Greece country brief

Located in Southern Europe, Greece shares a border with Albania, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Bulgaria to the north and Turkey to the east. The country is also bordered by the Aegean Sea, Ionian Sea and the Mediterranean Sea. Greece has a population of 11 million (2014), approximately 4 million of whom reside in the capital, Athens.

Greece joined the European Union (EU) in 1981 and adopted the Euro in 2001.

Bilateral relations

Australia and Greece have had consular relations since the 1920s and have exchanged resident Ambassadors since 1965. Australia has an Embassy in Athens and an Honorary Consulate in Thessaloniki. Greece has an Embassy in Canberra and Consulates or Honorary Consulates in New South Wales, the Northern Territory, Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania, Victoria and Western Australia.

People to people links

Greece and Australia enjoy a close and constructive relationship based on strong community ties. The 2011 Census recorded 99,938 Greek-born people in Australia and 378,267 people who claimed Greek ancestry. The Greek-born population in Australia is largely concentrated in Victoria and New South Wales. Melbourne is Sister City to Thessaloniki.

Australia and Greece also share an enduring historical link as a result of the involvement of Australian troops in the defence of Greece during the two World Wars. During World War I, the Greek island of Lemnos was the base for over 50,000 Australian soldiers, sailors and nurses who fought and served in the Gallipoli campaign. In the Battle of Crete (May 1941) during World War II Australian soldiers fought alongside Greek, New Zealand and British troops to defend the island against German invasion. The battle is still commemorated annually.

Trade and investment

In 2014-15, Greece was Australia's 63rd largest merchandise trading partner. Two-way merchandise trade was approximately $217 million. Australian exports to Greece totaled $13 million and consisted mainly of non-ferrous waste and scrap, and fruits and nuts. Goods imported from Greece totaled $204 million, including medicaments, vegetables, cheese and curd, and aluminium. Two-way services trade between Greece and Australia is heavily weighted in Greece's favour. The export of Australian services to Greece was worth around $75 million in 2014-15, while services imports from Greece totaled $441 million. Our services trade consists mainly of personal and education-related travel.

Australia’s stock of investment in Greece as at the end of 2014 totaled $287 million. Investment in Australia from Greece was $263 million.

Bilateral agreements

In May 2014, Australia and Greece signed a Work and Holiday Visa Arrangement. The arrangement was approved by the Greek Parliament on 9 December 2015.

In 2007, Australia and Greece signed a bilateral social security agreement to provide improved social security protection to people who have lived and/or worked in both Australia and Greece.

High level visits

Positions indicated in the list below were held at the time of the visit.

To Australia

  • May 2014: Greek Minister of Tourism, Ms Olga Kefalogianni
  • March 2014: Greek Deputy Foreign Minister, Mr Kyriakos Gerontopoulos
  • March 2013: Greek Deputy Foreign Minister, Mr Konstantinos Tsiaras
  • May 2007: Prime Minister of Greece, Mr Kostas Karamanlis, and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ms Dora Bakoyannis

To Greece

  • September 2015: Ms Anna Burke, MP and former Speaker of the House of Representatives
  • April 2015: Australia’s Chief of Navy, Vice-Admiral Tim Barrett AO, CSC, RAN, attended Centenary of ANZAC events in Lemnos and Athens
  • November 2014: President of the Senate, Senator The Hon Stephen Parry
  • April 2014: Australia’s Deputy Chief of Navy, Rear Admiral Michael Van Balen, RAN, attended ANZAC Day events in Lemnos and Athens
  • April 2013: Australia’s Chief of Navy, Vice-Admiral Ray Griggs AO, CSC, RAN, attended ANZAC Day events in Lemnos and Athens
  • May 2012: Governor of New South Wales, Professor The Hon Dame Marie Bashir AD, CVO
  • June 2011: Parliamentary Secretary for Disabilities and Carers, Senator The Hon Jan McLucas, visited Greece for the Special Olympic Games
  • May 2011: Minister for Veterans' Affairs, The Hon Warren Snowdon MP, to mark the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Crete
  • April 2011: A parliamentary delegation led by the President of the Senate, Senator The Hon John Hogg
  • February 2011: Minister for Foreign Affairs, The Hon Kevin Rudd MP
  • 2008: Governor of Western Australia, The Hon Dr Kenneth Comninos Michael AC

Political overview

Greece is a Parliamentary Republic. The President, elected by Parliament every five years, is Head of State. The current President, Mr Prokopios Pavlopoulos, was sworn in on 12 March 2015.

The unicameral parliament consists of 300 members, elected for a maximum of four years. The Prime Minister is Head of Government. The SYRIZA party was first elected in January 2015, and was re-elected in September 2015 in snap elections. On both occasions, SYRIZA has formed a coalition government with the Independent Greeks party (ANEL). The government is led by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras.

Foreign policy

Greece's foreign policy agenda has traditionally focused on the European Union (EU), the Balkans and its near neighbours (in particular Cyprus and Turkey).

Greece held the rotating Presidency of the EU in 1983, 1988, 1994, 2003 and 2014. Greece is a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), which it joined in 1952, and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).

Economic overview

The Greek economy grew on average by over 4 per cent per year between 2003 and 2007, but lost a quarter of GDP in the prolonged recession which followed the global financial crisis in 2009. According to the International Monetary Fund, Greek general government net debt is forecast at 194 per cent of GDP in 2015 and is predicted to rise to almost 197 per cent in 2016. Unemployment was projected to be almost 27 per cent in 2015.

To stabilise the economy and address unsustainably high levels of public debt, Greece is undertaking a wide-ranging program of economic reforms and fiscal consolidation supported by the European Commission, the European Central Bank, the European Stability Mechanism and the International Monetary Fund.

Trade and industry profile

The main engine of the Greek economy is the services sector comprising 83.3 per cent of GDP, followed by industry at 9.4 per cent and agriculture at 3.8 per cent (2014). Tourism is important for the Greek economy, contributing around 18 per cent of GDP. Greece's other industries include food and tobacco processing, textiles, chemicals, metal products, mining and petroleum.

Greece has little heavy industry, with its once-substantial ship building industry in decline over recent years. Greece nonetheless still has one of the largest registered merchant marine fleets in the world.

Agriculture is of major socio-economic importance to Greece (constituting 3.8 per cent of GDP in 2014), with 12.9 per cent of the workforce employed in the sector. Almost 20 per cent of the land is arable and almost 9 per cent has permanent crops.

The main agricultural products are wheat, corn, barley, sugar beets, olives, tomatoes, wine, tobacco, potatoes, beef and dairy products.

Last Updated: 3 February 2016