Greece became a member of the Monetary and Economic Union in 2001. Prior to membership, Greece had had several years of low economic growth, but during the period 2002-2005, growth rose to around four percent. This is due mainly to investments and upgrades of infrastructure in connection with the 2004 Summer Olympic Games held in Athens.
Since the start of the economic crisis in 2008, Greece has experienced negative growth and a steadily declining gross domestic product. Greece has long struggled with high unemployment. This peaked during the economic crisis.
Greece was occupied by Germany during the Second World War and suffered a civil war for years after. This was devastating for the Greek economy, and from 1948 economic recovery was therefore a priority area. In the 1960s and 1970s, the annual growth rate in the Greek economy was among the highest in Europe. At the same time, there was a change in the economic structure in which agriculture, which was traditionally the most important trade route, was bypassed by industry, measured by production value, export revenue and employment.
Tourism is one of the country’s most important growth industries. Greece has a large trading fleet that plays an important role for the country’s economy. Compared to other EU countries, Greece has a large agricultural sector and a small industrial sector.
Agriculture is still an important part of Greece’s business. Primary industries (agriculture and forestry, fishing) account for just under 13 percent of the labor force and account for around 4 percent of the country’s gross domestic product (2017). Greece is the largest producer of cotton and pistachios in the EU. Other products that are grown are rice, olives and figs.
Membership in the EU led to a major improvement in the agricultural sector. In the 2000s, there was a major shift to organic farming in Greece. According to a report on sustainable development in EU countries, organic farming in Greece increased by a whopping 885 percent in the period 2001-2007.
The topography, climate and soil have hindered effective agriculture. Around 30 percent of the land is cultivable and about 40 percent is meadow and pasture. The most important agricultural areas are Thessalia and Macedonia. Due to periodic drought, the cultivation of grain is not intensive. The city grows sugar beets, halibut, tomatoes, maize and fruit.
The dry climate is a good choice for growing olives, and Greece is one of the world’s foremost producers of olive oil. The cultivation of olives is particularly important on the islands and in coastal areas up to 750 meters above sea level. Grapes are also grown in the same area. The grapes are dried for raisins and Corinthians or used for wine. Tobacco is cultivated in Macedonia, Thessalia and Western Thrace. The cotton breeding takes place on irrigated land in Macedonia, between the other at Thessaloniki, and in Viotía (Boiotia).
Animal husbandry is mostly based on natural pastures and is driven from the field, half nomadising between the highlands in the summer and the lowlands in the winter. Sheep and goat dominate (around 15 million animals registered in the EU official count in 2010, compared to 629,000 registered cows), and many cities have led to overgrazing. Milk production is of greater importance in the lowlands and near the towns. Also great production of yogurt and cheese.
Greece is poor in forests and has to import large quantities of wood. Most of the forest is state forest where farmers have a right of use for fuel and pasture.
Production of a selection of growths in 2016 *
|Cotton||1 354 754|
|halibut||1 698 031|
|corn||1 869 693|
|Olive oil||300 000|
|Olive||2 343 383|
|Lemon and lime||50 359|
|Tomato||1 044 346|
|Vass Melon||553 230|
* Except for olive oil, all figures are taken from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
Fishing has long been an important part of Greek business, and fish is an important part of the Greek diet. Most of the catch goes to domestic consumption and fishing therefore accounts for only 3.1 percent of the country’s gross domestic product. In 2016, 15 226 fishing vessels were registered in Greece. Despite the fact that Greece accounts for one fifth (18.1 percent) of the total fishing fleet in the EU, the catch volume is small, as most of the Greek fishing vessels are smaller than the EU average. The catch volume in 2016 was around 75,000 tonnes – 1.7 percent of the total catch in the EU.
One specialty is our mushroom fishing. Before the Second World War, Greek fishermen captured about 80 percent of all mushrooms brought ashore from the Mediterranean, which accounted for half of the world’s total catch. Mushroom fishing has, after that time, greatly reduced basic competition from synthetic products.
In spite of the country’s varied geological structure, Greece is relatively poor in valuable minerals. Nevertheless, the mineral resources are being exploited intensively and production increased somewhat in the 21st century. An increasing part of the mineral is processed domestically, and not exported as raw materials.
Since the 1960s, Greece has undergone rapid industrial growth. The industrial sector (including mining and construction) accounts for around 15 percent of employment (2017) and contributes to around 16 percent of Greece’s gross domestic product (2017). The food and beverage industry, the metal industry, the chemical industry and the textile and clothing industry are the most important industries.
With the help of large foreign investments, among others from the EU’s structural and regional fund, a more versatile industry has been developed with petrochemical and chemical plants, steelworks, shipyards and the like. This is especially true in the areas around Greater Athens and Thessaloniki.
The Greek government has encouraged greater privatization of the industrial sector in recent years. This means that fewer and more large companies are under state ownership.
The Service sector
The southern fish sector is the largest sector in terms of employment – 72.1 percent (2017) – and contribution to the country’s national product – 80.2 percent (2016). The southern sector has grown in recent years as a result of increases in tourism, and is the only sector that has not been noticeably affected by higher unemployment as a result of the Greek financial and debt crisis.
Tourist traffic is one of Greece’s most important sources of revenue. The number of tourists has increased from one million in 1968 to nearly 30 million in 1968.
The main travel destination is the capital Athens and the Greek islands, between Anna, Crete, Naxos and Rhodes (Rhodes). Tourists in Greece are the main players from other European countries.
Industrialization and strong growth in exports have not prevented a deficit in Greece’s trade balance with foreign countries. This is somewhat compensated for in other large sectors such as shipping and tourism. Despite major economic problems in recent years, there has not been a major decline in Greek foreign trade.
According to Countryaah, in 2016, exports of goods and services accounted for around 30.5 percent of Greece’s gross domestic product. Exports include other textiles and clothing, fruits and vegetables, oil products, wine and tobacco. Greece exports goods primarily to Italy, Germany, Cyprus, Turkey, Bulgaria, USA, UK and Lebanon.
Imports include other machinery and transport equipment, crude oil, foods, chemicals and iron and steel. Greece imports primarily from Germany, Italy, France, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom.
In 2014, exports to Greece accounted for one percent of Norway’s total seafood exports.
Transport and Communications
Greece has a long history as a shipping nation. Shipping and related sectors account for around seven percent of Greece’s gross domestic product and employment of just under 200,000 people – four percent of Greece’s total workforce.
The most important port cities are Piraeus, Thessaloniki and Patras. The Corinth Canal, opened in 1893 and again in 1948, is still important for shipping.
The majority of the Greek-owned merchant fleet is controlled by small and medium-sized private companies and more than half of the vessels are registered abroad. In 2017, 4585 Greek-owned vessels with a capacity of more than 1,000 gross tonnes were registered. Measured in deadweight tonnage (dvt), the Greek fleet is the largest in the world (308 836 933 dvt as of January 2017).
The road network is well developed. The rail network is less efficient and most important for passenger traffic.
Aviation is important for domestic traffic, especially between Athens and the islands, and for foreign tourist traffic. There are international airports in Athens, Thessaloniki, Alexandroupoli, Kerkýra, Lesbos, Andravida, Rhodes, Kos and Crete, as well as 25 domestic airports. Athens International Airport ” Eleftherios Venizelos ” officially unveiled Athens’s old “Ellinikon” airport on March 29, 2001. The Eleftherios Venizelos airport is an important hub between Europe and the Austen.
Greek airline Aegean Airlines dominates air traffic after it acquired in 2014 the former state-owned company Olympic Airways, which was privatized as Olympic Air in 2009. Olympic Air flies domestically as part of Aegean Airlines’ fleet.
Greece has struggled with high unemployment and high inflation. The unemployment rate averaged around 8-10 per cent in the years 2001-2010. In the years following the Greek financial and debt crisis, unemployment rose steadily and peaked in 2013 with 27.5 percent and 60 percent for young people aged 15-24. The high unemployment rate has led many Greeks to leave the country.
Unemployment in Greece, 2006-2010
|Year||Total (%)||Age group 15–29 years (%)|
|Year||Total (%)||Age group 15-24 years (%)|
|2017||20.9 *||43.7 *|
* November 2017