Fletcher School hosts conference to discuss Greece and the future of Europe

James Stavridis, dean of the Fletcher School, poses for a portrait in front of Fletcher on Oct. 12. (Colin Murphy / The Tufts Daily)

Fletcher students are gathering this weekend for a conference with foreign leaders, historians and CEOs to discuss the economic, political and social issues affecting Greece, as well as Greece’s role in the Eurozone. Attendees are gathering at Breed Memorial Hall for the conference, titled “Greece’s Turn? Litmus Test for Europe.”

Organized by the Institute for Business in the Global Context (IBGC) at Fletcher, the two-day conference began yesterday with a closed-door session. Today’s programming includes panel discussions featuring former Prime Minister of Greece Lucas PapademosAlternate Minister of Finance of Greece George Chouliarakis and the former Minister of Education and Religious Affairs of Greece Constantine Arvanitopoulos.

According to Bhaskar Chakravorti, Fletcher’s senior associate dean of international business and finance, these speakers, along with a variety of others, will take a multi-faceted approach to discussing and dealing with issues facing Greece, a county whose national debt is currently at approximately 400 billion USD.

Chakravorti said this conference is part of a series of conferences that aim to examine a country going through a period of profound change, all organized by the IBGC. The previous conference covered issues affecting Turkey during a period of turmoil and military conflict.

“[It was] an interesting conversation to see if Turkey could get itself out of its political mess and be a source of stability and reliability within the region,” Chakravorti said. “[These conferences] try to understand what is going on, the underlying dynamics at play and underlying issues.”

He explained that “Greece’s Turn?” will look at multiple crises taking place in Europe and how they relate to Greece, and noted that a large part of this year’s conference involves how individual businesses can help troublesome economies, extending beyond the politics and conflicts within the country.

“The European crisis has sort of been unfolding,” he said. “There are multiple crises layered on top of each other.  There has been an economic crisis, with countries like Greece defaulting on their debt, [and] there have been crises relating to migrants from the Middle East and North Africa, [as well as] crises related to terrorism.”

Chakravorti added that the issues facing Greece are central to the general stability of Europe.

“[Greece will be] an early indicator of a lot of the challenges that Europe will be facing,” he said.

According to Chakravorti, the presence of Greek officials this weekend makes this conference notable, as he hopes they will be able to offer recommendations and advice for policymakers, business leaders and investors both in Greece and throughout the world.

Yannis Ioannides, one of the faculty chairs of the conference, said he hopes the conference brings the issue of modernization to the forefront of discussions surrounding solutions to problems in Greece.

“Greece needs to modernize its institutions, modernize its markets and basically make it easier for investment to take place [because] there cannot be any growth without investments, let alone foreign investments,” Ioannides said.

Chakravorti also touched on the role of the private sector in improving the situation in Greece.

“People do not appreciate enough the role that business plays,” he said. “This is something that [we] are hoping to highlight in the conference. The solutions that can help countries like Greece are not just in the hands of politicians or international agencies. Some of the solutions could be with the folks who build business. A lot of economic growth comes from the private sector.”

Ioannides hopes this conference will help bring attention to the Greek government the “colossal mistake” they made in not seeking advice from specialists and experts to address economic and political problems.

“There is something to be learned from broaching the subject in a scientific and scholarly context,” he said.

Another topic covered at this conference is Brexit, and the discussion that has followed in Greece about the possibility of leaving the Eurozone, according to Fletcher School Dean James Stavridis.

“Brexit is a dark cloud hanging over Europe,” he said. “It is unfortunate that Britain has chosen to leave the European Union (EU) at this time, because it will lead to the further erosion of the European community.”

Chakravorti explained that the United Kingdom’s decision to withdraw from the EU has led some politicians in other countries to consider withdrawing as well. One panel during this conference specifically addresses the question of whether Greece should consider leaving the EU. 

Chakravorti added that all of these issues relating to Greece and its economic and political decisions are crucial to the EU as a whole, which is the second largest economy in the world. In this way, the struggles of Greece can and already have had global impacts. 

The future of Greece is central to human civilization because a lot of what is happening in Greece and its connections with the European Union could determine the future of the EU,” he said. 

Stavridis also emphasized that Greece’s geographic location also makes its future crucial to that of many other countries.

“[Greece occupies] a very important geopolitical location on the corner of Europe that is the closest to the Arab Spring and closest to a challenging situation in Turkey,” he said. “It is an outpost at the edge of Europe, at the edge of the NATO alliance and at the edge of [the] EU.”

Stavridis further explained that this conference is particularly important because it comes at a moment when many European countries are approaching elections. He believes a unified Europe would be a much better partner and ally to the United States.

“It is important to keep the conversation going in order to keep Europe together,” he said.

Chakravorti also noted that it is important to pay attention to issues like these, as they also connect to American politics.

“We know that there are other things going on in the world but only when it really affects us, [when] something happens at home,” he said. 

Chakravorti added that the most important part of the conference’s title is the question mark, because he feels it will raise more questions than it answers, spurring ground for discussion on the issues at hand.