Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs for Economic Diplomacy and Openness’ interview with “PROTO THEMA” newspaper and journalist Stelios Morfidis (31.07. 2022)

JOURNALIST: How did we get to this new chapter in Greek-Arab relations?
K. FRAGOGIANNIS: The excellent level of our relations with Saudi Arabia is of course related to the traditional and historical ties of friendship, our geographical and cultural proximity, and our mutual understanding. However, the enhancement of strategic cooperation in critical areas such as the economy and national security is the result of systematic work, particularly over the last 1.5 years. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s official visit to Greece – his first on European soil since 2018 – and the signing of the Agreement establishing a High Council for Strategic Cooperation, as well as 10 other transnational agreements follow Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ two visits to Riyadh, three visits by me to Saudi Arabia and corresponding visits by the Saudi Minister of Investment to our country, and of course, methodical work by the Diplomatic Authorities of both countries.
JOURNALIST: Why is it strategically important to upgrade our relations and in what areas do you think we can gain comparative advantage with Saudi cooperation?
K. FRAGOGIANNIS: Saudi Arabia is a major power on the international stage. Especially today, in the midst of the energy crisis, its leading role as a supplier of hydrocarbons makes it an even more valuable partner. However, our energy cooperation with Saudi Arabia is not limited to oil. The greatest potential lies in renewable energy, the energy of the future. Saudi Arabia also wishes to play a leading role in the supply of green energy and green hydrogen. With this objective in mind and considering Greece’s geographical position and the excellent relations between the two countries, bilateral energy cooperation is aimed at making Greece a hub for the supply of Saudi Arabian products to Europe. We are, therefore, working on the possibilities of connecting Saudi Arabia with Europe, via our country, in order to make cheap electricity produced in Saudi Arabia from green sources, as well as green hydrogen available. Cooperation prospects are not, of course, limited to energy. There are major investment opportunities in tourism infrastructure, real estate, maritime transport, and logistics, as well as in digital interconnectivity, with the two countries becoming major regional data centers.
JOURNALIST: What are the next steps in the bilateral rapprochement effort?
K. FRAGOGIANNIS: I’ve already mentioned the recent exchange of visits, at the level of political leadership. I should also mention the exchange of business mission visits and the critical work that has been and continues to be done to strengthen business cooperation between the two sides. The establishment of the Greek-Saudi Business Council as well as the signing of sixteen (16) agreements and memoranda of understanding between private businesses on both sides on July 27 reflect the keen interest and willingness to further deepen cooperation and undertake joint ventures.
I’d like to emphasize that, in addition to Saudi investments in our country, there are also remarkable prospects for the development of Greek entrepreneurs’ activities in Saudi Arabia, particularly in the fields of construction and tourism development. Saudi Arabia’s plans include the tourist development of islands in our country, as well as the development of a new city, and the Greek experience and know-how will undoubtedly be valuable in this regard.
JOURNALIST: The approach with Saudi Arabia has been made almost in parallel with the United Arab Emirates, where we have also seen results recently. What steps will be taken next there?
K. FRAGOGIANNIS: Our moves are part of a broader strategy of Greek diplomacy, which is systematically and purposefully cultivating and strengthening relations with traditional allies while also spreading its wings and seeking strategic partners around the world. Our relations with all the Gulf countries are of particular strategic value, particularly in the wider Mediterranean region.
As regards the United Arab Emirates, following the Prime Minister’s visit to Dubai on 8-9 May, during which a total of twelve (12) Agreements and Memoranda of Understanding were signed, and the Minister of Industry and High Technology, Dr. Al Jaber’s visit to Athens on 22-23 June, the next steps will be in connection with the implementation of the agreements.
There is great potential for strengthening bilateral economic and investment relations with the Emirates; however, the recent presence in Athens of five (5) Emirati investment funds, under the Abu Dhabi State Industrial and Investment Group ADQ, signaled a keen interest in joint ventures in the fields of energy, industry, exchange, and transfer of know-how.
JOURNALIST: Are you satisfied with the size and nature of the business deals reached? To what extent can governments assist in making business agreements feasible?
K. FRAGOGIANNIS: The signing of sixteen (16) – actually seventeen (17,) including the undersea data cable agreement – business agreements constitute a unique moment in our relationship with Saudi Arabia. It is of particular importance, both at a symbolic and substantive level, which is why the submarine cable agreement was signed at the Maximos Mansion. These agreements are estimated to be worth around EUR 4 billion in total. And yes, I can express my satisfaction with this development. Our role as a government, the staff of Economic Diplomacy – myself and Ioannis Smyrlis, Secretary-General for International Economic Affairs of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and President of Enterprise Greece – with the support of the Ministry of Development and Investment and in close cooperation with our Saudi partners, we have created the framework within which the entrepreneurs of the two countries can develop activities and joint ventures. And believe me, this was not an easy task; it was the result of hard work and a shared willingness to overcome difficulties and bottlenecks. But this is the role of governments, that is, to provide, in their institutional capacity, solutions, and facilities for the benefit of the economy and society, both domestically and internationally. The recognition of our efforts and our contribution, by the entrepreneurs themselves, is a signal that we are on the right track and that we should continue our effort.  

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