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Greece country brief

Located in Southern Europe, Greece has 1,228 km of land borders with Albania, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Bulgaria to the north and Turkey to the east. The country has 13,676 km of coastline that borders the Aegean Sea, Ionian Sea, and the Mediterranean Sea. It is home to over 10.7 million people (July est. 2011) and its capital is Athens.

Greece is a parliamentary republic, with a unicameral parliamentary system. It declared independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1830. Greece became a member of NATO in 1952.  In 1981, Greece joined the EU.  In 2001, Greece adopted the Euro. 

Bilateral relations

Australia and Greece have had consular relations since the 1920s, and have exchanged resident Ambassadors since 1965. Greece has an Embassy in Canberra and Consulates in Perth, Newcastle, Adelaide, Melbourne, Hobart, Darwin, Sydney, and Brisbane. Australia has an Embassy in Athens and an Honorary Consulate in Thessaloniki.

Community and Educational links

Greece and Australia enjoy a close and constructive relationship based on strong community ties. Large numbers of Greeks migrated to Australia during the 1950s and 1960s. The 2011 Census recorded 99,937 Greece-born living in Australia and 378,300 Australians claimed Greek ancestry. Some informal estimates suggest the Greek community in Australia could be as large as 600,000. The Greek population is concentrated in Victoria (42.8 per cent) and New South Wales (33.5 per cent), particularly in the greater metropolitan areas of Melbourne and Sydney. Melbourne, Sister City to Thessaloniki, is often described as the third largest 'Greek city' in the world and is an important overseas centre of Hellenism.

The strong community links between Greece and Australia are a major focus of Australian Government business in Greece, including the provision of consular services. Frequent cultural exchanges take place, often between specific communities in both countries. Several Aegean and Ionian Island communities migrated in large numbers to Australia after World War II (for example, more Kastellorizians and Kytherians live in Australia than on their home islands). Nowadays their descendants are reinvigorating the bilateral relationship through frequent travel back to Greece for holidays, study and work.

An enduring historical link has resulted from the involvement of Australian troops in the defence of Greece during World War II. Australian soldiers fought alongside Greek, New Zealand and British troops during the Battle of Crete (May 1941) to defend the island against German invasion. Many were killed and several thousand taken prisoner in a battle that is still commemorated annually. In April 2013, the Australian Chief of Navy Vice-Admiral Ray Griggs attended ANZAC Day events in Lemnos.  The Minister for Veterans' Affairs, the Hon Warren Snowdon, led a delegation including six veterans to Greece to attend commemorations to mark the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Crete in May 2011.

Educational links between Australia and Greece are still emerging. Modern Greek is taught in many Australian schools and Modern and Classical Greek Studies are available in some Australian universities, but there is little study of Australia and its region undertaken in Greece.

Trade and Investment

Greece is Australia's 70th largest merchandise trading partner. Two-way merchandise trade in 2011-12, totalled $188 million; exports to Greece totalled $30 million, while goods imported from Greece were worth $158 million. Australia's major merchandise exports to Greece vary from year to year. In 2011-12, major exports to Greece included manganese ores and concentrated; medicaments (including veterinary); non-ferrous waste; and artworks. Australia's major imports from Greece in 2011-12 included medicaments, vegetables, aluminium and rubber articles. Two-way services trade between Greece and Australia is heavily weighted in Greece's favour. Services exports from Australia were worth $48 million in 2011-12, while services imports from Greece totalled $307 million. Our services trade consists mainly of personal travel excluding education, government services and business-related travel.

Bilateral Agreements

Australia and Greece signed a bilateral social security agreement in 2007 to provide improved social security protection to people who have lived and/or worked in both Australia and Greece. The social security agreement also exempts Australian employers from the need to provide Greece social security support for Australian employees sent temporarily to work in Greece, provided the employee remains covered in Australia by compulsory superannuation arrangements. Further information is available on the Australian Taxation Office website.

Recent Visits (positions held at the time of visit)

Political overview

Greece is a parliamentary republic, with its national day of independence celebrated on 25 March. The current President, Dr Karolos Papoulias, was sworn in as Greece's President on 12 March 2005; he was re-elected to a second and final five-year term on 3 February 2010.

The President has no powers to initiate legislation and is required to appoint as Prime Minister the leader of the political party with an absolute majority of seats in Parliament.

The unicameral parliament consists of 300 members, elected under a system of reinforced proportional representation. Each Parliament is elected for a maximum of four years.

Legislative elections held on 6 May 2012 resulted in no single party gaining more than 20 per cent of the vote. The inability of the main parties to form government saw a return to the polls on 17 June 2012. The centre-right New Democracy party narrowly won this second election with 29.7 per cent of the vote. It formed a "government of cooperation" with parliamentary support from PASOK and the Democratic Left (DL). The minority government is led by Prime Minister Samaras, who was sworn in on 21 June.

Foreign Policy

Greece is a member of the European Union and last held the Presidency from January to July 2003. In the June 2009 European Parliament elections, PASOK won 36.65 per cent of the Greek vote (or 8 out of the 24 Greek seats). Greek voter participation (52.61 per cent) in the European Parliament elections was slightly higher than the European average of 43 per cent. The next European Parliament elections will be held in June 2014.

The Asia-Pacific region has not historically figured prominently in Greece's foreign policy agenda, which focuses on the European Union, the Balkans and its near neighbours (in particular Cyprus and Turkey). In 2009 Greece held the chairmanship of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).

Greece has a long-established political and cultural relationship with the Republic of Cyprus. Resolution of the Cyprus issue remains a key foreign policy priority of the Greek Government. While the relationship between Greece and Turkey has historically experienced difficulties, in the past few years signs of improving bilateral cooperation have emerged.

Greece is also keen to establish closer relations with its neighbours in the Balkans. The Greek Government views the Balkans as being of high strategic and economic importance and believes their closer association with the European Union would ensure peace and stability in the region. Balkan states are an important destination for Greek investment. Diplomatic obstacles remain, however, particularly regarding the protracted dispute over the "name issue" with the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (fYROM).

Economic overview

Greece has a population of 10.7 million and GDP of US$255 billion (2012 IMF forecast). The Greek economy grew on average by almost 4 per cent per year between 2003 and 2007, but has lost almost a quarter of GDP in the prolonged recession which followed the global financial crisis since 2009.  It is estimated that approximately 30 per cent of the Greek population lives below the poverty line (less than €6 000 income annually) and unemployment rose to 26.8 per cent in March 2013.

To stabilise the economy and address unsustainably high levels of public debt, Greece is undertaking a wide-ranging program of economic reforms and fiscal consolidation supported by loan packages from the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund (the Troika). Greece has also introduced new tax measures to support fiscal consolidation and tax reforms to combat tax evasion, and has implemented pension and social security reforms. The retirement age has risen to 65 years and will continue to increase in line with life expectancy. The minimum contributory period for retirement on a full benefit will gradually rise to 40 years; voluntary exit plans have been abolished and financial penalties have been increased for early retirement.  These efforts improved the government’s fiscal position, halved the competitiveness gap, sidelined perceived risks of a euro exit and improved sentiment.  However, structural reforms, privatisations and public sector reforms remain key challenges.

Trade and Industry Profile

The EU is Greece's principal export and import destination. The main engine of the Greek economy is the services sector (78.9 per cent of GDP in 2011). Industry accounted for 17.9 per cent of GDP in 2011 and tourism for 15 per cent. Greece's other industries are food and tobacco processing, textiles, chemicals, metal products, mining and petroleum.

Greece has little heavy industry, with its once-substantial ship building industry in decline over recent years. Greece nonetheless still has one of the largest registered merchant marine fleets in the world. Agriculture is of major socio-economic importance to Greece (constituting 3.3 per cent of GDP in 2011), with 12.4 per cent of the population employed in the sector. 20.45 per cent of the land is arable and 8.59 per cent has permanent crops. The main agricultural products are wheat, corn, barley, sugar beets, olives, tomatoes, wine tobacco, potatoes, beef and dairy products.

Last updated July 2013