Maria Olson, Director of the Office of Southern European Affairs, U.S. State Department
Remarks at the 23rd Capital Link “Invest in Greece” Conference
New York, NY, April 11, 2022
Thank you for the introduction, Ambassador Papadopoulou. It’s an honor and a privilege to participate in the Capital Link Forum as Director of the State Department’s Office of Southern European Affairs, which covers Greece and three other countries in the region. I am also excited to assume my new role as Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Athens this summer.
The theme of this year’s forum, “A New Era – A New Direction for Greece,” captures the great strides that Greece has made in recent years.
For more than two hundred years, the United States and Greece have been inspired by one another as democracies with shared values and a shared commitment to peace, prosperity, rule of law, and human rights. We are proud NATO Allies, devoted to the Alliance and its purpose of guaranteeing freedom and security for its members.
Thanks to a lot of hard work, including by many in this room, U.S.-Greek relations are at an all-time high, with opportunities for even greater cooperation in this era. So thank you. And bravo. And let’s keep the good work going.
For the United States, Greece is a pillar of stability and is working to positively shape events in the Eastern Mediterranean and Western Balkans. Under Secretary Nuland’s visit to Athens last week was an opportunity to highlight U.S.-Greece cooperation and the fact that Greece plays a critical role in defending NATO’s southeastern flank.
Just last October, Secretary Blinken had the pleasure of hosting Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias for the third U.S.-Greece Strategic Dialogue. This event featured a long list of areas where we have shared interests — on Regional Developments, Defense and Security Cooperation, Trade and Investment, Energy and Environment, Humanitarian Challenges and Disaster Responses, Law Enforcement and Counterterrorism, and People-to-People Ties.
And as part of that Strategic Dialogue, the United States and Greece signed an update to our Mutual Defense Cooperation Agreement. Today our defense relationship is stronger than ever, and U.S. and Greek forces continue to enhance their interoperability.
Greece itself has advanced our shared regional interests of peace, stability, and prosperity in the Western Balkans and the Eastern Mediterranean. The Prespes Agreement unlocked the potential for Greece’s leadership in the Western Balkans – bringing within reach the promise of the EU’s 2003 Thessaloniki Agenda.
We commend Greece for its strong support for launching EU accession negotiations for North Macedonia and Albania. We also appreciate Greece’s strong support for the EU-facilitated Dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina as well as for its efforts to strengthening bilateral ties with Kosovo. This leadership is essential for advancing the region’s political and economic development and for completing its Western integration — goals that have taken on even greater import given current challenges to European security and shared values.
In the face of Russia’s brutal, unprovoked, and unjustified war, we congratulate Greece on its strong leadership on Ukraine, its immediate political, security, and humanitarian support, and its contributions to facing European energy challenges.
Foreign Minister Dendias’s recent visit to Odessa further demonstrated Greece’s unwavering support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Greece’s support for the United Nations General Assembly resolutions condemning Russia’s war of aggression and suspending Russia from the UN Human Rights Council also demonstrated Greece’s leadership in holding Russia to account.
The effects of Putin’s war of choice aren’t restricted to Ukraine and Russia. It has ripple effects around the world. It calls into question security and prosperity for all countries, on issues ranging from the sovereignty and territorial integrity of independent states to human rights, energy and food security, and the rules-based international order. That is why the United States is committed to working with Greece and other partners and allies around the world to stand united and defend the democratic values we hold dear and the rules-based international order.
Putin’s war highlights the importance of regional efforts that enhance cooperation and regional stability, such as the 3+1 mechanism with the Republic of Cyprus, Greece, and Israel, who share our democratic values. Secretary Blinken has affirmed our strong support for the 3+1 multiple times in his calls and meetings with the leaders of these countries. The United States supports the efforts of Cyprus, Greece, and Israel in shaping multilateral dialogues that promote greater cooperation on energy and economic issues between our countries, and we are committed to further deepening and strengthening this cooperation.
The United States also commends Greece for renewed senior leader engagement with Turkey to reduce tensions. We have come a long way from the flashpoint in the summer of 2020, thanks to Greece’s steady hand and able diplomacy. Moreover, it is critical that as Allies we all focus together on the significant challenges Putin’s war in Ukraine present to all of us.
Just as Greece’s increased regional diplomatic engagement is welcome, so, too, is its climate leadership. These efforts fit perfectly into the theme of this gathering, “A New Era – A New Direction for Greece.” As the greatest challenges and opportunities of the 21st century come clearly into to focus, we are grateful to have a partner in Greece with whom we can work together with on the climate crisis and the green economy, as well as on emerging technologies and the digital economy.
We are also encouraged by Greece’s ambitious and achievable goals of phasing out lignite plants by 2028, decarbonizing its vast maritime sector and launching its green island initiative. Decarbonization and energy development are at the forefront of President Biden’s international energy policy, and we are pleased that the U.S. private sector is taking a closer look at how it can engage in areas in Greece.
For example, late last year, a U.S. company called Ameresco, in partnership with Greece’s Public Power Corporation and RESINVEST launched the Xerakias Wind Park on the island of Kefalonia. The 9.2-megawatt (MW) project is Ameresco’s first overseas wind project completed in Europe and will offset 22,000 tons of CO2 annually.
Another U.S. company, 547 Energy in consultation with Greek renewables group ENTEKA, is currently on track to build a 315 MW wind farm in Vermio. The project will be the largest wind farm in Greece and would be an example to the region of what is possible.
This year we’ve also seen great strides from Blink Charging Co. and Eunice Energy Group, which are working on launching a nationwide network of charging stations for electric cars.
In Boeotia, General Electric has provided high-efficiency turbines for use at the Agios Nikolaos Power Plant, which will be one of the most efficient power plants in Europe and will facilitate the early closure of Greece’s coal plants. GE will also supply these cutting-edge turbines for the Copelouzos Group’s planned Alexandroupoli natural gas power plant, which will be co-owned by North Macedonia.
The United States is also broadly supportive of Greece’s developing hydrogen strategy, an effort that Advent Technologies has shown a keen interest in through its participation in the White Dragon Project.
The transition to greener energy around the world presents opportunities for us to collaborate on creating a supportive regulatory environment, adapting current technology, and innovating future technologies to bring us closer to our climate and energy goals. We’re thankful for Greece’s focus on these issues and encourage it to continue fostering regional cooperation on these issues as well, including through mechanisms such as the Southeast Europe Energy Forum and the 3+1.
Of course, energy security and diversification are also key factors that guide U.S. energy policy. We see Greece as an invaluable partner in these areas as well.
The Trans-Adriatic Pipeline and the Revithoussa LNG terminal have helped Greece and other regional partners diversify their sources of gas.
Today the United States accounts for almost half of Greece’s LNG imports. Greece will have increased energy options following the completion of the Floating Storage Regasification Unit (FSRU) at Alexandroupoli expected to go online in 2023. Greater connectivity among Greece and its neighbors can help to diversify energy supply routes, to balance variability of renewable resources, and to keep energy prices down.
Interconnectors are another area where Greece’s regional energy role is growing. For example, the upcoming completion of the Interconnector Greece – Bulgaria and plans for the North Macedonia – Greece Interconnector will benefit Greece’s regional neighbors with the potential to supply more of eastern Europe, including Ukraine and Moldova.
On the economic front, bilateral trade in goods and services totaled $6.1 billion last year with U.S exports to Greece totaling $2.7 billion.
One major success story over the last year has been how both public and private sectors have helped fuel that economic recovery and increase our countries’ economic cooperation.
On the digitalization front, an American company Digital Realty acquired Greece’s largest data center operator Lamda Hellix in 2020. Since the acquisition, the company is investing a huge amount in two new data centers that will triple the company’s capabilities and enable it to provide services to more companies in Greece and throughout the eastern Mediterranean.
Also, Amazon Web Services (AWS) opened its first office in Athens to support the country’s economic transition to the AWS Cloud, an effort that will help lower IT costs across industries and grow existing organizations.
Meanwhile, Microsoft continues to advance its “GR for Growth” initiative as it builds new data centers in Athens to establish Microsoft Cloud in the region. Microsoft also plans to skill 100,000 Greek citizens in digital technology through the online seminars and courses, a move which would position Greece as a digital leader in the EU.
Last October, Cisco opened a Digital Transformation and Skills Center in Thessaloniki and announced the launch of its Country Digital Acceleration program – a framework that will support Greece’s transition through the digitization and security of public sector services, the development of hybrid learning models for schools, cybersecurity training, and the digitization of port infrastructure to support resilience in the maritime industry.
Government reforms in Greece are also working to enhance U.S. – Greece economic ties. Greece completed in 2021 a multi-year effort to reform its film incentive package. Since the wholesale redesign of the incentive program, Daniel Craig and Kate Hudson completed filming Knives Out 2 in Porto Heli. Disney has proceeded with filming a movie about the life of NBA Champion Milwaukee Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo. The American production company Millennium filmed Barracuda which stars Antonio Banderas. And Apple TV filmed in Greece the new season of its international Emmy award winning show “Tehran.”
I’d be remiss not to mention Pfizer and the renowned Albert Bourla. The pharmaceutical giant opened its new Centers for Digital Innovation and Business Operations and Services in Thessaloniki this October and delivers digital healthcare solutions to Greece while employing 700 skilled workers and investing millions of dollars into the Greece’s northern region.
I can say with certainty that the United States and Greece continue to deepen our cooperation. Insecurity and instability in Europe have brought new challenges, but the fundamentals of our already excellent relationship are sound. Over the last few years, our shared national interests moved Greece and the United States closer together both politically and economically. I am here to confirm for you today that the United States sees Greece as an indispensable partner. I encourage you all to continue investing in our bilateral relationship and consider the issues and industries of today and tomorrow that will bring both countries success.
It has been an honor and a privilege to speak to you all tonight, and I look forward to seeing the U.S. – Greek bilateral relationship reach new heights. Thank you.