Is Greece Europe’s new PPP centre of gravity?

This month the Government of Greece is holding a roadshow event as it looks to kickstart a 50-project PPP pipeline. But how will it attract investors that have so far kept their distance?

“The message is: this is a very interesting market. There are opportunities. The Greek government is very keen to bring in investors,” says Marcos Martinez, head of the PPP advisory unit at European Bank of Reconstruction and Development (EBRD).

This month, Martinez, alongside the Greek government, will present the start of a major project pipeline of PPPs which could put Greece right at the centre of the global PPP industry.

The country has been building up to this moment for some time, with the first legislation being passed in 2005. But so far Western investors have generally only been interested in a few, large-scale road, airport and occasionally waste projects. However, the set-up is different now and there are hopes this latest roadshow will whet the appetite of a range of European and global market players.

“The current government has a huge commitment in PPPs, and they are really committed to moving things forward,” says Maria Tzanidaki, principal manager at the EBRD’s PPP advisory unit and manager of the Greek Project Preparation Facility (GPPF).

Alongside this commitment, the cornerstones of a successful programme - such as the legislation - are already in place: “The PPP Unit is very competent and very committed, they’re on top of everything,” she adds.

The hard work setting up this enabling environment has led to this critical moment.

“In London, the purpose of the roadshow is to present to mainly international and Western investors what we’re doing - the potential opportunities in Greece,” says Martinez. “To bring their attention to the market.”

Since 2021, the EBRD has been advising the country on the GPPF, a major advisory framework aimed at scaling up the capacity of the Greek state to procure its pipeline.

Currently, the team is working on around 10 PPP projects, seven of which will be presented this month, covering the water, social and urban regeneration sectors.

“There are more coming,” Martinez says, pointing to a further 40 that the Greek state is working on across its various ministries - again, some of which will be presented to investors at the meeting.

Some people would question whether Greece is biting off more than it can chew by procuring so many projects all at once: on one day alone in September the government tendered a whopping €958m-worth of PPPs.

“That is one of the issues we are trying to help the government with by providing that capacity,” says Martinez.

The GPPF is doing so by using a €20m pot to procure advisors and prepare projects for the Greek government to approve and tender. So far it has put together six teams of legal, technical and financial advisors that can be “mobilised quickly to projects”.

The capacity question goes both ways, too: Martinez points out that the entire point of this exercise is to enable Greece to access the scaling capacity of the international private sector market.

“So far, [private sector involvement] has been concentrated by local contractors and local banks, and there is a big pipeline coming. It is to the benefit of the public sector to get more competition and companies interested, and also to bring foreign investment,” he explains.

With such a big pipeline of contracts coming down the line, investors will surely be watching with keen interest. But Greece is not the easiest market to move straight into. Unique factors such as a heavy focus on archaeological considerations and legislative differences will require skill to navigate.

Bringing together local expertise with international best practice and scaling capacity is something the EBRD has been keen to foster.

“There are many little things that make these projects very local, we definitely need a local perspective coupled with the international experience,” says Tzanidaki. “It has been a prerequisite to have contact with local contractors.”

This may be a useful piece of advice to firms contemplating joining the market; but while there are local challenges, there are also local benefits.

“The beauty of Greece is they have the capacity to blend EU funding, which is something other EU countries are not that capable of doing,” says Martinez, pointing to their examples of mechanisms that have blended structural funds and other area funds into PPPs and private financing of projects.

The impact of this blending cannot be overstated: “By doing that, they can do many more projects and receive a lot of value for money,” he adds. “They have a very interesting and smart model.”

With the political, financial and enabling environments all in place, Greece could become one of Europe’s, if not the world’s, major PPP hotspots.

But achieving that goal will require one more thing, as Martinez underlines: “It needs the supply side to respond.”

The roadshow event will take place, in person only, on 24 November 2022 in London. For more information click here.