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Balkan odyssey

Greeks have a high tolerance of political risk, which should give them an edge when competing for business with their volatile neighbours. Hoping to enter monetary union in the second wave, Greece is set become a powerhouse in "its natural backyard". Rebecca Bream reports.

Bigger, but not necessarily better

Greece is looking in all directions to expand its influence and markets abroad. Not only pursuing the goal of being at the heart of Europe, in the last few years Greece has also turned its attention to its Balkan neighbours and eastward into the former Soviet Union. These areas present tremendous potential for Greek businesses as the markets are largely undeveloped or served by outmoded local providers. Romania alone has a population of 23 million and is often cited by business leaders as the most promising new market.

"It is a logical ambition for Greece to be the leader in the Balkans," says Jeremy Downward, executive director at Alpha Finance. "Greek Emu membership will be the pole of stability for the rest of the region, little by little the security issues in the Balkans will be resolved," says Ben Ghalmi at Alliance Capital in the US.

Many international companies are beginning to invest in this region - banks from Daiwa to Pictet are setting up country funds - but Greek firms have geographical and cultural advantages when it comes to exploiting these markets.

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