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Country Profile

Area: 131,990 sq km
Population: 10.94 million (2001 census estimate), 11.306 million (2010 estimate)
Capital City: Athens (population approximately 3.7 million)
People: 98% Greek with Muslim minority comprising Turkic people, Pomaks and Muslim Roma. NB: The Greek government states there are no other ethnic minorities in Greece.
Languages: Greek 99% (official)
Religions: Greek Orthodox 98%, Muslim 1.3%, other 0.7%
Currency: euro (EUR)
Major political parties: Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK); party leader George Papandreou. New Democracy (ND - conservative); party leader Antonis Samaras. Coalition of the Left and Progress (Synaspismos – left-wing); party leader Alexis Tsipras. Communist Party of Greece (KKE); party leader Aleka Papariga. Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS); party leader George Karatzaferis. Democratic Alliance: party leader Dora Bakoyannis. Democratic Left: party leader Fotis Kouvelis.
Government: Greece is a parliamentary democracy. Universal direct suffrage for those over the age of 18. Executive power rests in the 300 member Greek Parliament (Vouli). An interim National Unity Government was appointed on 11 November 2011, comprising the parties of PASOK, New Democracy and LAOS.
Head of State: President Karolos Papoulias
Prime Minister: Lucas Papademos
Membership of international groups/organisations: European Union (joined the EC in 1981; Greece held the Presidency of the EU from January to June 2003), North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) (joined in 1952), United Nations (UN), International Monetary Fund (IMF), Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Member of the Council of Europe. Member of The Organisation of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC).

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Basic Economic Facts:
GDP: 299.7 billion US$ (2011)
GDP per head: 26,423 US$ (at PPP 2011)
Real GDP growth: -7% (2011)
Consumer price inflation (2008 av): (av;%; EU harmonised measure): 3.1% (2011)
Public debt (as % of GDP): 162.5% (2011)
Trade Balance: -38,256 million US$ (2011)
Major products/industries: tourism, shipping, construction, food and tobacco processing, textiles, chemicals, metal products, mining and petroleum products.
Major trading partners: Italy, Germany, Bulgaria, Russia, UK

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The city states of classical Greece bequeathed to Europe concepts of political democracy and a high literary culture which remained enormously influential even after their subjugation by Rome in 146 BC. When the Roman Empire was divided, in 395 AD, the Greek lands became part of the Empire of the East the capital of which was, Constantinople. During the medieval period, relations between the Byzantine Empire and Western Europe were soured by religious dissent between the Latin and Orthodox Churches, which culminated in the Great Schism of 1054, and by the sack and occupation of Constantinople in 1204 by Franks and Venetians during the Fourth Crusade. Constantinople was captured by Muslim Turks in 1453.

Modern Greece, as an independent national entity, came into being after a protracted independence struggle against the Ottoman Empire. This became a popular cause in Western Europe, and one of the so-called 'Philhellenes' who fought for Greek liberty was the English poet, Lord Byron, who died at Messolongi in western Greece in 1824. Greek freedom fighters first proclaimed Greek independence in 1822, but the Ottoman government resisted this vigorously until after their defeat at the Battle of Navarino in 1827, when Russia, England and France combined to destroy the Ottoman navy. In 1829 the Great Powers established one Kingdom of Greece which was finally recognised as an independent state in 1830. Its territory was limited initially to the Peloponnese and the area to the south of the Gulf of Volo. During the 19th and early 20th centuries, as a result of increasing Ottoman weakness, Greece succeeded in greatly extending its territory but had difficulty in maintaining political and financial stability. The Greek State aspired to unite under Greek government all the neighbouring lands where the majority of the population was Greek-speaking.

For Greece the 20th century brought an auspicious start followed by a series of disasters. By 1912-13, Greece had almost completed a process of nation-building, modernisation and territorial expansion – the latter chiefly at the expense of the Ottoman Empire. Its territory had grown by almost 70% compared to the late 19th century and her population rose from 2,800,000 to 4,800,000. During the First World War, Greece was at first neutral but joined forces with the Allies against the Axis Powers in 1917. The Allied negotiation of a post-war peace settlement with the defeated Ottoman Government offered Greece an opportunity to claim more territory. Greece also tried to keep open the future of Constantinople (Istanbul) by making it an international city. But this and other Allied plans for the dismemberment of Anatolia aroused fierce opposition among Turkish nationalists. They rejected the 1920 Peace Treaty of Sèvres, which would have fulfilled almost all of Greece’s nationalist aspirations. Greece had been given Allied permission to occupy Smyrna (modern Izmir) in May 1919 and its Army there now received orders to advance into the interior to attack the still badly organised Turkish nationalist army commanded by Mustafa Kemal (later known as Ataturk).

What became known to the Greeks as the 'Asia Minor catastrophe' convulsed Greek political life for years after. In 1922 the Greek army was defeated, Smyrna destroyed and large numbers of Asia Minor Greeks were expelled from Turkey. In Greece itself, there was an army coup. Five political leaders and the Commander-in-Chief of the Army were tried and executed, and the King was deposed. The territorial gains envisaged for Greece in the Treaty of Sèvres were not confirmed by the 1923 Peace Treaty of Lausanne. The simultaneous agreement that Turkey and Greece should exchange their respective minority populations added some 1.3 million near-destitute refugees to an existing Greek population of only 5 million, and exacerbated Greece’s economic problems. After ten years of republicanism, the monarchy was restored in 1935, but the King’s acceptance in 1936 of a fascist–type dictatorship under General Metaxas resulted in a damaging split between monarchists and supporters of parliamentary democracy.

The outbreak of World War Two brought further misfortunes. The Italians invaded Greece in October 1940 but were thrown back into Albania. The Germans overran Greece in April 1941 and forced the evacuation of British defence forces in Greece. From 1942, with British support and participation, rival non-communist and communist groups maintained a guerrilla war against the Germans until the liberation of Athens in October 1944. Full-scale civil war then broke out in December 1944 between the Communists and their allies and Monarchists and other non-communists lasting, with a brief interval from January 1945 to May 1946, until October 1949 when the Communist forces were finally defeated. Ordinary Greeks suffered terrible privations, and the left-right divisions created by this conflict are still felt in Greek political life today.

In 1947 the USA had pledged itself under the Truman doctrine to support Greek economic reconstruction, and to prevent Greece from passing under the control of the Soviet Union. Greece joined NATO in 1952. A period of relative political stability and economic reconstruction followed, but in the early sixties this gave way to rising political tension. From July 1965 there was a period of unstable governments and intense political strife, mainly centring on the role and position of the royal family, and culminating in April 1967 in a military coup followed by the establishment of a military dictatorship. In December 1967 King Constantine was forced to leave Greece after an unsuccessful counter-coup.

Civilian government was not restored until July 1974, after the military junta fell as a result of its unsuccessful coup in Cyprus against President Makarios, which prompted the Turkish invasion of the island. The former Prime Minister Constantine Karamanlis returned from exile to form a Government of National Unity and, in a referendum of December 1974, the Greek people voted against a return to constitutional monarchy. A new republican constitution was promulgated in 1975. In January 1981 Greece became a full member of the EEC, now the European Union.. Greece was in the first wave of EU Member States to adopt the Euro in 2001.

In May 2010 Greece agreed a memorandum of understanding with Eurozone member states and the IMF over a financial rescue package. Triggered by international fears over Greece’s rising public debt and growing budget deficit, the agreed economic adjustment programme was accompanied by a loan of €110bn.

The May 2010 package failed to stabilise the Greek economy. A further loan amounting to €130bn was agreed between the ‘Troika’ (European Commission/IMF/ECB) and the Greek Government on 23 February 2012. Under the terms of the second agreement the Greek Government entered into an intensified programme of fiscal adjustment and structural reform. A team of Troika officials - the Task Force for Greece (based in Athens and Brussels) - work alongside the Government of Greece to facilitate technical assistance to the Greek reform programme.


Greece is a parliamentary democracy based on the 1975 Constitution, which marked the passage from a seven-year military regime (1967-74) to parliamentary rule. The 1975 Constitution gave extensive powers to Parliament and the Prime Minister but left some authority with the President of the Republic, especially at times of government instability. It was revised in 1986 by former PM Andreas Papandreou, who strengthened the position of Prime Minister and Parliament.

From 1974 Greek political life was dominated by Constantine Karamanlis and Andreas Papandreou, who personified not only the 'conservative' and 'progressive' elements of the political spectrum but also the opposite ends of most of the major dilemmas facing Greek society at the time (joining the EEC, staying in NATO etc). Karamanlis founded New Democracy, the main Conservative Party (although he retired from politics in 1985, Karamanlis remained a key figure in Greek politics until his death in April 1998). Papandreou founded PASOK (Pan hellenic Socialist Movement). Since 1980 these two parties have dominated the political scene, alternating in power.

Longer Historical Perspective

BBC Timeline of Greece (

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Greece’s relations with her neighbours

Greece joined NATO in 1952 and the EC (now the EU) in 1981. The main thrust of Greece’s foreign policy in recent years has been consolidating her position in the EU, although Greece’s relations with her immediate neighbours (the Balkans, Turkey and Cyprus) often dominate her foreign policy.


Since Greece won her independence in 1830 from the Turkish Ottoman Empire, there have been problems in the relationship between the two neighbours. Greece and Turkey disagree over rights to the Aegean continental shelf, the extent of Greek airspace and territorial waters in the Aegean Sea and regarding sovereignty over certain rocky islets. Bilateral exploratory contacts at official level aimed at reaching an agreement are ongoing. There are also issues concerning the treatment of the Greek minority in Turkey and the Muslim minority in Greece.

However, the situation has significantly improved. From June 1999, the then Greek Foreign Minister, George Papandreou, and his Turkish counterpart, Ismail Cem, pursued an active policy of rapprochement. This led to the signing of nine bilateral agreements covering a range of areas for co-operation e.g. tourism and the environment. This détente was greatly facilitated by the ‘earthquake diplomacy’ of 1999; each country in turn suffered serious earthquakes in late summer, and large mutual aid donations helped to thaw relations. The better relationship between Greece and Turkey was a major factor in enabling EU member states to award candidate status (with a view to eventual EU membership) to Turkey at the Helsinki European Council in December 1999. This put Turkey’s relationship with the EU and Greece on a new footing. Greece supports the European Council decision in December 2004 on opening accession negotiations with Turkey on 3 October 2005, subject to the relevant criteria having been met. Since 2005, Greek-Turkish relations have taken on a more positive direction, although Aegean-related problems remain and the exploratory talks continue. In May 2010, Turkish PM Erdogan visited Greece. The two leaders agreed to establish a joint High Level Co-operation Council and signed 21 agreements.


Achieving a political settlement in Cyprus remains a key concern of Greece’s foreign policy. The Greek government supports a solution to the Cyprus problem on the basis of a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation. Negotiations on the island started on 3 September 2008. Following this, the former ND Greek Prime Minister, and Greek Foreign Minister made statements issuing their support to the negotiation process between the two communities. This support continues under PASOK.

The Balkans

Because of geography and traditional trade links, Greece has a special interest in the Balkans area, and is keen to develop her role as a bridge between the EU and the Balkans. Because of a sense of fellowship with Orthodox Serbia, anti-Western sentiment for historic reasons, fear of regional instability and concern at the disruption of economic and political ties with the then Former Republic of Yugoslavia, there was strong popular opposition to NATO action in Kosovo in the first half of 1999. Communist-led demonstrations especially in Thessaloniki, where NATO troops disembarked, produced some violent clashes. But the Greek government at the time steered a skilful path between Greek public opinion and Greece’s commitments as an EU Member State and NATO ally.

Despite continued Greek sensitivities over the use of the name ‘Macedonia’ (which is the name of a region of Northern Greece), relations with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) have greatly improved over recent years. Greek companies have made major investments in FYROM. Talks under UN auspices to resolve the name dispute are ongoing.

With an Albanian immigrant population of approximately 600,000 now living in Greece, and an indigenous though declining Greek minority in Southern Albania, ties between Greece and Albania are close, although historically difficult. Relations have improved with exchanges of visit by Prime Ministers and government officials. A series of tripartite meetings between the Prime Ministers of Greece, Albania and FYROM, introduced in the summer of 1999, explored the possibilities of regional cooperation and diffusing potential tensions.

At the Thessaloniki European Council in June 2003, under the Greek presidency, EU leaders reiterated their determination to fully support the European perspective of the Western Balkan countries.

Greece’s Relations with the UK

The UK and Greece enjoy a close bilateral relationship. There is much common ground between our two countries, and a long historical association dating back to the Greek War of Independence. The EU is the chief forum for co-operation; the UK and Greece are also NATO allies. Among our shared EU goals is a common determination to implement job-creating economic reform, under the Lisbon agenda. In addition to these political ties, around 2.3million British tourists visit Greece each year, while there are approximately 15,000 Greek students currently in higher education in the UK.

The Greek and British Governments co-operated in the pursuit of the killers of Brigadier Stephen Saunders, the former UK Defence Attaché in Athens who was murdered by the November 17 terrorist group on his way to work on 8 June 2000. A breakthrough against the group occurred in July 2002, and in December 2003, 15 members of the group were sentenced to imprisonment, including all those found guilty of murdering Brigadier Saunders.

The Parthenon Sculptures ('Elgin Marbles')

The sculptures from the Parthenon Temple in Athens were brought to England in the 19th century by Lord Elgin with the permission of the Ottoman authorities, the recognised legitimate authorities at the time. They are housed on public display in the British Museum in London. Successive British Governments have considered the issue of their return to Greece but have determined that it was not within their role to intervene.

In October 2002, Mr Simitis, the then Greek Prime Minister, handed the former British Prime Minister Tony Blair a proposal for a long-term loan of the sculptures. Shortly afterwards, the Greek Culture Minister met Museum officials to discuss the issue. They explained that they were unable to agree to any such loan, but were willing to consider loans of other items. The Greek Culture Minister also met the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, who confirmed that the British Museum was independent of the Government, that the matter was for the Trustees of the Museum, and that the Museum's legal position was sound.

Mr Blair subsequently replied to Mr Simitis' proposal confirming that the issue of a loan of the sculptures was for the Trustees of the British Museum.

Bilateral Meetings

The Prime Minister and his Cabinet colleagues regularly meet their Greek counterparts at multilateral EU meetings. The Foreign Secretary met the former Foreign Minister Stavros Lambrinidis in London on 1 August 2011.

Cultural Relations with the UK

British Council: Greece (

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Greece is located in south-eastern Europe bordering the Aegean Sea, Ionian Sea, and the Mediterranean Sea. Greece shares borders to the east with Turkey and to the north with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), Bulgaria and Albania. The climate is temperate, with mild, wet winters and hot, dry summers.

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Trade and Investment with the UK

Greece is the UK's 34th largest export market (2010 ranking). The value of exports of British goods to Greece was £1.12 billion in 2011, , while Greek imports to the UK stood at £645 million.

The top three exports to Greece in 2010 were Medicinal & Pharmaceutical Products, Beverages and Miscellaneous Manufactured Articles. The top three imports from Greece were Fruit & Vegetables, Electric Machinery & Appliances and Non-Ferrous Metals.

UK Trade & Investment Country Profile: Greece (

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-- Prime Minister: Lucas Papademos (no political affiliation)
-- Deputy Prime Minister: Theodoros Pangalos (PASOK)
-- Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister: Evangelos Venizelos (PASOK)
-- Foreign Minister: Stavros Dimas (New Democracy)
-- Defence Minister: Dimitris Avramopoulos (New Democracy)
-- Interior Minister: Tassos Yannitsis(PASOK)
-- Environment and Energy Minister: George Papaconstantinou (PASOK)
-- Education Minister: Anna Diamantopoulou (PASOK)
-- Culture and Tourism Minister: Pavlos Geroulanos (PASOK)

Political Parties:
In October 2009, the Government centre-left PASOK were elected to a four-year term with an absolute majority of twenty seats. On 11 November 2011 Lucas Papademos replaced George Papandreou as Prime Minister of Greece and formed a new interim National Unity Government comprising of PASOK, New Democracy and LAOS parties and tasked with implementing the decisions of the 26 October Eurozone Summit:

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Last Updated: March 2012

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