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Address by Governor Yannis Stournaras to the staff of the Bank of Greece at the New Year ceremony

15/01/2024 - Speeches

Dear colleagues,

2024 is an important year for us at the Bank of Greece and the other national central banks of the euro area, which together with the European Central Bank make up the Eurosystem. Twenty-five years ago, on 1 January 1999, eleven EU Member States joined Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) and adopted the euro as their common currency. One and a half years later, in June 2000, the decision was taken to admit Greece to the euro area, proving wrong those who questioned the country’s ability to meet the five convergence criteria and qualify for EMU participation. Actually, our country managed to catch up with preparations for the cash changeover and thus, in January 2002, the euro banknotes and coins were put into circulation in Greece simultaneously with the other euro area Member States.

For all of us working at the Bank of Greece, the word “Eurosystem” in the bank’s logo has become an integral part of our identity, an identity we share with thousands of our colleagues from the ECB and the national central banks of the euro area. We are not just the human resources of the Eurosystem. Collectively, we are the guardians of the single currency, the euro, and we work together for the common good of the people of the euro area, so that 350 million Europeans can ultimately enjoy greater prosperity with the euro. Towards our fellow citizens, we have undertaken to keep a watchful eye over monetary and financial stability. Our actions are guided by a set of core values: credibility, stability, trust, transparency and accountability. In fulfilling our mandate, we work with independence, full compliance with the institutional framework and team spirit.

I reassert these principles particularly for new colleagues to hear and embrace. After all, as has been said in the past, “we, the older generation of employees, hand down the tradition of virtue and duty to the younger generation, and we all pledge that this tradition will live on”. Following the efforts we have made at the Bank of Greece in recent years to replenish the workforce as older cohorts retired, new colleagues have now become an important and dynamic part of the Bank’s family. In the past year alone, the number of new recruits came close to 10% of the Bank’s total headcount. We should all bear in mind that the Bank of Greece is not only one of the top ten attractive employers in Greece, as relevant surveys keep confirming, but also a highly demanding organisation.

At this point, I would like to share with you my personal feelings about today’s anniversary, as my professional career, and I would also say my personal life, has been inextricably linked with the birth, initially, and then with perhaps the most difficult part of the most ambitious European project since the creation of the European Union: the euro.

I had the opportunity to participate in the negotiations on Greece’s EMU entry, in my capacity as Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors at the Ministry of Economy and Finance, as well as a member of the Monetary Committee of the European Communities in 1994-2000. As I have said before, Greece’s entry into the euro area in 2001 has been, in my view, the greatest achievement in the country’s recent economic history, as an official confirmation of the country’s European orientation and place at the centre of European developments.

Similarly, as Minister of Finance in 2012-2014 and, subsequently, as Governor of the Bank of Greece and member of the ECB Governing Council, I found myself in the maelstrom of the most severe economic and financial crisis that had hit the euro, a crisis which, for our country in particular, even threatened its very participation in the European Union.

I am happy to see that the sacrifices of our fellow citizens in the difficult years of the crisis, together with the unprecedented support of our European partners, as well as the reforms and responsible policies of governments, have paid off. The return of Greece to investment grade in the past year marks the return to normality and the beginning of a new effort to increase the Greek people’s prosperity.

2024 will be a year of hope but also of challenges, such as those posed by the climate crisis and geopolitical uncertainty. Yet, all the great challenges I can think of require more Europe, not less. There will be no definitive response to the new major challenges without closer and deeper fiscal integration, completion of the banking union and creation of a genuine capital markets union.

I am even happier this year, as I am addressing you after the highly successful organisation of the ECB Governing Council meeting at the Bank of Greece last October. In my previous New Year speech, I expressed my confidence that all of us would do our best to ensure impeccable organisation and offer our colleagues the hospitality that our country is famous for. Indeed, in the past year, the Deputy Governors, managers and staff of the Bank worked systematically and methodically to prepare the event.

It goes without saying that I owe a debt of gratitude to all of you. Rather than repeating here my thanks, let me just convey the views of my colleagues at the ECB Governing Council, who recognised that the Athens meeting was not only the most successful ever in the ECB’s history, but has also set a bar high for similar events in the future. This demonstrates once again that, if we work with determination, coordination, continuity, consistency and perseverance, we can meet even the greatest challenges. But it also attests to the respect and trust we enjoy among our colleagues in the Eurosystem, through our active participation in its committees and decision-making bodies.

I would like to thank you, once again, for your diligence and commitment with which you performed your duties in 2023, and I urge you to keep up the very good work this year, too.

I wish you all a happy, healthy and prosperous new year!

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