Greece has seen considerable benefits from EU membership but has now fallen deep into debt
Most of Greece is mountainous. The mainland is dominated by the rugged Pindus Mountains, which extend from the northern border to the hand-shaped peninsula of the Peloponnese. The main lowland areas are the plains in the north-east along the Aegean coast. Greece's coastline is highly indented so the country is penetrated from all directions by the sea. Around one-fifth of the territory consists of two thousand or more islands, the largest of which is Crete, to the south.
The country is subject to regular earthquakes, one of which in 1999 killed 150 people. A more beneficial natural phenomenon is sunshine which allows Greece to use Europe's greatest surface area of solar panels.
Officially, the population is almost entirely ethnic Greek, though it can also be considered a mixture of the many different groups that have arrived from neighbouring countries, including Turkey, Macedonia, Albania, and Bulgaria. Greeks may not be rich but they have been relatively long-lived—thanks to a healthy diet.
Greece continues to be a country of emigration and immigration. Emigration was still continuing to richer countries of the EU in the 1990s, notably to Germany. But many people are also arriving. The break-up of the Soviet Union encouraged more than 60,000 ethnic Greeks to move to Greece. There are also around 500,000 unauthorized immigrants, mostly from Albania. Around 9% of the population are foreign born.
Around 10% of the population still work in agriculture, but only one-quarter of the land is cultivable, and since the soil is poor and there is not much rain, yields are often low. The coastal plains are used for the cultivation of major cereal crops and sugar beet as well as cash crops such as cotton and tobacco. Greece is also a major producer of olives, tomatoes, grapes, and other fruits.
Although the fishing industry declined in the 1990s because of an ageing fleet and over-fishing, the sea catch now seems to be growing again, as is fish farming in which Greece is Europe's largest producer.
For a European country, industry is underdeveloped. Greece has few minerals, apart from lignite, and its manufacturing tends to be small-scale. Even so, wages have risen in recent decades and some of the simpler industries such as garments and textiles have migrated to poorer neighbouring countries.
Many of the larger industrial activities are controlled by the state, either owned directly or through state-owned banks.
Historically, one of the most successful industries has been shipping. Greece owns around one-sixth of the global fleet, 3,300 vessels, typically bulk carriers, though most of these sail under other flags using foreign—and cheaper—crews. Now that Greece has joined the euro, more of the earnings from shipping are being invested at home.
More tourists than its population
Another important source of foreign exchange has been tourism—an industry that employs 18% of the labour force and contributes a similar proportion to GDP. With many historical sites, and spectacular scenery and beaches on its many islands, Greece often attracts around 12 million visitors each year. While these are welcome the sheer numbers have been causing environmental damage.