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Newsletter July 2010


Building Stronger Greek-Turkish Business Relations

Erol User, the CEO and President of User Corporation, a leading Turkish investment banking firm, spoke with Invest in Greece about the potential for building stronger Greek-Turkish business relations and the strategic sectors for Greek-Turkish collaboration.

For decades you have been working to build ties between Greece and Turkey.  What first prompted you to build economic cooperation between the two countries?

First of all, my grandfather comes from Thessaloniki, and everyone searches for his or her roots.  Secondly, I was the youngest member of the Club of Rome in 1987 and I met the late George Livanos there. Through this, I also became involved with the late Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou and was a key player with the Özal – Papandreou meetings. In 1988, I received the TOYP (The Outstanding Young Person of the World) award for Peace. We also made great progress with the S.O.S. (Save Our Seas) programme, given the fact that Turkey and Greece share the Aegean Sea between our countries. 

On the business side, I believe that the business environment in Greece is very similar to that in Turkey. We have the same mentality so we can get along with our Greek partners. We made the decision to cooperate more with Greece and we are currently involved in the Financial Sector, with a Real Estate Investment Fund for example.  We have IT and some foodstuff projects as well.

Can you give us a brief overview of the relationship that Greek and Turkish businesses have had to date?

I think on the business level, we have always had very good relations between Greece and Turkey but the political disagreements have cast shadows on the situation. I think that fighting or disagreement will not help either of the parties. We should have a common goal to be working together. I always say that both nations are sailor nations, and we should be sailing in the same ship.

How can businesses, through conferences like this Greek-Turkish Business Forum [that took place in Athens in May, 2010], bring the countries closer together?

If you look at the [Turkish visit] today, it is also a very high-level business delegation.  There are ninety businessmen here today, predominantly the chairmen and CEOs of the companies. That shows that we place great importance in Greece. It also shows that Prime Minister Erdoğan and the Turkish government have great interest in cooperating with Greece.

But of course, there are some rules that should be changed to better facilitate investment. I hope that both leaders will take the political decisions necessary to minimise bureaucracy. 

Greece has a new development agenda, focusing on key sectors like energy, tourism, biotech, waste management, and agriculture. How can Turkey cooperate in this development agenda?

Tourism, Transport, and Foodstuffs are very key sectors of cooperation. Waste management is very important, economically and environmentally. Renewable energy is another item on the agenda, mostly wind energy. These kinds of projects will need to take place on both parts of the Aegean coastline. 

Given the predicted 5.2% growth of the Turkish economy in 2010, how do you assess the window of opportunity for bilateral investments and partnerships?

I think the growth in Turkey will definitely be reflected in the Greek economy.  Greece is the gateway to Europe and Turkey faces many limitations in exporting certain products, like in dairy for example, to European markets. Therefore, Turkish companies can invest in Greece and export from here. There are a lot of opportunities here. As an investment company, we know many sectors and we see many opportunities.

We are encouraging our friends to come to Greece.

The Balkans and the Black Sea region have huge opportunities for growth but neither Greece nor Turkey has fully capitalised on this.  How can Greek and Turkish companies combine their expertise to expand through the Balkans?

Greeks and Turks are like two pieces of a puzzle. It is time to put the pieces together.  This is not the time anymore to be too nationalistic. A walk of a thousand miles begins with a single step.  We should not wait for the other to take a step—somebody has to move. So the Turks came here and we don’t want to wait!

So are you optimistic about the future of Greek-Turkish business relations?

If I weren’t optimistic I wouldn’t be here!  I’m a believer in Greek-Turkish cooperation.