Greece remains buoyant, despite the global pressures affecting jurisdictions worldwide. Major transnational corporations and huge global players are beginning to adjust their investment strategies and are viewing Greece as a major opportunity for inbound investment. Panagiotis Drakopoulos, managing partner of Drakopoulos Law, remarks: ‘It has been somewhat surprising that a lot of foreign investors (particularly non-EU) see Greece as a gateway not only to just the region, but to Europe itself.’
The country is strategically located geographically, economically, and politically, and is highly attractive to growing numbers of investors that view Greece as a potential hub for their operations. Drakopoulos attributes the shift in part to political factors, noting that ‘the current political climate is very friendly to foreign investment; Greece is in a growth mode.’ Elected in 2019, the Mitsotakis government is self-proclaimed to be avowedly pro-investment and has passed key investment legislation.
Despite lingering issues, the growth of the domestic market is demonstrably strong.
2021 saw GDP growth reach 8.3%, a strong recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic, while FDI soared by 90.2% from 2020 figures, amounting to more than €5.3bn. The most recent EY Europe Attractiveness survey found that the percentage of companies planning to enter, invest or expand their presence in Greece reached 37% – up from 34% last year and 28% in 2020. Elsewhere in the report, which is derived from data obtained from the European Investment Monitor, it says Greece welcomed 30 FDI projects throughout the year, which is the country’s second-best performance since 2000. The sustained uptick in inbound investment and increased M&A activity has crystallised across several key industries – particularly those where Greece has retained a historical advantage.
‘Greece has become a focal point for green energy, renewable, and liquefied natural gas initiatives.’
Panayotis Bernitsas, Bernitsas Law
Perhaps mostly saliently, following the wake of the Ukraine conflict’s effect on international fuel supplies, the energy sector has experienced a hive of activity across both renewable and conventional energy sources. Panayotis Bernitsas, the managing partner of Bernitsas Law, says ‘Greece has become a focal point for green energy, renewable, and liquefied natural gas initiatives’.
Italian energy provider, Italgas, acquired 100% of Greek state-owned gas distribution company DEPA in one of the most significant privatisation transactions in Greek history. The deal is thought to be worth more than €733m and closed in September 2022. Elsewhere, under advisory services provided by Bernitsas Law to Gastrade, the Alexandroupolis FSRU floating liquefied natural gas terminal officially commenced operations after securing financing in 2022. This development is expected to ease pressures regarding gas availability, enhance energy security, and hold strategic significance for both Greece and the entire south-eastern Europe region at large. The project is one of five major terminals either under construction or planned around the Greek mainland: two within Alexandroupolis in the north, one in central Greece in the region of Volos, and two located near the municipality of Athens. By some estimates, the projects are projected to double the country’s ability to store liquefied natural gas.
Greece has further witnessed sustained growth in the green and renewable energy sector. Dimitris Zepos, managing partner of Zepos & Yannopoulos observes: ‘The market has changed strategically as major players are deciding to heavily invest in renewables. There is major appetite from foreign players for the renewables market, and we see an ongoing hunt for such projects by western European companies specialised in renewables.’
‘A lot of major players, both international and domestic, in the sector see opportunities to develop hotels to try and create units that will attract very high-net-worth individuals. This is both on the islands and on the mainland.’ Cleomenis Yannikas, Dryllerakis & Associates
In November 2022, energy and environment minister Kostas Skrekas announced plans for Greece’s total investment in green energy to eclipse €35bn by 2030, with aims to see renewables constitute an 80% market share by the same date. Current trends are positive in that respect; in January 2023 RWE and PPC announced a total investment of €180m for five photovoltaic projects in western Macedonia. Moreover, in a historic event, the nation was powered entirely by renewable energy for five hours in October 2022, reflecting a rise in demand for renewables to 47.1% of the market within the first ten months of the year.
Elsewhere, the tourism and real estate sectors have enjoyed sustained growth through 2022. Over 27.8 million tourists visited Greece in 2022, with travel receipts eclipsing €17.6bn. Firms report that they attribute the growth to a confluence of factors, not least the perception of Greece as a friendly country, with good security and a high standard of living. Bernitsas draws attention to the impact of the above factors on the digital and gig economies, reporting that ‘Greece tends to be viewed as a “safe haven” for digital nomads’, while ‘Athens has become a pole of attraction for tourism – B&Bs, various hotels and accommodations are doing well as a result. Small boutique hotels are growing in the larger Athens area.’
The tourism industry further captures real estate and property. Senior partner Cleomenis Yannikas at Dryllerakis & Associates states of the change: ‘A lot of major players, both international and domestic, in the sector see opportunities to develop hotels to try and create units that will attract very high-net-worth individuals. This is both on the islands and on the mainland.’
2022 also saw significant opportunity in emerging industries and sectors, chiefly the booming digital economy. Bernitsas, addressing the digital economy boom, suggests the ‘financial sector will see increased activity: fintech, digital economy, cryptocurrency – despite the current negative trends with crypto.’ JP Morgan acquired a 49% stake in Athens-based fintech company and the first Greek unicorn start-up, Viva Wallet. The deal for the ‘cloud-based neobank’ was ratified by Greek regulatory authorities in September 2022 and is worth over $1bn.
Deals such as these plainly represent the appetite from investors for such technologies, and this presents a unique opportunity for firms that position themselves well within the space to handle complex questions of law. Bernitsas suggests ‘a lot of things [in cryptocurrency, blockchain technology and AI] have not been regulated so far, so I would expect that the regulators intervene. Currently, everyone has tried to profit as quickly as possible since there is no specific legislation. It has been up to lawyers to attempt to fill the gap using contract law.
As a result, there is a lot of manoeuvring to be done here!’ The region is famous for highly-trained tech professionals and engineers, and Zepos believes there is yet an untapped well of highly-skilled talent in the space, believing that there are ‘many more start-ups involving Greek individuals that are yet to flourish.’
Looking forward to the remainder of 2023, Drakopoulos comments that ‘foreign investments may be put on hold a little bit, in anticipation of the elections – to see if things will change or not. We have not seen a slow down so far as the appetite is still there. In theory, we should see a slowdown during the election period.’ Greek elections are currently predicted to be held this Spring, though this is subject to change.
Prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis told local newspaper Proto Thema in January 2023 that he had yet to make up his mind, stating ‘from April and onwards, the elections can be held at any time.’
Working practices for the large Greek firms have seen change over the years, as have the unique challenges that all Greek firms face within the marketplace. Bernitsas posits recruitment as a chief consideration: ‘The search for talent is more acute than it would be in other jurisdictions. In the Greek market, it is rare to recruit someone mature or who is an expert in a certain field. We focus on training. Our approach is to find brilliant people, educate them internally and promote them internally.’
Elsewhere, firms are reporting a change in the types of services they are tasked with providing. ‘The kind of transactions we see are changing, as well as what clients are looking for. Clients are becoming increasingly demanding. They want you to be a commercial partner, as well as legal. They ask for strategic help, and advice on what they can do to better place themselves in the market.’
Indeed, it seems the biggest issue facing firms currently is talented lawyers exploring opportunities in other jurisdictions. Zepos remarks: ‘We face a similar issue here in Greece, created and exacerbated by the fact that many qualified professionals have left to work abroad, mostly in places like London and Brussels. This puts a strain on the Greek legal market. It has grown, which contributes to the strain.’
Emphasis is placed on recruitment as a result and is a core issue for Drakopoulos, who speaks of the importance of ‘moving away from the traditional model, to try to be as efficient as possible and keep younger people motivated. We try to speak their language as well – everything is more inclusive now.’ The emphasis on youth and talent is evident in the working practices of the firm; Drakopoulos goes on to underline the significance of ‘empowering and putting younger people in front. Quite often the economy and our clients are comprised of younger entrepreneurs – so we find this can be very helpful!’
‘We invest in people. We are in a people profession. You have to gain trust in one another. We work hard, love what we do and deliver results as a result.’ Theodore Pistiolis, Andersen Legal
Greece’s relative strength lies in its deep pool of professional talent. Theodore Pistiolis, a managing partner at Andersen Legal in Greece, underlines this by saying: ‘We invest in people. We are in a people profession. You have to gain trust in one another. We work hard, love what we do and deliver results as a result.’
Zepos echoes the sentiment, emphasising that ‘one can only excel if the people providing the service are top notch from every point of view.’
Over the past few years, the Greek legal market has demonstrated a resilience and buoyancy in the face of global factors that belies its relatively small size. Fortunes appear to remain strong for a pro-investment and pro-growth Greece that has proven it can compete in the international arena. Cautious optimism is the prevailing attitude among firms who have weathered the storm and positioned themselves advantageously to cope with the demands of shifting trends and emerging sectors. LB