210-699-3559, Fax: +30-210-698-5686
6. Financial Sector
Following EU regulations, Greece is open to foreign portfolio investment. Law 3371/2005 sets an effective legal framework to encourage and facilitate portfolio investment. Law 3283/2004 incorporates the European Council’s Directive 2001/107, setting the legal framework for the operation of mutual funds. The Bank of Greece complies with its IMF Article VIII obligations and does not generally impose restrictions on payments. Transfers for current international transactions are allowed but are subject to specific conditions for approval. The lack of liquidity in the Athens Stock Exchange along with the challenging economic environment have hindered the allocation of credit but is accessible to foreign investors on the local market, who also have access to a variety of credit instruments.
Greece’s banking system is recovering from a decade-long economic crisis that created a large stock of nonperforming loans (NPLs). In previous years, Greek banks cleared their balance sheets though the sale of their NPLs to several international funds. The strong economic recovery in Greece in 2021, coupled with accommodative monetary and fiscal policies to mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, contributed to improved liquidity conditions. Banks successfully continued their efforts to clean up their loan portfolios. This laid the groundwork for banks to resume their financial intermediation role and thus contribute to sustainable economic growth. However, banks continue to face challenges including the legacy stock of non-performing loans still on bank balance sheets; the low quality of Greek banks’ prudential own funds, given the large share of deferred tax assets; and low operating profitability. Currently, banks enjoy adequate liquidity and capital buffers that allow them to provide lending to the economy.
In November 2015, following an Asset Quality Review and Stress Test conducted by the ECB as a requirement of the 2015 ESM agreement, a third recapitalization of Greece’s four systemic banks (National Bank of Greece, Piraeus Bank, Alpha Bank, and Eurobank) took place. The recapitalization concluded with the banks remaining in private hands, after raising €6.5 billion from foreign investors, mostly hedge funds. In September 2020, the ratio of NPLs decreased to 35.8 percent, down from 40.6 percent in December 2019. Banks estimate that about 20 percent of non-performing exposures (NPEs) are owned by so-called “strategic defaulters” – borrowers who refrain from paying their debts to lenders to take advantage of the laws enacted during the financial crisis to protect borrowers from foreclosure or creditors’ collection even though they are able to pay their obligations.
Developing an effective NPL reduction strategy has been among the most difficult challenges for the Greek economy. According to the Bank of Greece, Greek banks’ NPL ratio, at 15 percent in June 2021, remains the highest in the eurozone, well over the European average of around three percent. Under the terms of the ESM agreement, Greece remains obliged to create an NPL market through which the loans could, over time, be sold or transferred for servicing purposes to foreign investors. The Bank of Greece has licensed more than ten servicers, and the sale and securitization environment for non-performing loans continues to mature, with all of Greece’s systemic banks having conducted portfolio sales of secured and unsecured loan tranches since mid-2017. The potential sale and/or transfer of Greek NPLs continues to receive interest by many Greek and foreign companies and funds, signaling a viable market. The Greek state operates an auction platform for collateral and foreclosed assets, although the bulk of auctions still conclude with the selling bank as the purchaser of the assets. The government introduced its “Hercules” asset protection scheme in late 2019, providing guarantees to banks as an incentive to securitize €30 billion more in NPLs. The plan offloads bad debt by wrapping it into asset backed securities via special purpose vehicles that will purchase the NPLs. The sales are financed by notes issued by the special purpose vehicles with a government guarantee for senior tranches, thereby limiting the risk to the Greek state. Since all four systemic banks have availed themselves of the plan, the Greek government submitted an official request for an extension of the Hercules scheme on March 16, 2021, that will permit banks to further reduce non-performing loans (NPLs) in 2021 and 2022.
Poor asset quality inhibits banks’ ability to provide systemic financing, although the situation is slowly improving. The annual growth rate of total deposits increased to 8.5 percent in 2020.Deposits increased by roughly €9 billion over 2019, up from around €200 billion in early 2019, a significant improvement from the crisis years, when deposits shrunk from their highest level of €237 billion in September 2009 to around €123 billion in September 2017. Greece’s systemic banks held the following assets at the end of 2020: Piraeus Bank, €71.6 billion; National Bank of Greece, €64.3 billion; Alpha Bank, €70 billion; and Eurobank, €67.7 billion.
Few U.S. financial institutions have a retail presence in Greece. In September 2014, Alpha Bank acquired the retail operations of Citibank, including Diners Club. Bank of America serves only companies and some special classes of pensioners.
There are a limited number of cross-shareholding arrangements among Greek businesses. To date, the objective of such arrangements has not been to restrict foreign investment. The same applies to hostile takeovers, a practice which has been recently introduced in the Greek market. The government actively encourages foreign portfolio investment.
Greece has a reasonably efficient capital market that offers the private sector a wide variety of credit instruments. Credit is allocated on market terms prevailing in the eurozone and credit is equally accessible by Greek and foreign investors. An independent regulatory body, the Hellenic Capital Market Commission, supervises brokerage firms, investment firms, mutual fund management companies, portfolio investment companies, real estate investment trusts, financial intermediation firms, clearing houses and their administrators (e.g. the Athens Stock Exchange), and investor indemnity and transaction security schemes (e.g. the Common Guarantee Fund and the Supplementary Fund), and also encourages and facilitates portfolio investments.
Owner-registered bonds and shares are traded on the Athens Stock Exchange (ASE). It is mandatory in Greece for the shares of banking, insurance, and public utility companies to be registered. Greek corporations listed on the ASE that are also state contractors are required to have all their shares registered.
Greece has not announced that it intends to implement or allow the implementation of blockchain technologies in its banking transactions.
There are no sovereign wealth funds in Greece. Public pension funds may invest up to 20 percent of their reserves in state or corporate bonds.
7. State-Owned Enterprises
Greek state-owned enterprises (SOEs) are active in utilities, transportation, energy, media, health, and the defense industry. There is no official website with a list of SOEs.
Bank of Greece: partially owned (Greek state shares cannot exceed 35 percent); over 1,800 employees; governed by a Governor appointed by the government.
Public Gas Corporation of Greece (DEPA): majority-owned by Greek state (65 percent); Net income €131 million in 2016; Total assets €3.1 billion in 2016; governed by Ministry of Development; Government is in the process of splitting the company and privatizing its infrastructure and commercial operations.
Hellenic Aerospace Industry: wholly owned; Total assets €932.5 million in 2014; Net income €13.7 million in 2014; over 1,300 employees.
Hellenic Financial Stability Fund: governed by General Council and Executive Board
Hellenic Post: majority-owned (90 percent by Greek state); Net income €15.5 million in 2017.
Hellenic Vehicle Organization: majority-owned (51 percent owned by Greek state); around 400 employees; Total assets around €69 million; governed by Board of Directors.
Water Supply and Sewerage Company (EYDAP): majority-owned (34 percent by Greek state); governed by Board of Directors.
Public Power Corporation: majority-owned (51 percent by Greek state); Total assets €14.1 billion in 2018; over 16,700 employees.
Most Greek SOEs are structured under the auspices of the Hellenic Corporation for Assets and Participations (HCAP), an independent holding company for state assets mandated by Greece’s 2015 bailout and formally launched in 2016. HCAP’s supervisory board is independent from the Greek state and is appointed in part by Greece’s creditor institutions. Some SOEs are still supervised by the Finance Ministry’s Special Secretariat for Public Enterprises and Organizations, established by Law 3429/2005. Private companies previously were not allowed to enter the market in sectors where the SOE functioned as a monopoly, such as water, sewage, or urban transportation. However, several of these SOEs are planned for privatization as a requirement of the country’s bailout programs, intended to liberalize markets and raise revenues for the state.
Official government statements on privatization since 2015 have sometimes led to confusion among investors. Some senior officials have declared their opposition to previously approved privatization projects, while other officials have maintained the stance that the government remains committed to the sale of SOEs. The current government has expressed its commitment and is moving forward with privatizations, including DEPA and some of the port assets. Under the bailout agreement, Greece has moved forward with the deregulation of the electricity market, adopting the Target Model in November 2020. In sectors opened to private investment, such as the telecommunications market, private enterprises compete with public enterprises under the same nominal terms and conditions with respect to access to markets, credit, and other business operations, such as licenses and supplies. Some private sector competitors to SOEs report the government has provided preferential treatment to SOEs in obtaining licenses and leases. The government actively seeks to end many of these state monopolies and introduce private competition as part of its overall reform of the Greek economy. Greece – as a member of the EU – participates in the Government Procurement Agreement within the framework of the WTO. SOEs purchase goods and services from private sector and foreign firms through public tenders. SOEs are subject to budget constraints, with salary cuts imposed in the past few years on public sector jobs.
The Hellenic Republic Asset Development Fund (HRADF, or TAIPED in Greek), an independent non-governmental privatization fund, was established in 2011 under Greece’s bailout program to manage the sale or concession of major government assets, to raise substantial state revenue, and to bring in new technology and expertise for the commercial development of these assets. These include listed and unlisted state-owned companies, infrastructure, and commercially valuable buildings and land. Foreign and domestic investor participation in the privatization program has generally not been subject to restrictions, although the economic environment during the crisis and subsequent pandemic has challenged the domestic private sector’s ability to raise funds to purchase firms slated for privatization.
The August 2015 ESM bailout agreement required Greece to consolidate the HRADF, the Hellenic Financial Stability Fund (HFSF), the Public Properties Company (ETAD), and a new entity that will manage other state-owned enterprises (SOEs) into the Hellenic Corporation of Assets and Participations (or HCAP), formed by Law 4389/2016. In March 2017, HCAP received short- and long-term guidelines from the Minister of Finance, and in September 2017, it received strategic guidelines from the Greek state (HCAP’s sole shareholder).
Privatizations are subject to a public bidding process, which is easy to understand, non-discriminatory, and transparent. Notable privatizations recently completed include the transfer of the 66 percent of Greece’s gas transmission system operator DESFA to Senfluga Energy Infrastructure Holdings, the sale of 67 percent of the shares of Thessaloniki Port Authority, the sale of the remaining 5 percent of the largest telecommunications provider shares to Deutsche Telecom and rolling stock maintenance and railroad availability services company Rosco.
In February 2019, the government concluded the 20-year extension of the concession agreement of the Athens International Airport, worth €1.4 billion euros, and received nine expressions of interest in January 2020 for a 30 percent stake. The extension allowed for launch of the tender for the sale of the 30 percent stake in the airport. In January 2020, the Hellenic Republic Asset Development Fund (HRADF) shortlisted nine parties (from 10 that have originally expressed interest) that were qualified for the next phase of the tender; the binding offers. However, with the arrival of the pandemic in Greece (February-March 2020), and the dramatic drop in the airport operations/revenues, the HRADF has decided to freeze the whole process indefinitely. In January 2020, the government of Greece launched the legal procedures necessary for privatization of ten regional ports, including Heraklion, Elefsina, and Alexandroupolis, which will be privatized through either partial concession deals or full management schemes. In January 2021, the European Commission gave the Ministry of Infrastructure and Transportation the approval to proceed with the construction of a road network linking the town of Trikala with the main Egnatia Motorway. In July 2020, the HRDF proceeded with two tenders for the privatization of the ports of Alexandroupoli and Kavala, that were deemed as more mature projects. In October of the same year six parties (in total) have expressed interest for both ports. In March 2021, the HRADF announced that four parties have been qualified for the binding offers phase of the tenders including two US companies (Quintana Infrastructure & Development, and Black Summit Financial Group). The project is budgeted at €442 million and is expected to promote the energy, economic and tourism development of Central Greece, Thessaly, and Western Macedonia. In March 2020, the commercial operations of DEPA received nine non-binding bids for its sale of a 65 percent stake. Hellenic Petroleum maintains the other 35 percent. The Public Power Corporation continues to consider the partial privatization of its power distribution operator.
8. Responsible Business Conduct
Awareness of corporate social responsibility (CSR) including environmental, social, and governance issues, has been growing over the last decade among both producers and consumers in Greece. Several enterprises, particularly large ones, in many fields of production and services, have accepted and now promote CSR principles. Several non-profit business associations have emerged in the last few years (Hellenic Network for Corporate Social Responsibility, Global Sustain, etc.) to disseminate CSR values and to promote them in the business world and society more broadly. These groups’ members have incorporated programs that contribute to the sustainable economic development of the communities in which they operate; minimize the impacts of their activities on the environment and natural resources; create healthy and safe working conditions for their employees; provide equal opportunities for employment and professional development; and provide shareholders with satisfactory returns through responsible social and environmental management. Firms that pursue CSR in Greece enhance the public acceptance and respect that they enjoy. In 2014, the government drafted a National Action Plan for Corporate Social Responsibility for the 2014-2021 period. The main goal of the plan is to increase the number of companies that recognize and use CSR to formulate their strategies. Greece has encouraged adherence to the OECD Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Supply Chains of Minerals from Conflict-Afflicted and High-Risk Areas. There are no alleged/reported human or labor rights concerns relating to CSR that foreign businesses should be aware of. Greece is not a member of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative. Greece signed the Montreux Document on Private Military and Security Companies in 2009. It has also been a supporter of the International Code of Conduct for Private Security Service Providers and is a participant in the International Code of Conduct for Private Security Service Providers’ Association (ICoCA).
Greece saw a slight increase in perceptions of corruption, as it went up one place to 59 on Transparency International’s 2019 Corruption Perception Index, from 60 in 2019 and 67 in 2018. By contrast, the country had improved since 2012, partly due to mandatory structural reforms. Despite these structural improvements, bureaucracy is reportedly slowing the progress. Transparency International issued a report in 2018 criticizing the government for improper public procurement actions involving Greek government ministers and the recent appointment of the close advisor to the country’s prime minister to be the head of the Hellenic Competition Commission, which oversees the enforcement of anti-trust legislation. Transparency International released another report in October 2018, warning of the corruption risks posed by golden visa programs, mentioning Greece as a top issuer of golden visas. In Transparency International’s 2020 report, the organization outlined the costs directly stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic, including cases of foreign bribery occurring in the health care sector.
On March 19, 2015, the government passed Law 4320, which provides for the establishment of a General Secretariat for Combatting Corruption under the authority of a new Minister of State. Under Article 12 of the Law, this entity drafts a national anti-corruption strategy, with an emphasis on coordination between anti-corruption bodies within various ministries and agencies, including the Economic Police, the Financial and Economic Crime Unit (SDOE), the Ministries’ Internal Control Units, and the Health and Welfare Services Inspection Body. Based on Law 4320, two major anti-corruption bodies, the Inspectors-Controllers Body for Public Administration (SEEDD) and the Inspectors-Controllers Body for Public Works (SEDE), were moved under the jurisdiction of the General Secretariat for Combatting Corruption. A Minister of State for combatting corruption was appointed to the cabinet following the January 2015 elections and given oversight of government efforts to combat corruption and economic crimes. The minister drafted coordinated plans of action, monitored their implementation, and was given operational control of the Economic Crime division of the Hellenic Police, the SDOE, ministries’ internal control units, and the Health and Welfare Services’ inspection body. Following the September 2015 national elections, the government abolished the cabinet post of Minister of State for combatting corruption and assigned those duties to a new alternate minister for combatting corruption in the Ministry of Justice, Transparency, and Human Rights.
Legislation passed on May 11, 2015, provides a wider range of disciplinary sanctions against state employees accused of misconduct or breach of duty, while eliminating the immediate suspension of an accused employee prior to the completion of legal proceedings. If found guilty, offenders could be deprived of wages for up to 12 months and forced to relinquish their right to regain a senior post for a period of one to five years. Certain offenders could also be fined from €3,000 to €100,000. The law requires income and asset disclosure by appointed and elected officials, including nonpublic sector employees, such as journalists and heads of state-funded NGOs. Several different agencies are mandated to monitor and verify disclosures, including the General Inspectorate for Public Administration, the police internal affairs bureau, the Piraeus appeals prosecutor, and an independent permanent parliamentary committee. Declarations are made publicly available. The law provides for administrative and criminal sanctions for noncompliance. Penalties range from two to ten years’ imprisonment and fines from €10,000 to €1 million. On August 7, 2019, Parliament passed legislation establishing a unified transparency authority by transferring the powers and responsibilities of public administration inspection services to an independent authority. In November 2019, laws addressing the bribery of officials were amended to include a specific definition of “public official” and to make active bribery of a public official a felony instead of a misdemeanor, punishable by a prison sentence of five to eight years (as opposed to three years). On November 17, 2020, the government established the Financial Prosecutor’s Office to deal with financial crime in the wake of public complaints about an investigation by the Corruption Prosecutor’s Office into a case involving the pharmaceutical company Novartis. The new office, headed by a senior prosecutor selected by the Supreme Judicial Council of the Supreme Court, included 16 prosecutors, and became operational in November 2020.
Bribery is a criminal act, and the law provides severe penalties for infractions, although diligent implementation and haphazard or uneven enforcement of the law remains an issue. Historically, the problem has been most acute in government procurement, as political influence and other considerations are widely believed to play a significant role in the evaluation of bids. Corruption related to the health care system and political party funding are areas of concern, as is the “fragmented” anti-corruption apparatus. NGOs and other observers have expressed concern over perceived high levels of official corruption. Permanent and ad hoc government entities charged with combating corruption are understaffed and underfinanced. There is a widespread perception that there are high levels of corruption in the public sector and tax evasion in the private sector, and many Greeks view corruption as the main obstacle to economic recovery.
The Ministry of Justice prosecutes cases of bribery and corruption. In cases where politicians are involved, the Greek parliament can conduct investigations and/or lift parliamentary immunity to allow a special court action to proceed against the politician. A December 2014 law does not allow high ranking officials, including the prime minister, ministers, alternate, and deputy ministers, parliament deputies, European Parliament deputies, general and special secretaries, regional governors and vice governors, and mayors and deputy mayors to benefit from more lenient sentences in cases involving official bribes. In 2019, Parliament passed an amendment to Article 62 of the constitution, which limits parliamentary immunity to acts carried out in the course of parliamentary duties. In addition, Parliament amended Article 86 of the constitution, abolishing the statute of limitations for crimes committed by ministers and to disallow postponements for trials of ministers.
Greece is a signatory to the UN Anticorruption Convention, which it signed on December 10, 2003, and ratified September 17, 2008. As a signatory of the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Government Officials and all relevant EU-mandated anti-corruption agreements, the Greek government is committed in principle to penalizing those who commit bribery in Greece or abroad. The OECD Convention has been in effect since 1999. Greek accession to other relevant conventions or treaties:
Council of Europe Civil Law Convention on Corruption: Signed June 8, 2000. Ratified February 21, 2002. Entry into force: November 1, 2003.
Council of Europe Criminal Law Convention on Corruption: Signed January 27, 1999. Ratified July 10, 2007. Entry into force: November 1, 2007.
United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime: Signed on December 13, 2000. Ratified January 11, 2011.
Organization: The Inspectors-Controllers Body for Public Administration
Address: 60 Sygrou Avenue, 11742, Athens
Telephone number: +30-213-215-8800
Email address: firstname.lastname@example.org
Organization: Transparency International Greece
Address: Solomou 54, 4th floor, 10682 Athens
Telephone number: +30-210-722-4940
Email address: email@example.com
10. Political and Security Environment
There have been no major terrorist incidents in Greece in recent years; however, domestic groups conduct intermittent small-scale attacks such as targeted package bombs, improvised explosive devices, and unsophisticated incendiary devices (Molotov cocktails) typically targeting properties of political figures, party offices, privately owned vehicles, ministries, police stations, and businesses. In addition, domestic anarchist groups often carry out small-scale attacks targeting government buildings and foreign missions. Bilateral counterterrorism cooperation with the Greek government remains strong, and support from the Greek security services with respect to the protection of American interests is excellent. Demonstrations and protests are commonplace in large cities in Greece. While most of these demonstrations and strikes are peaceful and small-scale, they often cause temporary disruption to essential services and traffic, and anarchist groups are known in some cases to attach themselves to other demonstrations to create mayhem.
The masterminds of Greece’s most notorious terrorist groups are currently behind bars, including leaders of November 17 and Revolutionary Popular Struggle, active between the 1970s and 1990s and responsible for hundreds of attacks and murders. Greek authorities largely eliminated these groups in advance of the 2004 Olympic Games. Following the Olympics, a new wave of organizations emerged, including Revolutionary Struggle, Conspiracy of Fire Nuclei, and Sect of Revolutionaries, though authorities rounded up these groups in a wave of arrests between 2009 and 2011, and again in 2014.
Domestic terrorist groups include “OLA,” also known as the Group of Popular Fighters or Popular Fighters Group, which claimed responsibility for the December 2018 bomb outside a private television station and the December 2017 bomb outside an Athens courthouse. OLA also claimed responsibility for the November 2015 bomb attack at the offices of the Hellenic Federation of Enterprises, which caused extensive damage to the offices and surrounding buildings, the December 2014 attack on the Israeli embassy in Athens, which resulted in no injuries and minor damage to the building, and the attack on the German Ambassador’s residence in Athens in December 2013. OLA also claimed responsibility for an indirect fire attack on a Mercedes-Benz building on January 12, 2014, and an attack in January 2013 against the headquarters of the then-governing New Democracy party in Athens.
11. Labor Policies and Practices
There is an adequate supply of skilled, semi-skilled, and unskilled labor in Greece, although some highly technical skills may be lacking. Illegal immigrants predominate in the unskilled labor sector in many urban areas, and in rural areas predominately in agriculture. Greece provides residency permits to migrants for a variety of reasons, including work. In July 2015, Parliament adopted a law regulating the status of non-EU foreign nationals recruited to work in the country as seasonal workers. The law also reduces the minimum consecutive residency period in the country required for undocumented migrants to be eligible to apply for a residency permit from ten to seven years, such applications being judged on the applicant’s strong ties to the country. The same law outlines the requirements for setting work contracts, requires proof of adequate shelter for workers and imposes a €1,500 ($1,620) fine for employers who do not do so, requires prepayment of at least one month’s worth of social security for each employee, provides basic labor rights to each worker, and prohibits employers from recruiting workers if found to have previously recruited workers through fraudulent means. The law also stipulates that daily wages for non-EU foreign seasonal workers cannot be less than that of an unqualified worker. The law grants seasonal non-EU foreign workers the same rights as citizens with respect to minimum age of employment, labor conditions, the right to association, unionism, collective bargaining, education and vocational training, employment consultation services, and the right to certain goods, services and benefits under conditions. The same law also provides that non-EU nationals who are victims of abusive conditions or labor accidents could be eligible to apply for a residency permit on humanitarian grounds.
The labor force today is overwhelmingly comprised of employees who have secondary or higher-level education. Relatedly, beginning in 2012, women in the labor force now possess more higher education degrees than men.
In December 2021, the unemployment rate in Greece was 12.8 percent, a decrease from the 15.5 percent unemployment rate in December 2020 and from the 13.4 percent rate in November 2021. In 2021, the unemployment rate among men was 10 percent, while among women it was 16.2 percent. The unemployment rate among Greek citizens age 15-24 years remains high at 27 percent. The unemployment rate for those citizens age 25 – 74 is currently 12.1 percent.
According to a report conducted by the International Monetary Fund in 2019, Greece’s informal economy is among the highest in the EU. An informal economy, or shadow economy, is the part of any economy that is neither taxed nor monitored by any form of government. The informal economy in Greece followed an upward trend until 2009, when it accounted for €56.9 billion at the current inflation rate.
An OECD report published in 2021 highlights a significant increase in the shadow economy during the COVID-19 pandemic and in all of OECD’s 36 member states. In 2020, rising unemployment and a slump in GDP drove more citizens into the shadow economy to make up for lost income.
In Greece, OECD estimates the shadow economy rose to 20.9 percent of GDP from 19.2 percent in 2019.From preliminary estimates, the shadow economy fell in 2021 to 20.3 percent. However, the shadow economy in Greece in 2021 increased by €1.6 billion from 2020.
Asylum-seekers are eligible to apply for a work permit once they complete their first asylum interview; however, the procedures for obtaining this permit were not widely understood by asylum-seekers, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), or government officials. As of February 2021, the Greek Asylum Service had 74,934 cases pending, with the backlog expected to be cleared before the end of 2021. Asylum services and receipt of applications were suspended from March 13-April 10, 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Recognized refugees are entitled to the same labor rights as Greek nationals. NGOs and government officials working in migrant sites reported that some asylum-seekers perform undeclared seasonal agricultural labor in rural areas.
In April 2019, Greece announced a wage subsidy scheme called “Rebrain Greece,” which provides 500 talented Greeks that moved abroad during the financial crisis with a €3,000 monthly salary if they return to Greece. The program hopes to reinvigorate high-skilled sectors of the economy. In December 2020, the Greek Parliament passed Law 4758 that involved a tax break for those foreign nationals who would transfer their tax residence to Greece. Digital nomads who choose to work in Greece can take advantage of a 50 percent tax break for their first seven years of residency.
Greece has ratified International Labor Organization (ILO) Core Conventions. Specific legislation provides for the right of association and the rights to strike, organize, and bargain collectively. Greek labor laws set a minimum age (15) and wage for employment, determine acceptable work conditions and minimum occupational health and safety standards, define working hours, limit overtime, and apply certain rules for the dismissal of personnel. There is a difference between national minimum wage in the private sector for unspecialized workers aged 25 or older and workers below 25 years of age. The latter receive 84 percent of the salary of those over 25. A May 2015 law amended the laws prohibiting strikes during national emergencies. The 2015 law explicitly prohibits the issuance of civil mobilization orders as a means of countering strike actions before or after their proclamation.
In 2017 parliament passed legislation providing for the temporary closure of businesses in cases where employers repeatedly violate the law concerning undeclared work or safety. Under the same law, employers are obliged to declare in advance their employees’ overtime or changes in their work schedules. The legislation also provided for social and welfare benefits to be granted to surrogate mothers, including protection from dismissal during pregnancy and after childbirth. Courts are required to examine complaints filed by employees against their employers for delayed payment within two months after their filing, and issue decisions within 30 days after the hearing.
The government sets restrictions on mass dismissals in private and public companies employing more than 20 workers. Dismissals exceeding in number the limits set by law require consultations through the Supreme Labor Council (with worker, employer, and government representatives participating), and government authorization. Based on a ministerial decision in February 2014, the government shifted competency for approving dismissals from the Minister of Labor to the Ministry’s Secretary General.
Greek law provides for the right of workers to form and join independent unions, conduct their activities without interference, and strike. The establishment of trade unions in enterprises with fewer than 20 workers is prohibited. In July 2016, Parliament passed a law allowing armed forces personnel to form unions, while explicitly prohibiting strikes and work stoppages by those unions. Police also have the right to organize and demonstrate but not to strike. On July 10, 2020, the parliament separately passed legislation requiring prior and timely announcements – in writing or via email – of demonstrations to the appropriate police or Coast Guard authorities. The laws also make protest organizers accountable for bodily harm or property damage if they do not follow the requirements.
Around 950 inspectors are authorized to conduct labor inspections, including labor inspectorate personnel and staff of the Ministry of Labor, Social Security, and Social Solidarity, the Social Insurance Fund, the Economic Crimes Division of the police, and the Independent Authority for Public Revenue. Despite government efforts to increase inspections for undeclared, under-declared, and unpaid work, trade unions and the media alleged that, due to insufficient inspectorate staffing, enforcement of labor standards was inadequate in the housekeeping services, tourism, and agricultural sectors. Enforcement was also lacking among small enterprises (employing 10 or fewer persons). According to the Union of Labor Health Inspectors, authorities conducted approximately 45,000 inspections related to issues of health and safety at work and ordered fines amounting to 7 million euros ($8.4 million) between 2015 and 2016.
Wage laws are not always enforced. Unions and media allege that some private businesses forced their employees to return part of their wages and mandatory seasonal bonuses, in cash, after being deposited in the bank. Several employees were reportedly registered as part-time workers but in essence worked additional hours without being paid. In other cases, employees were paid after months of delays and oftentimes with coupons and not in cash. Cases of employment for up to 30 consecutive days of work without weekends off were also reported. Such violations were mostly noted in the tourism, agriculture, and housekeeping services sectors.
On July 1, 2019, Greece introduced Law 4611/2019, requiring Greek employers to provide a lawful reason when terminating employees on indefinite-term contracts, to pay social security contributions on behalf of interns and apprentices, and introduced new health and safety requirements including use of motorcycles for employment purposes.
14. Contact for More Information
Carl Watson, Deputy Economic Counselor
U.S. Embassy Athens, Leof. Vasilissis Sofias 91, Athina 115 21, Greece