Doing Business In: Greece
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Greece is located in southeastern Europe, at the tip of the Balkan Peninsula, bordering with Turkey, Bulgaria, North Macedonia and Albania. Greece covers an area of 130,000km2 and has a population of 11 million. The country has a mild Mediterranean climate with temperatures ranging from 5C0-20C0 during the winter and from 25C0-35C0 during the summer. Greek is the official language but English is widely spoken and constitutes the lingua franca in business.
Greece is a parliamentary republic and a developed country, with an advanced high-income economy, and a high quality of life, ranking also very high in the Human Development Index. Its economy is the largest in the Balkans, where it is an important regional investor. Greece is a founding member of the United Nations, member of the EU and the Eurozone since 2001, as well as member of numerous other international institutions, including NATO and OECD.
1. LIVING IN GREECE
Citizens of EU member-states, which have ratified the Schengen treaty are free to move, live and work in Greece (subject to minimal requirements).
Nationals from non-EU countries must obtain an entry visa before arriving to Greece and a residence permit or working permit if they are also seeking employment.
Working days are Monday to Friday. Public sector buildings and banks are open from 08:00 to 14.30, while private sector businesses tend to work lengthier hours. The cost of living is just below the European Union average. In recent years opportunities for buying and renting high quality housing have increased. There are many English-speaking private schools for children of foreign parents alongside the normal free state schools.
Greece’s highly developed infrastructure (road networks, airports, ports, energy and telecommunication networks) is comparable (and, arguably in some instances, favorable) to that of any other developed Western European economy. It allows for easy implementation of almost any investment activity.
2. POLITICAL ENVIRONMENT
Greece is a parliamentary republic. The legislative powers are exercised by the Parliament and the President of the Republic. The executive powers are exercised by the Prime minister and the Government. The judicial powers are exercised by the courts of justice. Following the last general elections on July 7, 2019, the centre-right party New Democracy, with its President Kyriakos Mitsotakis serving as Prime Minister, exercises the government.
3. ECONOMIC ENVIRONMENT
Greece is a full member of the European Monetary Union. Its currency is the Euro.
Prior to the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Greek economy had recorded three consecutive years of positive growth rates, having irrevocably left behind the ten-year financial crisis. Nevertheless, the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic resulted in Greece’s economy contracting by 8.2% in 2020 due to the containment measures that were taken to curb infections. Tourism and more generally the services sector, were particularly hurt and given the high dependency of the country’s economy on tourism, the impact was substantial. Nevertheless, it was less severe than initially anticipated, as the timely policy measures taken by the Greek government have managed to cushion the downturn protecting jobs and supporting business liquidity. The impact on total investment, was relatively small, due to a timely increase in public investments and strong construction activity, while employment support measures managed to prevent large-scale dismissals, keeping the unemployment rate at 16.3%.
The ongoing vaccination rollout has led to the gradual lifting of containment measures, which should boost private consumption, while the gradual reopening of tourism is expected to contribute to a strong rebound in net exports reinforce the projected market share gains for Greek exports, a trend that has been interrupted by the pandemic.
In its latest Spring Economic Forecast (May 2021), the European Commission foresees GDP growth of 4.1% in 2021 and 6.0% in 2022. The main drivers of this dynamic recovery are expected to be the improvement of the economic climate and the consumer confidence in the post-pandemic era on the one hand and the funds from the European Recovery and Resilience Facility on the other.
4. “GREECE 2.0” NATIONAL RECOVERY & RESILIENCE PLAN
Following the COVID-19 period, the Greek government announced the Recovery and Resilience Plan ‘Greece 2.0’. A plan that aspires to change the Greek growth model and institutions through reforms and investments aiming to an extroverted, competitive, green and digital growth model.
The plan aims to enhance growth, productivity, job creation and economic and social resilience. The combined estimated budget for Greece 2.0 is estimated to 57.5 billion Euros. The pillars of the program are: Green Transition; Digital Transformation; Employment, Skills & Social cohesion; Private investment and transformation of the economy.
The key investments planned are upgrading energy efficiency of buildings; investments in energy storage, electric charge points, batteries, electric vehicles; electric interconnectivity of islands; reforestation, biodiversity and urban regeneration; 5G infrastructure, fast broadband connections, fiber optic infrastructure, submarine fiber cables; digitization of the public sector; incentives for private investment (green, digital transformation, innovation, economies of scale); investments in culture, tourism and agri food sector; training, upskilling and reskilling of workforce; investments in health, education and social inclusion.
Beyond the investment plan, a transformation plan is also in place. Main targets are: to reform the licensing procedure for renewable energy sources; further simplification of business environment and licensing, improve the ease of doing business, support investment and trade; promotion of e-mobility; preparation of urban plans and establishment of renewables, industry, tourism and aquaculture planning; improvement of the efficiency of justice system; incentivizing economies of scale; labour law reform; digitization of education and health care reform.
A study made by the Bank of Greece recently shows that Greece 2.0 will lead to an increase of GDP by 7%, the creation of 180.000 new jobs and increase of investments made by private sector by 20%.
Privatization is a key part of the financial, economic reform currently underway in Greece. The portfolio of privatizations is a diverse one, affecting the corporate, infrastructure and land development sectors. Major projects include the development of Hellinikon, the privatization of DEPA Commercial S.A and DEPA Infrastructure, the concessions of Egnatia Motorway and the Athens International Airport, the development of regional airports, the privatization of numerous ports and marinas and the sale of real estate owned by the Greek State. All these projects are either in progress or completed, each offering a remarkable opportunity for direct or indirect investment in Greece. At the same time, the Hellenic Republic Assets Development Fund (HRADF) is examining alternative schemes for the optimal development of various other assets, such as the Athens and Thessaloniki Water Supply and Sewerage Companies; the Public Power Corporation; Hellenic Petroleum and Hellenic Post.
6. STARTING A NEW BUSINESS
Greece is undergoing a number of economic, institutional and social reforms to foster new direct investment and job opportunities. The legal framework is constantly changing in order to simplify corporate processes and transformations.
In particular, a new digital service has been put into operation; the so called “One Stop Shop” service (“YMS”), through which the entrepreneurs can set up a new company, using the “Model AoA” before the competent Chamber of Commerce. The new digital service “YMS” enables entrepreneurs of all legal forms, which are provided for in law ( i.e. either of capital (S.A, P.C, L.L.C) or personal companies (E.E, O.E), to conclude the incorporation of their company via an e-platform (http://eyms.businessportal.gr) and through a fast-track procedure. Without prejudice to extraordinary circumstances the establishment procedure is taking approximately two (2) working days. In view of the above, the One Stop-Shop procedure has greatly streamlined the procedure for establishing a new company and registration costs have been reduced significantly, namely by 70% compared to the traditional incorporation system.
The most common and attractive corporate entities for doing business in Greece are the Private Company (“IKE”) and the Société Anonyme (“S.A”) with the capital requirements for each being €0 and €25,000 respectively. A Private Company requires a managing director for its representation; a Société Anonyme requires a Board of Directors (with a minimum of 3 members), however, the election of a Consultant-Administrator instead of a board of directors, is permitted for the very small or small sized enterprises.
Finally, foreign entities may also conduct their business activity in Greece by establishing a Greek branch, which will be registered in the Greek General Commercial Registry (G.E.MI). In case of a branch, it will be managed by a legal representative holding a valid Greek Tax Identification Number.
7. CORPORATE AND REAL ESTATE TAXATION
Greek companies are taxed on their profits before distribution with the current rate set at 24%.
As of 1st January 2020, a 5% withholding tax on dividends also applies.
The Greek Income Tax Code incorporates the EU Parent-Subsidiary Directive. According to this Directive, dividends distributed to a parent company, established in another EU country, are tax-free provided that the shareholding is at least 10% and the related shareholding has been maintained for a minimum of two years).
A Greek company can deduct all expenses that are actual and evidenced business expenses from its profits under certain criteria (e.g. they are incurred for the benefit of the business or are carried out in the course of its normal commercial transactions). The Income Tax Code provides a list of non-deductible expenses.
The VAT rate for the supply of goods and services is currently 24%. Certain goods and services have a reduced rate of 13% (e.g. fresh food products, electricity and natural gas) while others are subject to a further reduced rate of 6% (e.g. newspapers, theatre tickets, human pharmaceuticals products and hotel accommodation).
Real Estate Taxes
As a general comment, the purchase and ownership of property in Greece is subject to different taxation types, regardless of whether the purchaser/owner of the property is an individual or a legal entity.
Taxes on Acquisition
Real estate Transfer Tax
Real estate acquisition is subject either to VAT at a rate of 24% or to a real estate transfer tax (RETT). The RETT is analyzed according to either the contract price or the objective value, whichever is higher, and calculated at a rate of 3%. The objective tax value is estimated as the minimum value at which a property will be transferred for tax purposes. In addition to RETT, a local authority surcharge, equal to 3% of the RETT, is also levied. Furthermore, there are certain additional third party costs related to the acquisition of the property.
Taxes on Ownership – Unified Real Estate Ownership (ENFIA)
Ownership of Greek real estate is subject to the Unified Real Estate Ownership Tax (ENFIA), which is calculated on the basis of property held as of 1st January each year. ENFIA consists of a main tax and a supplementary tax. The main tax ranges from €2 to €13 per square meter and depends on a number of factors.
The supplementary tax is calculated at a rate of 0.15% to 1.15% (and for legal entities up to 5.5%) on the corresponding objective tax value.
Other Additional Taxes
Real estate ownership is also subject to a Real Estate Duty (RED) and other miscellaneous taxes and duties that may be levied by the Municipality in which the real estate is located.
Greece has, and continues to develop, several agreements for the avoidance of double taxation to ensure that income will not be taxed in more than one country. It currently has more than 57 signed treaties with other countries for this purpose
Formerly, the employment market in Greece was one of the most regulated in Europe. However, reforms have led to significant de-regulation aimed at fostering a more employer-friendly environment for domestic and foreign business alike.
Severance payment on termination of an employment relationship has been reduced, as have the minimum legal wage (currently at 650,00 € euros per month), additional payment for overtime (currently an employee’s legal schedule of work is 40 hours work per week) and payment for working during night hours (22.00-06.00 a.m). Probationary periods have been set to 12 months during which the employer may dismiss the employee without the obligation to pay severance.
A new legislation in employment matters initiated a more flexible working environment for employees and employers. Following an agreement between employer and employee the employee may work in a more flexible way (e.g 4 days for 10 hours per day).Specific provision s for distance working have also been provided.
9. LEGAL SYSTEM
Greece’s legal system has been subject to vast reform in recent years to increase efficiency and speed. It has amended its civil procedure rules and introduced tighter deadlines. Parties may provide their evidence before a judge within 100 days of filing forms. This is significantly shortening the average time taken to achieve first instance court decisions from two to three years to approximately 1 year. The complete judiciary procedure, including court of appeal cases, are expected to take an average of two to three years (down from the current average of five to six years).
10. AREAS TO NOTICE
Digital Transformation – FinTech
Greece is in a radical process of digital transformation and reform. Digital transformation in Greece is at the epicenter of its new development agenda and in great acceleration already creating a new reality for both the society and economy. Digital transformation is considered to be the key to the country’s modernization and return to regularity in the post-pandemic era being one of the main pillars of the Greek National Recovery and Resilience Action Plan.
The Digital State Strategy is being quickly implemented in the country in both the public and private sector towards financial investments, contribution to the fight against tax evasion and investors’ confidence. The regulatory framework is supporting digital transformation and the use of technologies in the provision of financial services aiming to create a technology hub in Greece.
- Digital on-boarding is now possible via video conference or dynamic selfies for all entities providing banking or investment services according to the Bank of Greece (BoG) and Hellenic Capital Market Commission (HCMC) decisions.
- Innovation Hub; In March 2019, the BoG set up an Innovation Hub to enable FinTech and became a member for Innovation Facilitators. Likewise, in July 2019 the HCMC established its own Innovation Hub for the development and support of the investment services industry towards FinTech.
- Regulatory Sandbox; The BoG is in the process of establishing a Regulatory Sandbox in the FinTech sector in cooperation with the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD). The terms and conditions for the establishment and operation of the Regulatory Sandbox as well as the requirements for participation of supervised entities have already been laid down.
- Virtual Currencies Services and Custodian Wallet Providers. The Providers who intend to provide their services in Greece or to provide their services from Greece to other countries are required to be registered in the HCMC before the commencement of their activity. The first Providers have already been registered and displayed in the HCMC registers.
Profits earned by Greek companies from the operation of ships registered under the Greek flag are subject to a special tonnage tax, which satisfies the income tax obligation of the ship owner and shareholder. An exemption can apply to income derived from operating a ship, profit on the sale thereof and receipt of insurance claims. The tax is assessed on the basis of the capacity and age of the vessel. Exemptions from, or a reduction in, the tax are granted in certain circumstances such as when the ship is built or repaired in Greece.
With its 16,000 kms of coastline, more than 6,000 islands and an ancient cultural civilisation, Greece is renowned as one of the premier tourist destinations, not just in Europe but, in the entire world. Investment in Greek tourism is therefore one of the most attractive options available.
In the upcoming years, Greece is poised to make significant investments aimed at shifting the tourist’s focus on the traditional ‘sun & beach’ image of Greece to a variety of higher-value, higher end experiences such as:
- Thematic tourism where specific ‘themes’ such as wellness, romance or luxury are used to add value and extend the scope of typical sun and beach holidays.
- Nautical tourism aimed at attracting more cruise liners and improving current yachting and sailing offerings.
- City-break tourism focused on Athens and Thessaloniki.
- Cultural and religious tourism targeting restoration of Greece’s world-leading historical heritage.
- Medical tourism which presents an exciting growth opportunity if Greece’s highly skilled medical workforce can leverage investment in existing facilities and infrastructure.
- Meetings and Incentives (MICE) – tourism positioning Greece as a major meeting and conference centre for regional associations and companies.
- Integrated resorts – new developments in existing and new tourism destinations taking advantage of new legislation for the development of integrated resorts and the acquisition of residence permits by non-EU citizens who invest in Greek real estate.
Located at the crossroads between East and West, Greece is strategically positioned to play a significant role in the region’s energy sector. Ample renewable energy potential (wind, hydro, biomass, geothermal, solar and solar thermal) combined with ongoing large-scale infrastructure projects (e.g. the TAP Gas Pipeline and other oil and gas exploration projects) make the country a key player in the formulation of Western European energy policy, as well as providing significant investment opportunities.
The energy sector in Greece is poised to grow significantly in the upcoming years driven by a number of factors:
- The optimisation of energy supply requiring a reduction of fossil-fuel generated electricity and increase of renewable energy.
- The state-planned privatisation of major energy assets such as PPC, the Natural Gas distributor (DEPA) and Hellenic Petroleum.
- Liberalisation of the electricity and natural gas markets and the further separation of production and supply from transmission networks.
- The potential for Greece to become a European gateway for natural gas and oil resources through such projects as the TAP gas pipeline, and oil and gas exploration opportunities in the Aegean and Ionian seas.
- Efforts to improve energy efficiency and reduce costs driven by technologies such as smart metering, smart grids, LED lighting and energy-efficient buildings.
- Major infrastructure initiatives such as the interconnection of the Greek islands.
Main investment opportunities:
- Privatisation of state assets.
- New infrastructure for natural gas transmission (liquid gas terminals, gas pipelines, gas distribution systems).
- International public tenders for hydrocarbon exploration in suitable Greek regions.
- Renewable energy projects (wind, solar, biomass, small hydro, geothermal etc.).
- Energy efficiency businesses and investments.
- Grid connectivity for the islands (PPP).
The ICT sector is a major player in the Greek economy and driven mainly by demand for automation and digitalization in the public and private sector.
The number of ICT business opportunities is expected to increase significantly in the upcoming years driven by:
- Greece 2.0 National Recovery & Resilience Plan
- Further automation and digitalisation in the public sector.
- The speedy adoption of new technology by the Greek public.
- The significant growth of technology clusters, incubators, accelerators and technology-focused VC activity, as well as the large number of Greek ICT entrepreneurs.
- Ever-increasing innovation and research activities.
Recently Greece was the subject of several new investment initiatives announced by some of the largest global ICT players including Nokia, Microsoft and HTC.
Food & Agriculture
Food & agriculture has traditionally been one of Greece’s major export sectors with an established European presence, continued growth in the US and a number of companies exhibiting high export growth. From olive oil and flour products to honey and processed meats, Greek companies have leveraged the competitive advantages offered by Greek primary production in order to enter, and remain, competitive in global markets. Food and agriculture is therefore one of the most dynamic and high-growth sectors in Greek manufacturing.
Greek companies have also managed to innovate and differentiate themselves, both in terms of the product and packaging.
The Greek food and agriculture sector is expected to be a significant contributor to GDP growth, driven by several key market trends and competitive advantages:
- The recent shift towards organic, natural ingredients where Greek products are highly regarded and often command a higher premium.
- The prevalence of the Mediterranean Diet as a paradigm of healthy eating across the world.
- The key drivers of health, ethics, physical fitness and pleasure that affect consumer preferences in developed economies.
- The increased drive for self-sufficiency and food safety which is one of the key social challenges of the EU’s ‘Europe 2020’ strategy.
- The potential for clusters of innovation and R&D in several specialised Greek food supply chains combining EU funding, the work of research and academic institutes, and the interest of industrial champions in the application of new technologies.
Standing at the crossroads of three continents (Europe, Asia and Africa) Greece has, since early antiquity, been a strategic node for the transportation of people, goods and entire cultures. More specifically, maritime transport is the most important mode of global freight transport, accounting for 80% of global trade by volume and over 70% by value. According to a recent study, containers throughout European ports are growing at an annual rate of 6%, while traffic through South-Eastern Mediterranean ports has been growing by more than 8% annually. In upcoming years trade flows between Asia and South-Eastern Europe are expected to increase by 7% annually.
Greek ports are strategically located and could easily be transformed into regional logistics hubs for goods travelling from Asia to the EU. Piraeus is Greece’s main port with significant capacity both as a container port and as a car terminal. It is also close to the main Mediterranean maritime route (210 nm) and provides access to the huge Thriassio logistics center and a high-speed cargo train route into the heart of Europe.
Other Greek ports with the capacity to become gateways to Europe include Thessaloniki, Alexandroupoli and Patras.
There are several opportunities for investment in the Greek logistics sector, driven by:
- The growth of Greek ports as gateways from Asia to Europe.
- The planned privatisation of critical logistics assets such as the Port of Piraeus (OLP), Port of Thessaloniki (OLTH) and the Greek train operator (TRAINOSE).
- Continued investment in the improvement of rail and road infrastructure, including the recent recommencement of several major motorway projects.
- The opportunity for major global manufacturers to use Greece as an assembly, logistics and quality assurance center for products manufactured in Asia and sold in Europe.
Greece is investing in its audiovisual production industry, producing new talents, making its presence felt at the international festivals, setting trends, and interacting with the international film scene.
Key investment opportunities
- Feature films
- TV series
- Cultural and educational video-gaming
- Web products
- Software prototyping for computer games
- Computer applications and programs, game machines and mobile phones
- Film tourism development
Investment incentive – Law 4487/2017 (Cash Rebate)
Law 4487/2017 establishes the investment incentives framework for the production of audiovisual works in Greece, by providing a State grant (cash rebate) for an amount of up to 40%. The incentive regards the reimbursement of a monetary amount covering eligible expenses incurred in Greece, for the purposes of production of audiovisual works in Greece, e.g. feature films, tv series, documentaries, animation as well as digital games.
Moreover, the Greek cash rebate can serve as a collateral for producers to obtain funds through the Greek banking system. Financing of the rebate is guaranteed through the Greek Public Investment Programme and amounts to €75 million available for the years 2018 to 2022.
- The sum of the incentive amounts to 40% of the total eligible expenses of the production.
- The incentive may be combined with other public incentives, subject to the condition that the total sum of the public incentives granted may not exceed 50% of the total cost of the audiovisual work.
- This rate is increased to 60% of the total cost of the audiovisual production in case of cross border productions and to 80% of the total cost of the audiovisual production in case of a “difficult” audiovisual work.
Tax incentive for production of audiovisual works
The investment plans that qualify for the law are supported with a tax relief scheme. More specifically, 30% of eligible expenses incurred in Greece for each audiovisual work is deducted from the taxable income of a legal entity or natural person that is subject to taxation in Greece and invests in audiovisual works.
Golden Visa Program
The government of Greece instituted a procedure for the obtainment of permanent residence permits, renewable every five years, for foreign owners of Greek real estate exceeding €250,000 in value. Beneficiaries of this new right of entry and residence, for a period of five years, are:
- third country citizens who own Greek real estate property with a minimum value of €250,000;
- third country citizens who have signed a timeshare agreement (lease) for a minimum of 10 years where the value of the lease is at least €250,000;
- third country citizens who purchase a plot of land or acreage and erect a building where the cumulative value is at least €250,000;
- third country citizens who have signed a ten-year timeshare agreement (lease);
- family members of the third country citizens described above.
Please note that certain information in the ‘Areas to notice’ chapter, is based on the industry analysis provided by ‘Enterprise Greece’, which belongs to the Ministry of Economy and Development.