A prominent figure in the Greek-American community, an attorney, a philanthropist, a self-made man who has stood at the helm of a successful enterprise, and, since formally presenting his credentials to the President of the Hellenic Republic Katerina Sakellaropoulou on May 10 this year, the United States Ambassador to Greece.
Here, Ambassador George James Tsunis talks to Business Partners magazine about his new role and his goals during his tenure in Athens, the strong ties between the US and Greece, emerging opportunities for the two countries, and the relationships crucial to achieving longlasting prosperity and security on both sides of the Atlantic.
Welcome, Ambassador Tsunis. As a proud Greek-American, taking on this new role must be a kind of coming home. What has this appointment, and its timing, meant for you?
It is the honor of a lifetime for me to return to my roots here in Greece and serve my country as the US Ambassador. And I cannot think of a better time to do so. The US-Greece relationship has never been stronger nor more consequential, especially as we face a myriad of challenges that will require our close cooperation, from Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine to the threat of climate change and our efforts to promote a strong economic recovery after a prolonged pandemic.
when the United States and Greece work together, the entire region benefits
Since day one, you have had to hit the ground running, navigating a grueling schedule of commitments including the historic visit of Prime Minister Mitsotakis to the United States. What were the key takeaways from that experience?
I was honored to join Prime Minister Mitsotakis on his historic visit to Washington. That visit underscored the unwavering support the United States has for Greece—from President Biden, a lifelong friend of Greece who is personally committed to this relationship, on down. There were two key messages I would like to emphasize from the visit that really encapsulate my priorities for my tenure as Ambassador.
The first message, from President Biden and all of our leadership, was crystal clear: The United States stands with Greece. As custodians of democracy, the United States and Greece are at the forefront of the struggle between democratic values, born right here in Athens, and the voices of tyranny and authoritarianism. Our collective response today will determine the future of our world tomorrow. We have a sacred obligation to foster democratic ideals and stand united against these forces of darkness that seek to overturn the international rules-based order upon which our collective security and prosperity is based.
The second message I would highlight is from Prime Minister Mitsotakis’ meeting with President Biden and his address to a joint session of Congress, that “Greece is back,” and that it is a strong partner and source of solutions in the world. We have a collective obligation to protect the public’s health, welfare, and safety, and to pave the way for growth, innovation, and prosperity for all. That is why our joint efforts to drive the energy transition, promote sustainable new industries, and foster innovation in technology and healthcare are so critical.
The US-Greece relationship is indeed at a historic high. Where do you think it goes from here?
I am proud of all we have accomplished together—and much of this would not have been possible without our great partnership with the American-Hellenic Chamber of Commerce. Yet though we have indeed come far together, there is room for us to further deepen our cooperation or, to use the wonderful Greek term, synergia, which I think comes much closer to the spirit of what I am getting at. Our work together strengthens our collective success and security on both sides of the Atlantic. I am personally committed to building on the great foundation and momentum of this relationship, strengthening our economic ties, deepening the cooperation of our countries’ armed forces, and working together to address the challenges we face. And I look forward to doing that together with our partners in the Greek government, in AmCham, in civil society, working with the strong Greek American diaspora, and the public at large.
As Greece seems to be attracting an ever-growing number of major US companies, what are your thoughts on the sharp uptick in transatlantic investment recently, and how can this momentum be sustained?
The strong growth in US investments in Greece, defying a global pandemic that has challenged all our economies, is very exciting to see. AmCham’s dynamic members are fueling this growth across a variety of sectors. Enormous investments by top US firms, including Microsoft, Amazon Web Services, Digital Realty, JPMorgan, Cisco, Pfizer, and Deloitte, to name just a few, are showing the world that Greece is back. In my short time here, I have already been able to see the significant, positive impact that US investments have on the Greek economy and society, from the Peloponnese to Thessaloniki.
More and more American companies are calling Greece home. And one of my top priorities as Ambassador is to work with our partners and friends throughout the Greek government and industry to build on this great momentum and encourage even more investments and opportunities to strengthen our countries’ economic ties. Our partnership will result in greater prosperity not just for our two countries. When the United States and Greece work together, the entire region benefits. Now that we have major US firms demonstrating successful investments in Greece, testament to the extraordinary value proposition Greece offers, I know that others will follow.
we take the US-Greece relationship to new heights
and support Greece’s ambitions and potential as a regional leader and source of prosperity
Which are the key industries and areas to keep an eye on?
Looking ahead, I see technology, energy, and tourism as the main sectors where we can achieve even greater investments that create high-quality, sustainable jobs. Greece is going to continue to attract leading tech firms, for example, those seeking to acquire innovative Greek tech startups, as we have seen with companies like ThinkSilicon, or the recent announcement that California-based Power Factors would acquire Inaccess, a provider of software solutions for renewable energy systems. Opportunities in green energy and energy efficiency will only grow as Greece implements its national climate plan and invests in upgrades to its electricity grid. We have US leaders like 547 Energy, Oracle, and Tesla already engaged in this space, and more will follow.
There’s also strong interest and potential in healthcare and biopharma investments, if the right structural reforms and incentives are put in place. This is an area where AmCham’s healthcare committees can play a key role to design and recommend policies that would create an attractive investment environment for innovative biopharma firms. The pandemic clearly demonstrated that the healthcare industry can swiftly innovate to respond to our most urgent challenges when the right incentives are in place.
Finally, I would emphasize the strong potential for growth in the tourism and hospitality sectors. For the second year in a row, we are welcoming a record number of direct US flights to Greece, bringing a record number of American tourists. We are already seeing the positive impact of American tourists this year, and related investments, for example by US hotel chains. This is not just great news for both of our economies, but these visits and investments further drive and strengthen the remarkable ties and shared values of our peoples.
I also look forward to promoting more investment opportunities in the United States for Greek companies. We have already seen successes such as Sunlight Systems’ and Hellenic Cables’ investments in the US, and I know we can do more.
How do you see the role of the American-Hellenic Chamber of Commerce in all this?
First of all, I would like to congratulate AmCham Greece on its 90th anniversary. It is remarkable to see how this organization, started in 1932, has grown to include over 750 companies and staked a reputation as one of the largest and most dynamic American Chambers in Europe. AmChamGR’s brand embodies credibility, as evidenced by its extraordinary convening power through important fora such as the Southeast Europe Energy Forum and the Greek Economic Summit, which attract participation by top business executives and government leaders from both sides of the Atlantic. It is evident in the policy advocacy work that AmChamGR’s committees do on behalf of member companies across sectors from tourism to energy and pharmaceuticals. I also applaud AmCham Greece for its efforts to build closer ties with partner Chambers across the Eastern Mediterranean and the Balkans, strongly complementing the Greek government’s forward-leaning economic diplomacy. The Chamber recognizes, as I have emphasized, that Greece is a gateway to the region. American companies will invest more if they see that Greece is part of a larger market of over 40 million people in southeastern Europe, and AmChamGR is poised to help its members capitalize on those investment opportunities.
The Chamber has proven time and time again to be a steadfast and indispensable partner of the Embassy’s showcasing the best of what the United States has to offer. Its work continues to fortify Greece’s role as a leader in digitization, renewable energy, and innovation. I am looking forward to continuing to strengthen the partnership between AmChamGR and the US Embassy, as together we take the US-Greece relationship to new heights and support Greece’s ambitions and potential as a regional leader and source of prosperity.