Region of Attica Governor Rena Dourou speaks to Angeliki Spanou
Before becoming Attica Region Governor, Rena Dourou headed the foreign policy department of the SYRIZA party. This is one of the reasons why she has been prioritizing diplomacy in the largest region of the country. She has been investing in an outward-looking orientation, working to create strong channels of cooperation with China.
What has changed since your last visit to China in connection with the “diplomacy” of the Attica Region?
From the very first moment that we assumed responsibility for the Attica Region administration, we having been working in a way that an outward-looking orientation, an exchange of best practices, as well as multifaceted synergies are at the heart of our relations with the outside world. A choice that contributes to a peaceful, multidimensional, multilevel, active foreign policy to preserve and promote the country's interests. And we do this through a regional development strategy; through building bridges on the basis of mutual understanding and convergence of interests. Bridges related to the economy, investment, culture, tourism at both European and international level. This effort takes time; but we have started it and it is already underway. This is the context of our relations with China – with Beijing, Hubei Province, contacts with other representatives of Chinese institutions - whether they concern tourism or the media. And this is just the beginning. Over the coming months, we are moving on to establishing new contacts and the signing of cooperation memoranda on tourism and business contacts. This is a process that’s in its early stages. It takes a lot more in order to say that things have really changed but we are working in this direction, which entails a lot of perspective as well as challenges for both sides.
You have set the goal of “making Attica a multivalent hub between China and the European Union”. What is the content of such a plan?
As I have said, this is a plan that concerns broadly the relations of a European region with the population, geographic, and economic characteristics of Attica, with other regions of Europe and the rest of the world. Attica can thus function as both a hub for economic and trade exchanges with the Middle East and South East Asia, as well as a European gateway in connection with these geo-economic entities. In this respect, we are dealing with the need to establish win - win relationships with all countries in these regions with a view to growth, job creation, stability and prosperity.
How can the upgrading of relations between Greece and China in practice affect the recovery of the Greek economy?
The recovery of the country's economy goes through the attraction of investments that can contribute to a sustainable growth that creates jobs, respects the environment and the legislative framework. The political choices of the past did not work in this direction. Instead, they contributed to a distorted model of development, with feet of clay. Today, we are laying the foundations in order to reverse this situation. Greece, as a predominantly European, Balkan and Mediterranean country, can play a crucial role in economic and commercial terms, provided that the necessary reforms are promptly implemented in order to consolidate a stable and clear investment and fiscal framework that will function as a catalyst for attracting investments, not only from China but from all over the world.
What is the image that you have of Chinese tourism in Attica?
The image of a very promising sector, with great prospects, but which is still at an early stage. For this reason, in the context of the new tourism strategy of Attica, we are moving towards creating the necessary conditions that will make Attica a major attraction for tourists from China and South-East Asia in general - this tourism market is a new terrain of activity. We know the peculiarities of this particular market and we are ‘packaging’ our tourist product accordingly. At the same time, we are working on specialized strategies targeting specific markets in Europe, America, Australia, on the basis that Attica's tourism has no seasonality and offers multiple and quality choices.
Is there, to your knowledge, Chinese interest for investments in the Attica region?
There is, but at an early stage. And this is why we are trying to work within our remit so that it multiplies by acquiring structural features. Features, that is, which guarantee a new investment model of sustainable development with social cohesion and respect for the environment.
Have there been any steps in the field of real estate?
The steps depend on the degree of maturity and deepening of relations between the two sides. We are, as I have already noted, in the early stages of an ongoing process, which includes real estate, as well as tourism, commercial and cultural relations and contacts, all of which interact with one another. The whole constitutes a “package”, which the Region of Attica treats in a holistic way, with a sense of responsibility towards its specific characteristics.
Are shared competences between the Region and ministries causing delays?
We need a clear framework of competences and functioning - hence the need for immediate reform of Kallikratis [the legal framework governing local administration in Greece] in order to know who does what, especially today, that the public debate on the revision of the Constitution is underway. We, as Region of Attica, have tabled our proposals accordingly, with the aim of finally shaping the concept of metropolitan area that exists in the Constitution but remains an empty letter.
Our objective is to get the Regions, through these processes, to acquire the competencies and resources required in order for them to play the key role already enjoyed by regions in European countries that stand out for their serious self-government traditions. Today, European regions can be the strongest “card” for Europe to function the way its citizens expect and demand. That is, as a safety valve against economic and environmental threats and, at the same time, as a job creating factor, in the context of a new model of regional development with social added value, cohesion and solidarity. A model that is capable of responding to today's challenges, stemming from the fourth industrial revolution that creates new economic and social conditions.