Piraeus Mayor Yiannis Moralis’ interview to Angeliki Spanou
“Piraeus is for China a gateway to Europe,” says Piraeus Mayor Yiannis Moralis who, during his recent visit to Beijing, discovered there is strong Chinese investment interest in his municipality.
Piraeus is an emblematic port for Greek-Chinese cooperation. Do the citizens of your municipality experience this in the same way?
The port of Piraeus is at the moment the spearhead, the most symbolic and at the same time the most essential and powerful pillar of Greek-Chinese cooperation. The transfer of the majority stake of Piraeus Port to Cosco is something that primarily affects the country's economy and extends beyond the narrow boundaries of the city of Piraeus. I think it is too early to talk about tangible or visible consequences in the daily life of Piraeus. What is certain, however, is that the completion of the agreement concerning the port has provided the impetus that the city needed in order to attract other investments. Therefore, what has already emerged is a reversal of the negative investment climate that had prevailed over the past several years, and this is certainly positive.
Cosco’s presence in Piraeus has had a history, at times turbulent. Today, is this presence solely considered as an advantage?
Actually, Piraeus society, the municipality, MPs, the chambers, all had opposed the privatization of Piraeus Port Authority (PPA). During the campaign for local elections and as an elected municipal authority, we had initially objected to the way the privatization of the port had been launched. By unanimous decision in the Municipal Council, we had proposed to the government the creation of a Municipal Port Fund within the limits of the Municipality of Piraeus in order to avoid the sale of shares. But, since the Greek Parliament voted in favour of the concession agreement in August 2015, the only way forward for the Municipality of Piraeus was co-operation and hard work in order to make the most out of it for the city and our citizens.
So far - and I am very optimistic we will continue in this way – the collaboration has proved to be positive for the Municipality of Piraeus. We campaigned for and succeeded in raising, for the first time, an annual contributory levy on the port’s operation. A 3.2% of PPA’s annual turnover will be shared proportionately among all coastal municipalities. As you see, a significant amount of money will be injected every year into the Municipality of Piraeus' coffers. On the other hand, at the level of economic recovery, the investment that Cosco is required to undertake in accordance with the agreement is bringing along other investments, in the direction we all wish for our city in order to create new jobs.
Is your communication with the Chinese side good? Do you get along well?
There is a good cooperation between the Municipality of Piraeus and the Chinese side. Apart from me as mayor being a member of the Board of PPA and getting a direct briefing on all undertakings in the port, there is a common understanding that it is in the interest of both the Municipality and the Port administrators to confer on critical issues concerning the city and the port. The city and the port cannot move on different development directions. In addition, on the occasion of the Greece-China Year of Cultural Exchanges, there is close contact and cooperation between Piraeus and China, based on a wide range of areas, such as entrepreneurship, education, culture.
Recently, we celebrated the 45th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Greece and China at the Municipal Theater of Piraeus. Moreover, in May, a delegation from the Municipality of Piraeus participated in the 2nd Greek-Chinese City Forum in Beijing, where I had the opportunity to present the city of Piraeus as an investment, tourism and business destination.
Are you aware of any other Chinese investment projects involving the municipality of Piraeus?
During my visit to Beijing I had the opportunity to meet with representatives of investment groups and I found out that there is a very strong interest in investing in Piraeus. An interest entirely justified, as Piraeus is for China the gateway to Europe and will obviously want to strengthen its presence in the city.
In addition to the port - which has in any case great developmental potential -, a series of very important interventions, such as the extension of the metro system and an integrated urban regeneration plan that will further upgrade the city, are being undertaken in Piraeus. I think we are still at the beginning and in the next period more investment intentions from China will emerge. As a municipal authority we wish to create a friendly investment climate for interventions that will contribute to the economic development of Piraeus, with respect to the city and its people.
What is the level of tourism flows from China?
China is the world's largest tourism market and Chinese tourists spend a considerable amount of money. So we have every reason to pursue and support the strengthening of the tourist flow from China. As far as I know, every year more and more Chinese visit our country; there is a steady upward trend. But, given the size of the Chinese market, there is obviously room for further growth. This is why all of us -including the Government, local authorities, and the Chambers - must step up our efforts and “make the most” out of the Greece-China Year of Cultural Exchanges, in order to strengthen our position in the Chinese market. Let us not forget that Greece and China have one more thing in common. They both have ancient cultures, highly respected on each side, and it is well known that cultural attractions are one of the principal reasons why one chooses a travel destination.
To what extent is Piraeus known in China?
Piraeus, due to the continuous development of the port in recent years and the presence of Cosco, has become the second most famous Greek city in China after Athens. This was clearly reflected in our recent visit to Beijing where Piraeus played a leading role in debates and references officials’ from both countries. The Chinese want to “build” a special relationship with Piraeus and we, for our part, aspire to play an important role in the “Silk road”. We have put forth a number of exchanges - sports, cultural and educational -, which strengthen our cooperation and bring Piraeus closer to China.