TIF 2022: a manifold venture plans ahead

by Antonis D. Papagiannidis

The Thessaloniki International Fair (the 86th of a long series since it started in 1926 – with breaks in wartime – and hopes to celebrate its centennial with an opening of its planned new locale) is the traditional venue for the country’s political system to engage in ritual infighting over economic policies for the year ahead. The 2022 TIF was true to form in that respect. One could track plans for support to households and businesses in their crossing of the (energy) desert ahead; longer-term designs for younger generation access to house ownership; reclaiming of collective bargaining in industrial relations; seeking a way out from energy dependence through prosumer-built renewables.

But those looking at Greece under an angle of “country risk” of its beleaguered economy surely felt the shock of the political row unleashed by accusations that a number of political alliances which might result from the urns – at the left side of the political spectrum – would amount to no less than “political monstrosity”. Greek public opinion may be largely immune to strong language of this sort; foreign Greece-watchers, who have had their fill of recent negative international media coverage of the Greek situation due to a Secret Service eavesdropping scandal underway, are getting restless. The fact that Moody’s and DBRS have kept their ratings for the Greek economy at stable (three clicks away from investment grade for Moody’s; one for DBRS) while the Greek economy is overperforming many Euroarea economies nowadays may have to do something with this.

It would be unfair, though, to limit the impact of the 2022 TIF to such inward-looing tussles. Coming after two years of unavoidable pause or mostly digital presence due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Thessaloniki Fair was successful both in looking forward to some sort of future for the country and its prospects and in pursuing the efforts for further opening of the Greek economy. As for the latter, the 2022 TIF had as its Honoured Country the United Arab Emirates – the first time for a country representative of the Arab World to join China (2017), the USA (2018), or India (2019) in the Honoured Country institution. The presence of the UAE was intended to go further than cultural displays of falconry or local folklore – that really got the interest of the crowd (from children fascinated by hooded falcons and up to visiting PM Mitsotakis). According to TIF officials, B to B meeting were numerous – and not limited to sectors like tourism or real estate, but also touching agricultural JVs and tech-based opportunities.

In a neighbouring pavilion one could track the burgeoning course of University research teams and of start-ups engaging in all sorts of tech projects – from electric car prototypes to rockets and UAVs, but also from biology innovation partnering with pharma majors to algorithm-building working with global financial entities or orchestrating human-computer chess-playing. A most welcome change in the behavior pattern of exhibition team participants: while in earlier TIF presentations professors and senior researchers led the pack of communication, this time around students and members of the research teams carried the day – along with start-up dreamers.

So, TIF/Helexpo is entitled to look ahead to its radical revamping over the next three-to-five years that promise to turn it into a model event for the whole of Eastern Mediterranean and SouthEastern Europe; at the same time an important part of the land occupied in the centre of Thessaloniki will be freed to civic uses and an overall environmental upgrade.