Ambassador of Greece to UN addresses UVU students, faculty and community

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Tiffany Frandsen, News Editor @Tiffany_mf

The Ambassador of Greece to the United Nations presented a lecture to Utah Valley University students and faculty, as well as Orem community members on Monday morning in the Sorenson student center.

Ambassador Michel Spinellis’s address covered the challenges and opportunities of the European Union. He gave an overview of the history of Greece’s economic downturn as well as an update on their current economic climate.

IMG_1933Spinellis outlined how harshly Greece was hit by the financial crisis in 2008, despite the growth Greece had shown previously.

Unemployment floated around 10%, 50% of Greeks reported having a difficult time paying their bills, and Greek banks incurred losses. Youth, who find it difficult to find employment, are studying abroad and not returning home.

“According to the latest statistics, of 30,000 Greeks who studied abroad in 2010, 85% haven’t returned,” said Spinellis. The low youth population (less than 14% of the population are younger than 14) creates a small base to cover the costs of pensions.

The Troika, which consists of the International Monetary Fund, the European Commission and the European Central Bank, gave Greece a bailout and set up a task force.

The country’s economy has responded favorably thus far. Spinellis says that parts of the bailout worked.

“This is the underlying dilemma of the crisis – how to make the Greek state operate more effectively. This is the long-term task that will remain long after the government has achieved its primary budget surplus,” said Spinellis. He says Greece has seen the “biggest fiscal rebalancing” in the history of the European Union, but the deficit is one victory, and deeper reform is still needed.

Greece has a large tourism industry, which has helped their economic recovery. The country is also contributing to energy solutions in the European Union. Off-shore carbon deposits were recently discovered and the government will move ahead with exploration and excavation. While these help, the country will continue to work with the euro zone.

“It is only by working together, supported by strong fiscal, social and economic policies that improvements and policies can be made,” said Spinellis. “The EU is a project, which is built on working together towards common interests and the common good.”

Those in attendance had the opportunity to ask questions at the end of the lecture, and the conversation turned to relations between Greece and Israel, Turkey, Ukraine, Crimea and Russia.

Dee and Jim Williams, who donate funds to UVU’s Office of International Affairs and Diplomacy, were also in attendance. This lecture is particularly appropriate for Williams – her family is from Greece and she recalls the conflict in which Greece lost half of Cyprus to Turkey in 1974.

“I flew to Greece with a gentleman who had been in the war over Cyprus. Turkey came in and took half of Cyprus and that hurt. That was awful to me because I am Greek,” said Williams. Greece is currently in a partnership with Turkey over a gas pipeline from Azerbaijan to Italy.

Spinellis said that there is a “bitterness that stays back when [they] see how the international community is reacting in other invasions.” He says 30 years have passed, and they have forgotten it.

“Plato used to say, ‘Socrates is my friend, but truth is my bigger friend’,” said Spinellis.

Spinellis was presented a leaded crystal award and recognized as an honorary professor.

The lecture is the latest in a series of Ambassadors visiting UVU, made possible because of Rusty Butler, associate vice president for the Office of International Affairs and Diplomacy, and his relationships with members of the United Nations.

“We have a very robust program of inviting very distinguished diplomats, primarily from the United Nations, but also from Washington, and Consuls General from the San Francisco and Los Angeles area here,” said Butler.

The IMF released a report on Tuesday that agreed with the summation.

“The Greek authorities have made significant progress in consolidating the fiscal position and rebalancing the economy. The primary fiscal position is in surplus ahead of schedule, and Greece has gone from having the weakest to the strongest cyclically-adjusted primary fiscal balance in the euro area in just four years. However, several challenges remain to be overcome before stabilization is deemed complete and Greece is back on a sustainable, balanced growth path,” said Naoyuki Shinohara, Deupty Managing Director and Acting Chair of the IMF in a press release.

The report suggests that the country strengthen the social safety net and expenditure control, improve tax collection and combat evasion in order to reduce the debt substantially.

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