Ambassador Gjelstad's remarks at the launching event for the Business Innovation Greece Programme at the 27th of March in Piraeus.

The launch of the Business Innovation Greece programme. The ambassador of Norway to Greece, Mr. Jørn Gjelstad

Your Excellency, Mr. Deputy Minister Giannakidis,

Ladies and Gentlemen – dear friends

I am happy to announce that this morning we are launching the second program of the new EEA grants period. This program is called “Business Innovation Greece” and will, as the title indicates, deal with commercial innovation in Greece. Business innovation is an area that requires a lot of attention, creativity and incentives if the Greek economy is going to sustain a sufficient growth rate over time.

And a sustained level of growth is what I believe will be the political priority number one for this country in the years to come, regardless the ideological leaning of the incumbent political leadership. Greece has to look forward and develop an economic trajectory based on

optimizing its human resources and all its talents,

improving its capacity for value creation,

strengthening its competitive edge in third countries markets,

and developing a relevant mix of areas within its economy that is forward looking.

In that case, Greece needs to look into new areas, or new production methods and business models, which can inject additional growth impulses in the economy, and over time become the dynamic economic driver.

 

On this background, I think it is fair to say that the task of creating a culture of business innovation is almost an existential undertaking. A professionalized culture of innovation can renew the economy. It can make it more robust and more competitive. It can transform the perception of a country from being behind the curve to become part of the cutting edge.

It can diversify the mix of the economic set-up and improve the cycle of value creation, thus making the economy far less vulnerable. And not at least, it can unite a whole nation and bridge political differences.

 

This last point is one of my favorites. I firmly believe that innovation in all its forms can serve as the structural enabler to foster a political common ground and to create the area of political consent that can be further cultivated. I believe that any country needs such enabling factors in order to fully take use of its resources and make progress. And by doing so, you implicitly create trust between the institutions and the people itself. And this is definitely what I believe Greece really needs during the current circumstances.   

 

If Norway can contribute to a small step forward in this direction by using our Grants for Greece smart, relevant and targeted, I would be more than happy.  And, as we enter the 25th year of EEA grants to Greece, we will for the first time dedicate part of our Grants to the private sector.

 

For Norway, The EEA Grants are key components of our bilateral relationship with Greece.  They have triggered cooperation within a large number of areas, and they have fostered strong relationships within many sectors. To be short, the Grants have brought our two countries closer.

 

Norway contributes the majority of the grants (almost 96%), along with Iceland and Liechtenstein. The total amount absorbed in Greece since 2004 is nearly 100 million euros. The current funding period involves another EUR 116.7 million. We believe these grant opportunities deserve more attention. We also believe the many sound results produced by the grant recipients deserve more attention. I am afraid that both the efforts and the achievements from the grants have been seriously under-communicated over time. This is something I would like to rectify today.

 

The EEA Grants are carefully calibrated to target specific priorities and challenges as set out by key national actors.

One part of the grants goes directly to ministries and public entities, while another part is managed by the Donor States through private entities locally. The entire allocation to the country is based on an agreement between Greece and the Donor countries. The majority of this allocation is channeled to predefined interventions, but another part is awarded through open calls from public and private stakeholders. And today I am happy to announce that for the first time we will have open calls for the private sector.

As I briefly mentioned, Greece is in a crucial phase of restructuring its economy right now, many companies need to be revitalized and would benefit from increasing their competitive edge.

Many young people have left Greece, and it is clear that there are too many talented people and not enough work to match their skills. We are therefore very excited that the new EEA program will involve grants to private companies in Greece, in the areas of Blue Growth, Green Energy and ICT. We see a lot of potential and need in these areas. We believe that we can make a difference with the grants by including small and medium enterprises which can benefit the most from such financing.

 

Norway is a small country, and we want to make sure that we make a difference when we engage.

In using our Grants across the board in Greece, we aspire to provide concrete assistance to longstanding challenges, to reduce social and economic disparities, and to ensure that green targets and environmental priorities are being met. We are using the Grants to strengthen actors and contributors that do an important job in this society. We strive to use the money in a smart way. To fund gaps and challenges that are brought to our attention. And to complement what others do, such as acting in strategic complementarity to EU programs.

 

For this new period, we will continue our support in a variety of areas – such as good governance, asylum and migration management, green energy,

water management, civil society, local development and poverty reduction, social inclusion of marginalized groups of citizens. As always, we have high expectations for results.

 

In the past, the funds have strengthened bilateral partnerships between the donor countries and Greece.

A large number of exchanges and visits have taken place,

friendships have been created,

technologies have been transferred,

shared challenges have been addressed

and joint solutions found.

 

A number of students have gone to study in the donor countries with stipends from the EEA grants. This will continue in the current period, as there is a clear commitment to further strengthen bilateral cooperation between our countries. Likewise, by creating bilateral synergies and cooperation between Greek companies and companies from the donor-countries, we will meet one of the targets of the program we are launching today. In fact, those Greek companies that will choose to engage partners from the three EEA countries will be rewarded with additional points during the evaluation process of their proposals.

 

To be professionally guided in the management of the new “Business Innovation Greece” program, we are aligned with an important Norwegian entity:

 

Innovation Norway is the Norwegian State's most important instrument for innovation and development of Norwegian enterprises and industry. It is also the Norwegian government's official trade representative abroad. They support companies in developing their competitive advantage and enhance innovation.

Their Mission is to create values by stimulating profitable business development, and their programs and services are intended to create more successful entrepreneurs, more enterprises with capacity for growth and more innovative business clusters. I am confident that their management of the “Business Innovation Greece” program will produce excellent results.

I would like to take this opportunity to express my appreciation to the Greek Ministry of Economy & Development for making available further assistance to Greek enterprises in the form of bank guarantees through ETEAN. This intervention will further enhance the support provided to the Greek business sector. 

 

In closing, I wish all companies that will participate in the “Business Innovation Greece” program the best of luck, and I hope to see the program igniting sparks and injecting energy into business development and business cooperation for the coming years.

 

Thank you for your attention.