Theano Fotiou bw

Theano Fotiou, Alternate Minister for Social Solidarity spoke at the “Inequalities, Neoliberalism and European Integration: progressive responses” Conference (Athens 23-25 November) on “Inequalities and social state in Greece”, outlining government actions on the area of social protection during the past 2.5 years.

As Fotiou pointed out, when the economic crisis broke out in Greece in 2008, it found a country that already had, since the times of prosperity, extremely high inequality rates, the highest among member-states. So, from 2008 to 2015, with the imposition of the memoranda and the policies of austerity, an already bad situation worsened, as the uneven distribution of income went from 33.4% to 34.2%, according to the Hellenic Statistical Authority (ELSTAT) data, while the population at risk of poverty and social exclusion rose from 28.1% in 2008, to 36% 2014 -which means 3,9 million people. In 2015, when SYRIZA took over the government, the country had already lost 25% of its GDP, and unemployment had reached 27%.

As far as welfare is concerned, in 2015 expenditure was at € 780,000.  According to  Fotiou, this amount was doubled to € 1,57 million in 2017 and is expected to reach € 2,57 million in 2019 while the social solidarity portfolio accounts for only 4% of GDP. As the minister stressed, “investment in social services is an investment in growth; we must oppose the neoliberal model which considers that money that goes to social spending does not contribute to growth. Modern studies have shown that social transfers act as a financial multiplier:  each euro for social services increases GDP by 1.03 to 1.68%. I often address the question of whether a portfolio for social solidarity is really necessary during a time of crisis. Those who ask this have not yet understood that social solidarity is about all citizens; not just the vulnerable. You don´t have to chose between addressing the crisis or addressing poverty. On the contrary, you have to confront both by opening up new fields and establishing a welfare state that significantly contributes to development.”

The first law passed by the government in 2015 was the law on the humanitarian crisis, which was inspired by the unprecedented solidarity movement that emerged in Greece during the crisis: hundreds of informal solidarity structures, social clinics, pharmacies, markets without intermediaries, social kitchens, social schools and anti-eviction movements were organized to form an informal, and yet very effective civil society.

The law helps about 400,000 citizens living in extreme poverty. Benefits include prepaid bank cards, 300 kilowatt of free electricity per month, a free electricity reconnection, as well as a rent subsidy credited directly to the owner. In 2016 the law that allowed for 2,5 million uninsured citizens free access to healthcare was voted, as well as the law on free movement of the unemployed. In 2017 the ministry of Ministry of Labour, Social Insurance and Social Solidarity has established the Social Solidarity Income (KEA) scheme, a benefit received by 610,000 citizens that includes services such as food, kindergartens, healthcare, school meals and integration into work of 10% of the unemployed beneficiaries registered with Greek Public Employment Agency (OAED), which amounts to 13,000 jobs. Ten months after its implementation, as minister Fotiou notes, the scheme is deemed a success by the government as well as by lenders.

Overall, according to Fotiou, the third review concluded unexpectedly well, despite the enormous difficulties we experienced during six months. The government, claimed that all money that was saved from the Spending Review (reducing ministries’ expenses like consumables or travel expenses) be allocated exclusively to social benefit expenditure. The lenders approved 325 million of savings and the government allocated 315 of that money to the social benefit expenditure: 260 million for family allowances, 40 million for school meals and 15 million for new kindergartens.  

The government’s expectation is that these measures, coupled with the reduction of unemployment and measures to combat unpaid and undeclared work, tax evasion and corruption, will improve the everyday life of the poorest citizens and mitigate inequality. According to the minister, it’s an estimation that will be reflected in the next ELSTAT reports of on national income for 2017 and 2018 (incomes of 2016 and 2017). For 2016 (2015 income), a small decrease in the population at risk of poverty or social exclusion has already been recorded, from 36% to 35.6%, which means 100.000 people.

Mike Alewitz The City at the Crossroads of History Mural

Minister Fotiou went on to highlight the changes planned for the Ministry of Labour, Social Security and Social Solidarity, such as the introduction of new departments like the Roma Secretariat, and the increase in the number of employees. As part of the ministry's restructuring, the new welfare state will be organized on two main pillars: the National Mechanism for Integration and Social Cohesion and the transformation of old Farmers Insurance Fund (OGA) into a single authority for managing and awarding benefits, titled OPEKA (Organization for Welfare Benefits).

1st Pillar: National Mechanism for Integration and Social Cohesion (Community Centers)

The 175 Community Centers that exist today (to be increased to 240) will be at the core of a much needed information network, the National Mechanism for Integration and Social Cohesion, and they will perform a double function: On the one hand, they will operate as a front desk for the citizens providing them with all the information they need, and on the other they will provide they data the ministry needs in order to assess the effectiveness of the welfare system. The Centers will support a single nationwide network that aims to reduce bureaucracy through the interconnection of all state databases. Via the Centers, the citizens, by providing only their Tax Identification Number and Social Security Number, can have access to daily updated information on matter like their rights, any benefits they entitled to, employment positions in institutions operating in the area, opportunity of participation in European and Greek job programs, etc.

Organizationally above the Community Centers there are 13 Regional Branches, and at the top there is the newly established Directorate of Social Integration and Cohesion.

2nd Pillar:  A single organization for Welfare Benefits (OPEKA)

According to the ministry’s new organizational chart, the old Farmers Insurance Fund (OGA) will be renamed OPEKA and will take over all welfare benefits, ensuring their regular and timely payment.

Other initiatives include the creation a network of integrated care for the elderly, named OFILI, whichwill connect the Senior Protection Open Centers with "help at home" programs and Senior Hospitality Open Centers.

Furthermore, 370 Roma camps and settlements have been mapped, and gradually people that live in these in camps under degraded conditions are being relocated.

By the end of January 2018, the Electronic Disability File will start operating as a pilot program, ending the lengthy and painful procedures people with disabilities went through to get their benefits: applying for benefit will be  easy thanks to the online interconnection of all partner organizations. Also, conditions for allocating the benefit are not stricter: on the contrary, the new Single Disability Identification includes disabilities not previously provided for. Benefits will be awarded by OPEKA and no longer by the municipalities, allowing for a more transparent and efficient process.

A new program for the homeless envisages actions such as registering homeless people in the six largest cities in the country, interconnecting of all homeless structures with the ministry, creatiing new structures for the homeless, as well as for the addicts who are in the recovery phase. At the same time, the "Housing and Reintegration" program continues, under new terms, including not just families but also individuals, as well as addicts in rehabilitation and people just out of prison.

A very important issue, child poverty is also being addressed.  Minister Fotious noted that material deprivation among children went from 12.2% in 2009 to 26.7% in 2013. The government has made school meals a state law, and from this year on 130,000 children will be provided with a hot meal at school. By 2019 the number of children covered by this program will reach 500,000. Furthermore, the number of kindergarten vouchers has been increased from 70,000 to 110,000, 60,000 for children from poor and unemployed families. In 2018 the ministry plants to establish 400 new kindergartens for an additional 10,000 children.

Finally, the government has recently tabled the new adoption law, with a focus on de-institutionalization. As minister Fotiou acknowledged, today the state does not know how many children are in institutions, or even how many such institutions exist.  The ministry is now at the process of registering all private institutions and NGOs: so far they recorded 1,600 foundations, not counting religious institutions. With this new law, once a child enters an institution, within 48 hours, an electronic file of personal data will be formed and it will be part of the National Minority Register. Also, the necessary research for candidate parents will be completed at most within 3 to 4 months. The law aims at decongesting the institutions, dealing with waiting lists, providing transparency the adoption process and give hope to thousands of families who want to have a child and have given up.

See also:

Sources:

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Translated and edited by Anna-Maria Tsakou and Ioulia Livaditi

Rembetes1933Rebetiko is the urban popular Greek music of the poorest classes of the first half of the 20th century. As of December 2017, rebetiko is inscribed on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity created by UNESCO. The list is made up of elements that help demonstrate the diversity of the world heritage and raise awareness about its importance. Rebetiko was chosen by the Intergovernmental Committee who deemed it “a living musical tradition with a strong symbolic, ideological and artistic character”. As an intricate cultural concept, it is linked with music, song, dance and -especially in the past- with a particular attitude and way of life: the life of the outcast, the vagabonds and the displaced, but also of the labouring classes in large cities of newly industrialised Greece of the early 20th century. 

A brief history

Rebetiko is basically an umbrella term, comprising several forms of music that evolved in Greece and Greek speaking parts of the Ottoman Empire during the mid and late 19th century, until they unified in the early 20th century to form the distinctive sound that is associated with the rebetiko today. It is largely based on oral tradition has been accurately described as “Greek urban blues”.

baglamasThe term was coined relatively late in the evolution of the genre, and was basically popularised by scholarly studies in later decades. It derives from rebétis (pl. rebétes), a word of uncertain etymology, denoting a person (usually a man) of the prewar era, with a certain aspect and attitude, often involving a disregard for the law and a life in the margins of society. This type of character was usually dubbed mángas, koutsavákis, aláni, vlámis or mortis at the time – also depending on the region. Their music was more often referred to as laïká (urban folk), from the word laós (the common people).

The origins of this music are indeed closely linked with outcast life and subculture, since they can be traced back to the prisons of Athens at the time of the Bavarian government, in the 1830’s. This type of music, based on the sound of the famous bouzouki – a modern variation of the byzantine string instrument tambouras – gradually gained popularity among the poorer, lower social classes of the big (chiefly port) cities, like Piraeus. At the same time, the Greek populations of Constantinople, Smyrna and other major cities of Anatolia had created their own popular music, based on traditional Greek and oriental rhythms, often performed in music parlours called Café Aman.

rebetesThe Young Turk movement and the Greco-Turkish War (1919-1922) led to a huge influx of Greek-speaking refugees and migrants in major Greek cities. Thus, the 1920’s mark the time when various musical traditions and styles merged together, creating the typical sound of what became known as rebetiko. By that time, this was basically the music of the common folk in large cities, not having yet completely shed its ties to underground culture. They were performed in taverns but also in tekédes (hashish dens), hence the drug and jailbird references in many song lyrics.

In the late 20’s and early 30’s, however, more and more music labels began recording rebetika songs. The genre met with increasing popularity, and was gradually assimilated by the mainstream, making rebetika and laïká the most popular type of music in Greece to this day. Many consider the 30’s to be the “golden era” of rebetiko in its most authentic form, especially considering that this was the time when some of the greatest musicians wrote, performed and recorded some of the classics that are still treasured today.

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A small glossary

Zeibékiko, aptálikos, karsilamás: Some of the most common styles of dance and, by extension, music within the rebetiko genre.

Baglamás: A smaller version of the bouzouki, pitched an octave higher. An even smaller version is tzourás.

Peniá: A musical phrase, corresponding to a guitar riff. It derives from pena, the word used for a flatpick.

Taxími: A musical improvisation – often a bouzouki solo. From the Turkish word taxim.

Ópa, ála, yala, yássou: Exclamations linked with singing and dancing, often directed to the singer of musician as a form of approval, or uttered by the musicians themselves (similar to English c’mon, oh yeah, etc.)

For an introduction to the sound of Rebetiko listen to our selection of Rebetiko songs below:

Panagiotis Toundas - "Barbayiannakakis": Toundas was a composer hailing from Smyrna and his songs are typical examples of the Eastern influences of rebetiko.
 
Kostas Skarnelis - "Go ahead, alani": Singer Roza Eskenazi -here performing a song by Skarvelis- came from a poor Sephardic Jewish family of Constantinople. She was arguably the most iconic female performer of rebetika songs.
 
Vassilis Tsitsanis - "Gloomy Sunday": Tsitsanis was a prolific creator and seminal figure in the evolution of the genre, also collaborating with composers such as Mikis Theodorakis.
 
Markos Vamvakaris - "All of the world's rebetes": Born in the island of Syros, Vamvakaris was the patriarch of rebetiko, forming part of “the Famous Piraeus 4”, the most renowned rebetiko music ensemble.
 
Giannis Papaioannou - "Before the dawn": Born in a city on the coast of Marmara Sea, Papaioannou came to Greece as a refugee. His music encompasses elements from serenades together with the music of the Greek islands and Minor Asia.
 
Apostolos Hatzihristos - Tramp's grievance: Born in Smyrna, Hatzihristos (dubbed Smyrniotáki) came to Greece as a refugee after the Smyrna Catastrophe. He performed the songs of many composers, as well as his own. 

Watch the film Rebetiko (1983, Silver Bear at the 34th Berlin Internation) by Costas Ferris, a biopic on renowned singer Marika Ninou (In Greek, with English subtitles):

See also: 

  • My Sweet Canary: A documentary on the life of Roza Eskenazi, one of the most acclaimed singers of the scene; 
  • Rebetiko Carnival” a festival and institution for the promotion of Greek music

You can download papers by professor Stathis Gauntlett, avid enthusiast of rebetiko here: http://svbh.academia.edu/stathisgauntlett

Edited by Nefeli Mosaidi

19investThe 19th Annual Capital Link Invest in Greece Forum was organized in New York City on 11th December 2017 attracting more than 1350 participants among them government and business leaders from Greece, Europe and the United States, and top executives from the investment, financial and business communities. This was the first time that the representatives of the 3 European Institutions participated all together in a conference taking place outside Greece to honor the country, with 2 International Rating Agencies, leading US investors with active presence in Greece, 7 International Investment Banks, 4 Greek Systematic Banks and government representatives at the highest level.

Greece is slowly returning to a period of economic growth, after years of recession, and aims to position itself as an attractive investment and business destination. Representatives of the Greek government and the Prime minister Alexis Tsipras himself had the opportunity to feature the developments and reforms in the Greek economy as well as the Greek government program for the economy and the investments.

The Prime minister Alexis Tsipras in a video message addressed an invitation to international investors to take advantage of the new business opportunities presented in Greece. Putting the completion of the economic adjustment program in August 2018, the Prime minister noted that Greece is ready to leave back the recession and austerity and to open a new chapter on growth, prosperity and investments. A growth rate of close of 2% is expected for 2017, the Prime minister said, while he cited EU Commission estimates that the growth rate would reach 2.5% in 2018. Unemployment has dropped 6% since 2015 and foreign direct investments reached 3 billion euros the first 9 months of 2017, up by 69% compared to the same period in 2016."All these have led to an overperformance of our fiscal targets," he said, and made the government "extremely focused on the next chapter of Greece, the upcoming era beyond austerity and recession." Addressing the forum, Tsipras said that "American investors are one of the largest contributors of foreign investments in Greece so we expect that they will remain as such in light of investment opportunities, in order to make the most out of our country’s growth potential."The decision to make the United States the honored country in the Thessaloniki International Fair "shows our determination to foster further the business ties of our countries", he pointed out.

cpgr19The Minister of Economy & Development Dimitris Papadimitriou, in his speech stated that Greece’s investment and growth revival has been the result of the government’s new National Development Strategy (NDS) in establishing a new investment friendly and export-oriented production model. He noted that this model is based on enhanced domestic industrial production of internationally tradable high value-added and knowledge-based goods and services and employing the well-educated and highly skilled part of the labor force.

The Minister of Finance Euclid Tsakalotos, stated that 2018 marks a significant pivotal point for Greece, mentioning that the new budget signals the exit of Greece from a long period of Financial Assistance Programmes. He supported his argumentation with a series of facts and data; for instance the country has successfully accessed markets funding, while borrowing rates are decreasing, fixed capital formation and private spending are accelerating, exports are improving and, as a result, consumer and business confidence is improving. The minister attributed these positive prospects to the improved faith on the sustainability of Greek public finances and to the introduction of a wide array of reforms that reshaped Greek economy. Tsakalotos also gave a clear message to investors by saying that Greece has already started implementing policies that improve business environment.

The Minister of Tourism of the Hellenic Republic, Elena Kountoura, presented the national tourism policy implemented successfully since 2015 to establish Greece as a global attractive 365-day destination and the new development and investment opportunities that have arisen in the dynamically growing tourism sector. The Tourism Minister noted that for three consecutive years, Greece achieved rates of growth of more than 7 per cent and record-breaking results in all tourism figures: international arrivals (that grew to 26 million in 2015, to 28 million in 2016 and 30 million in 2017), in tourism revenue, overnight stays, hotel occupancies, increased air connectivity, as well as in employment and new investments. Kountoura also noted that Greece aimed to strengthen its role in global decision-making for tourism and is working closely with major global institutions, most notably with United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), having been elected for the first time as a member of its Executive Council for 2018-2021 as well as the OECD, having chaired its High-Level Meeting for Tourism last October, where a Policy Statement was adopted for Sustainable and Inclusive Tourism Growth.

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The Forum, which was focused on investment opportunities for Greece in domains such as energy, real estate, tourism, government and corporate bonds, offered also important networking opportunities with Group of Institutional investors.

The Senior Director of North America Sovereigns, Fitch Ratings Charles Seville, stated that Fitch Ratings’ upgrade of Greece’s sovereign rating to B- from CCC reflects their view that public debt sustainability will steadily improve,underpinned by compliance with the terms of the ESM programme, reduced political risk, sustained GDP growth and ongoing fiscal discipline. The positive outlook on the rating reflects the expectation that the third review of the ESM programme will be concluded without creating instability and that the Eurogroup will grant substantial debt relief to Greece in 2018, the representative of Fitch Ratings mentioned.

The Mission Chief for Greece on behalf of the European Commission, Declan Costello, noted that overall economic developments combined with better momentum in implementing reforms indicate that Greece is on a trajectory that could lead to a successful conclusion to the ESM programme on schedule in August 2018.

Within the context of the 19th Annual Capital Link Invest in Greece Forum, the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in cooperation with Capital Link organized a special ceremony in honor of Greece entitled “Greek Day at NYSE”, on 12th December, 2017. This year’s “Greek Day at NYSE” featured Greek Government Officials and executives representing companies listed in the US stock market s as well as companies that participated at the 19th Annual Capital Link Invest in Greece Forum. The New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) flew the Greek flag on Wall Street and issued special commemorative medals to honor the members of the Greek Delegation. The Minister of Finance Euclid Tsakalotos rang “The Closing Bell”, ending the trading session on Tuesday, December 12th 2017. 

See also via Greek News Agenda: Greece's economic outlook: Facts and prospects; Positive prospects for the Greek economy attract US investment interest; Economy Minister Dimitris Papadimitriou on US potential investments in Greece

 I.E.

Award winning short stop motion animation film “Ethnophobia”, directed and animated by Joan Zhonga, is a humorous depiction of humankind’s intolerance of the Other.

JOAN ZHONGA DIRECTOR ETHNOPHOBIA1

Joan Zhonga is an animation director specialising in stop motion animation with puppets and plasticine. He’s a graduate of the Academy of Fine Arts in Tirana and has more than 35 years of experience in animation. During his career he’s directed 13 animation films that have been screened and awarded in many international film festivals such as Annecy, Hiroshima, Giffonni and Fantoche. In 2006 he collaborated with the master of children’s books, Eugenios Trivizas, in the film “The two waves” (2006), produced by ERT. His latest film, “Ethnophobia” (2016), has been so far screened in 130 festivals, including the Manchester Kinofilm Festival (18-26 November), and won 23 awards.

In an interview published in the November issue of the Newsletter of the Press and Communication Office of the Embassy of Greece in London Joan Zhonga talks about “Ethnophobia”, stressing that it is a film against racism pinpointing in a lighthearted and funny way that people have to focus on what connects them. He comments that in the past few years there has been a rise in the production of animation films in Greece and underlines the contribution of the Greek animation association ASIFA Hellas in supporting the works of Greek artists.

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How did you start doing animation? Why did you choose to use plasticine in your films? 

I have to admit I’ve been very blessed in my life. In August of 1981 I had just graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts and was offered a job at the animation department of the Film Studios of Tirana. My first day at the studio, they gave me a script and told me I had to make a short animation film. You can imagine my surprise as I’ve never made an animation film before! Things were much different back then, you had to discover on your own how animation worked and it took a lot of effort, time and patience to make a film. It took me a year to complete my first project and I haven’t stopped ever since.

Throughout my 36 years of experience I’ve used various animation techniques in my films, paper cut-outs, puppets as well as 2D and 3D animation. When I came to Greece in 1990, nobody was making films using plasticine. So I thought it was a good way to make something different and distinguish myself from other animators. Since then I’ve stuck with plasticine and clay as it’s cost effective and a material which allows you to change the shapes of objects on the spot. The animator has a unique relationship with plasticine, you can see your fingerprints on the characters and it has a more real feel to it. You can also be very creative with it and it’s a material children recognize and can connect to.

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What is the public’s response to animation compared to live action films? Do you feel that animation enables an artist to reach younger audiences?

I believe the public can connect to animation more easily than live action films. It doesn’t matter how old you are, you could be 5 years old or 60, it still has the same magic to it. Let’s not forget it’s the only medium where real life objects come to life and where animals can speak! Whether you are creating an experimental animation or a film with a narrative, it has a universal appeal and people from around the world will have the same response to it no matter what language they speak. That’s why animation is so popular with kids and younger audiences in general. It’s also a great way for artists to communicate important messages in a more simplistic way.

What is Ethnophobia about? What were the origins of this film?

For me Ethnophobia is a voice against racism. It’s a film about human relations and how survival, clash and symbiosis go side by side and how people focus more on their differences than what connects them. It explains, in a very easy way, xenophobia and the phenomenon of exclusion in modern society.

The idea was developed 10 years ago with the help of the scriptwriter, Petros Koskinas. We wanted to make a film that was a criticism on racism and the constant struggle of people nowadays where everybody is trying to overpower each other. We saw how man is constantly trying to show his superiority against other people by making them feel small and by making this film was our way of doing something about it. You can see in the end of the film that we are the ones creating the differences, in reality we are all the same.

ETHNOPHOBIA 3You have lived both in Albania and Greece. How has your personal experience of migration influenced your perspective on life and your art?

Anyone that has been an immigrant knows that life in a new place isn’t easy. I left the place where I was born and lived for over 30 years to come to my mother country and it was definitely a big and difficult transition. As you would expect, I experienced some incidents of racism and I had to work twice as hard to prove my worth but I never let anything put me down. I think the most important thing in life is to learn from every experience and to see things in a positive way. Being an immigrant gives you a different perspective in life and makes you see past the surface. And that’s what I try to do through my art and especially with my latest film, Ethnophobia. I want to make people think on a deeper level and inspire them to open their minds and be more accepting and welcoming with the people around them. As an artist, it’s important to affect people’s life with your work because each of us needs to play their part to make the world a better place.

Ethnophobia has already been selected by various international film festivals and received many awards. What do you thing is the “secret” of its success?

Ethnophobia has had a fantastic festival run, it’s won 23 awards and has been selected to over 130 international film festivals. As an artist you always hope for your project to be well received by the audience but to be honest, it has exceeded my expectations. I had an amazing team that worked tirelessly for more than 2 years and the success of the project is as much theirs as mine.

I also think the timing when the film was released was right. The theme of Ethnophobia is very current and topical since immigration, war and racism have now become part of our everyday life. We are constantly bombarded by news of terror and fear but I feel that people slowly understand that things aren’t just black and white. People have to focus on our similarities and what connects us and not on our differences. We all share the same DNA, no matter of our skin colour. So what Ethnophobia does is to pinpoint all those facts in a funny, lighthearted way than that has a unique appeal not only to children but adults too.ethnophobiaposter1

In recent years there has been a revival in animation in Greece with Anima Syros and the Athens Animfest. How do you see the potential of animation development in Greece? How could it be supported and promoted?

There’s been a rise in the production of animation films in Greece in the past few years which is very positive for the industry. The festivals have helped enormously by promoting Greek animators around the world and the Greek animation association ASIFA Hellas has also played a huge part in supporting the works of Greek artists.

There are 2 major organisations, ERT and the Greek Film Centre, that give funds for the production of animation films but the truth is that even with their support, it’s very difficult because animation is very expensive and it could take months or years to complete a film. That’s why many filmmakers give up after their first or second film. I often say that animation is a very expensive hobby and you need to be a little bit crazy to be an animator in Greece nowadays!

I think the government should make an effort to provide more funds for the development of short films and create a separate fund solely for animation films, something that doesn’t so far exist. Only by supporting Greek animators in every possible way, can the name of our country be heard around the world.

Watch "Erthnophobia" trailer here:

Source: Press and Communication Office of the Embassy of Greece in London

F.K.

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Nikos Pappas is Minister of Digital Policy, Telecommunications and Information. In his opinion piece at the “Efimerida Syntakton” daily ("Public debate on Europe: Persistent dilemmas" / Η συζήτηση στην Ευρώπη και τα επίμονα διλήμματα, 2.12.2017) Pappas comments on current European political developments underlying that “for the first time in 20 years, we are witnessing the active promotion of various aspects of a political strategy which goes beyond the logic of stability-oriented policies” and “that the immediate economic objectives as well as the future needs of Greece, Portugal and Italy are drastically promoted by such a change of direction in the EU towards a balanced development and increased real solidarity”. He concludes that the European Left should insist on highlighting the significance of politics and the criticality of the relevant choices citizens have to make*:

"2018 will be a time of decisions for the future of the European Union. It can’t be otherwise, since there are many issues at hand and inactivity itself constitutes the greatest threat against European cohesion.

Behind the proposals for different decision making processes and forms of collaboration (which most European citizens find rather boring) there are policy plans. Those, and the perspectives they open up to the EU and its peoples, are what is of actual interest.

More and more agents call for the acceleration of economic growth and its expansion throughout the EU, instead of its current concentration in the countries of the North. At a European level, there are two available tools to stimulate and expand growth: increasing public spending and reducing the threat that is public debt for the countries of the South.

Actually, a wide range of forces throughout the political spectrum -with the exception of neoliberals- converge in pursuing the above goals: from Macron’s presidency in France and social-democrats in central Europe to southern governments and parties of the Left.

Macron’s call for a common EU budget aims exactly at strengthening public expenditure, particularly in sectors that set the foundations for long-term sustainable development in Europe, such as the incorporation of knowledge and technology in production. Italy, Portugal more emphatically, and even the Rajoy government in Spain, add to this call the proposal for harmonisation of the systems for unemployment benefits and social security in Europe. This is precisely what Greek PM Alexis Tsipras, speaking at EU summits, describes as “EU’s social pillar”.

At the same time, ESM credit lines securing loaning for debt-ridden economies will keep risk premiums at a low level.

This is the outline of the steps Europe is taking toward development. Not all problems are addressed but, for the first time in 20 years, we are witnessing the active promotion of various aspects of a political strategy which goes beyond the logic of stability-oriented policies that equal long-term austerity.

The opposite political approach amounts to simply prolonging neoliberal policies. It boils down to tightening control over all member-state economies as a prerequisite for every step towards convergence. This is why Wolfgang Schäuble’s proposal, instead of a common budget, is to turn ESM into a European version of the IMF.

Apart from the difference in financial policies, what we have here is a deeply political issue, an issue of democratic legitimation. A common EU budget (however restricted at first) will operate under the supervision of elected politicians. A European IMF would have a “technocratic” profile, which of course implies the domination of a neoliberal agenda uncontrolled by the people.

An increased democratic legitimation of EU policies opens the way for transcending nationalisms and furthering political integration.

Given that, in 2018, our country enters a “post-memorandum” era, these decisions concern us as much as any other European country. This particular and socially dramatic “state of exception” we have experienced is coming to an end, but it is what we want is for the neoliberal nightmare to end for the entire Union.

It is obvious that the immediate economic objectives as well as the future needs of Greece, Portugal and Italy are drastically promoted by such a change of direction in the EU towards a balanced development and increased real solidarity.

At the same time, however, this political shift serves the social democrats of the Northern EU states, who have realized that it is absolutely necessary to move away from their identification with neoliberalism, otherwise they will gradually lose the hard core of their voters, the organized working class. They are losing them not only to the Left but also to the nationalist populist extreme Right.

These issues and the way they are take shape within each country according to economic policy and development model is what is truly important. The European Left will insist on highlighting the significance of politics and the criticality of the choices citizens have to make.

In the Greek political scene, the identification of the New Democracy party with the toughest neo-liberal circles in Europe is a given, an identification that has reached the point of New Democracy not supporting Greece’s return to growth, so as not to weaken Wolfgang Schäuble’s arguments.

PASOK has decided not to keep track of developments in European social democracy. Of course, historical political currents resemble rivers. They have a riverbed, a directional pathway. Reorienting this riverbed is an option that has been proven to have enormous political costs. History, of course, has a way of bringing back dilemmas in a persistent way."

*Translated by Nefeli Mosaidi and Ioulia Livaditi

N.N.

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Democracy and accountability are decisive issues for the future of Europe Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said in an interview with Portuguese paper "Diario de Noticias" published on Sunday 3.12.2017 ("O governo português é o modelo para a Grécia quando sair do memorando"), noting that the Greek government seek "to make the people feel in its everyday life the impact of economic recovery, more jobs, social justice, fair and inclusive growth.":

In 2018, Greece will exit the third bailout program. This is a victory for the Greek people. But do you think it is also a personal victory of yours, as Prime Minister?

Primarily, this is a victory of the Greek people. It may be justice personally for me, as well, but I think politics is a collective function. I believe that exiting the program, while protecting those who are socially vulnerable and preventing the destruction of our country, is something that belongs to the entire Greek people and not to a certain government. And the message it conveys is that when people resist to the policies implemented, only then the correlation of forces in Europe can change. In fact, the successful completion of the program and the exit from the memorandum are related to the participation of the Greek people in political developments during the summer of 2015. Do not forget that we were in a difficult crisis, a crisis that was both financial and, at the same time, a crisis of democracy or the lack of democracy. We gave people the right to make a decision through the referendum. Following this and many difficult commitments, we asked for their opinion in the early elections of September 2015. For the first time, the elections were held after a difficult agreement. The previous governments used to decide on the agreements always after the elections. We did the opposite.

Are you optimistic about the next elections scheduled for 2019 that you will renew the popular mandate or do you believe that it is rather difficult for a government to achieve this after the struggle with such austerity?

The first period after the 2015 election was difficult. But it was crucial for the completion of difficult agreements that introduced the necessary reforms. The adjustment was, of course, smoother than in previous years, but it did not cease to be an adjustment. And this had to be done because there was no other way to exit the memorandum and regain our dignity, and our sovereignty. And we made the necessary changes for the good of the Greek people. I believe that, now, during our term of office, we are at a crucial turning point. The political climate is beginning to change – rather fast – in Greece. I am absolutely certain that when we succeed in exiting the memorandum, in the summer of 2018, the psychology of the people will change. If you asked the Greeks today if they believe that this will happen, the majority, tired after seven years of memoranda, may have answered negatively.

But when this is a reality, psychology will be drastically improved. I want to believe that at the end of our mandate, the comparison will be made between the results of previous governments and the results of ours.

When we took office, unemployment was 27% and now it is at 20% – which is, of course, still high. But I believe that in September 2019, when we have the election, it will fall below 17%, which means that we will have managed to reduce it more than 10 percentage points. This is a significant result. On the other hand, our intention is not to minimize only the consequences of the crisis and to achieve a positive exit from the memorandum, but at the same time to achieve the recovery of the Greek economy and not only to improve financial figures. We also want to improve social indicators. We seek to make the world feel in its everyday life the impact of economic recovery, more jobs, more social justice and fair and inclusive growth. Occasionally, numbers are positive, but people’s lives remain negative. Therefore, our intention is to improve the everyday life of citizens.

How do you see the future of the relationship between Greece and the EU, and I do not mean only the financial aid but also the solidarity regarding the migratory flow arriving from the Aegean Sea?

I am a little anxious about the developments in Europe. I believe that Europe confronted the crisis in the worst manner. During the crisis, neoliberal ideas prevailed in the majority of governments. This is why a poor strategy was followed, causing many wounds in the social body of Europe, not only in the countries of the South but also in the European North. I think there are structural functional problems generating inequalities. So, after the crisis, inequalities have, unfortunately, increased and now we are facing a situation that requires brave decisions. As a result of all this, the EU has become less attractive for its peoples, for young people, for workers. But the worst was the rise of the far right. This is a major threat to Europe in the near future. I am worried because there are many divisions and inequalities between the Member States and within each country within our societies. We have divisions that have been caused, for example, by far-right governments in Eastern Europe. Therefore, it is necessary to rediscover our founding principles and values, related to solidarity, social justice, equality and democracy. I believe that the most important problem in Europe has to do with the deficit of Democracy. In the refugee crisis we witnessed all of this. Some countries believe that the refugee crisis is a problem that does not concern them and concerns only the initial countries of reception. But this is not a local crisis, but a European one and, I would say, a global crisis. It is the largest immigration crisis since the Second World War. Unfortunately, our country has been at the heart of two parallel crises, economic and refugee.

We have been obliged to carry the burden of the whole of Europe. Especially in our islands the situation was and remains very difficult. And when Europe had to show its solidarity, it showed its toughest face. It closed borders and at the same time some northern and eastern European countries said it was not their duty to help Greece. I believe that Europe cannot achieve progress without solidarity and I find it absolutely unfair to have very strict economic rules and mechanisms to control their implementation and at the same time there are some who want Europe to have benefits but without any obligation, without contributing to the common goal, which is the future of Europe. I believe that this is the most important issue that we should be concerned with in the debate on the future of Europe.

After Brexit, France and Macron will be the only counterweight in an EU dominated by Germany?

This is a long discussion. First of all, I believe that the Germans must realize that their future does not go through the creation of a German Europe but of a European Germany. Secondly, I believe that the future of Europe is linked to the cooperation between equal Member States. The problem is that we had some institutions that did not work in the institutional sense. The most important decisions were taken behind closed doors. For example, Eurogroup, perhaps the council where the most important decisions are taken in Europe, has never functioned institutionally. I want to say that the European Council is an institution, all the leaders of the countries have equal rights of time and vote, but Eurogroup is not an institutionally regulated body, it has an institutional deficit.

Do you see any change if the Portuguese, Mário Centeno, is the next president?

Yes. Actually, the problem is not only that the president of Eurogroup has made mistakes. The problem is its operation. For example, during the sessions of the Eurogroup, decisions are taken without being documented, without knowing details of what had been discussed there. This is important for the operation of the European institutions. Centeno, of course, is a very promising candidate. And the first thing that needs to be done is to create more transparency in the functioning of the Eurogroup, in order to ceasing taking decisions behind closed doors. Over the past eight years, Eurogroup has been a council where Europe’s ministers of finance have been discussing at length, but ultimately the decision was what the German finance minister, Mr. Schäuble, wanted to do. The decisions almost always echoed Germany’s intentions. This is the reality.

In my opinion, the most decisive issue in the debates on the future of Europe is Eurogroup, ESM, the European institutions in general, operating in a democratic manner and being accountable. The president of Eurogroup, the president of ESM, must be subject to public scrutiny and to an institution elected as the European Parliament or why not, under the control of a parliament of the Eurozone countries, a new institution. I want to say that the biggest deficit in Europe is the lack of democracy. The biggest problem is that technocrats have assumed the role of politicians. Politicians, even if we disagree with them, at the end of the day are subject to the control of the people. They must be accountable to them at the elections. Technocrats are not accountable to anyone. This is the problem. And in this context, if ESM that will replace the IMF operates in the same way, that is, not to be accountable to anyone, then I am afraid that we will have the same negative effects.

Is it a problem for Europe the lack of a center-left power at this moment?

The lack of credibility of left-wing forces is a problem for Europe. The fact is that the Social Democrats lost their credibility and, in one way or another, adopted the same positions as conservatives and neoliberals, this is the cause of their loss of power in Europe, and at the same time is the reason why there is not a balanced European leadership today. And the EU at the same time lost its credibility and the ability to inspire citizens. I believe that social democracy, the center-left in general is going through a serious crisis. I think the time has come to think outside the trivial. Maybe the time has come to create something new. We need something more radical in terms of proposals and positions in order to make changes to substantive issues for the benefit of the many. But, at the same time, we need a clear European strategy.

At this moment in Europe we have three streams of ideas. The first is the one of neoliberalism, those who still believe that everything should be settled by the dynamics of the markets. And markets can solve all problems. I believe it has been proven in practice that this has never happened. Actually, the result was an increase in inequalities. This is the biggest stream of ideas in Europe.

The second stream of ideas consists of those who believe that the problem is the refugees, weak social groups and that their presence creates difficulties in Europe, which is why we have to isolate them. They are the forces of extreme right and nationalism, racist and xenophobic powers.

And the third stream is that of the Left. That is, the forces that believe in the need to create a fairer Europe for the benefit of the many. I believe that so far in the spectrum of this third stream, fragmentation, a fragile and divided situation prevails. There are many pieces without unity. We must try to find a common basis despite our existing differences. Socialists, radical left-wingers, communists and greens need to find common ground. In order to support specific actions aimed at reducing inequalities and creating a fairer EU.

How do you comment on the economic recovery in Portugal and on the Portuguese solution linking different leftist forces?

For us, Portugal is a positive example and, above all, due to the collaboration of different leftist progressive forces. One of the disadvantages of the Left is that its forces are almost never working together, which is why Portugal is a great example of cooperation. But it is something else as well. The fact that Portugal has overcome the crisis with very good economic performances, having created space for the support for the most vulnerable through social policies, is an example to emulate, a good left success story. It showed us the way to follow the same path.

Portugal can be an example for Greece?

Yes, that is what I am telling you. The Portuguese government has opened the way that Greece can follow when it exits the memorandum. The fact that António Costa managed to do this, is important to us. I know that in Greece with a government that is not social democratic but is a radical left one, we will have more difficulties with the European establishment to implement policies for the many and social policies. The fact that Antonio Costa has managed to do this, it is good for us because it provides precedent, paving the way for us to be able to do the same without the institutions being able to deny it.  For example, to increase wages, to restore labour relations, collective agreements.

I appreciate very much what António succeeded in doing with the collaboration of the Block of the Left and the Communist Party in Portugal. It is crucial not only for Portugal but for all of Europe. In this difficult struggle for the future of Europe, we have worked very closely to promote progressive positions that offer a prospect of regaining parity and social cohesion in Europe. This is the most important struggle for our common future.“

Source: “Democracy and accountability are decisive issues for the future of Europe”. Interview with “DIÁRIO DE NOTÍCIAS”

Read also via Greek News Agenda: Fighting inequality from the position of a left-wing governmental responsibility

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sse imageSocial and Solidarity Economy (SSE) is a model of economic development that emphasizes social impact, the cultivation of social solidarity and the promotion of democratic governance principles. The development of SSE is a political priority in Greece as this model can be a transformative factor in all sectors of the economy, mobilizing social forces in a creative way and bringing multiple benefits to all parties involved such as local communities, producers and users. Within this scope, SSE could contribute to the reconstruction of the productive model in the country towards a fair development and a more democratic and participatory planning of the overall economy, as an economy of social needs.

Although in France, Italy, Spain, the USA and Canada, SSE is a well developed sector contributing, in some cases, in a percentage of almost 10% in the national GDP, in Greece this sector contributes less than 1%.According to the European Forum on Social and Solidarity Economy, SSE is an important economic sector representing over 14 million jobs or the 6.5% of total employment in the EU.

Considering SSE as a new model for work as well as an alternative production and consumption model,the Greek government passed, in 2016 a new law attempting to regulate horizontally the operation of the SSE, modernizing the existing outdated legislation. The law aims at the clear institutional reconstruction and the renewal of the ecosystem of SSE putting emphasis on the creation of collective and social benefits by the SSE entities and not on the legal form itself as well as on the dissemination of SSE’s practices in all possible sectors of economic activity. A Special Secretariat for SSE was also created under the new legislation.

SSE in Greece in numbers

According to the latest Report of the SSE Secretariat General , there is a continuous increase in the number of active entities amounting to 283 in 2016 out of a total of 847 registered entities, while in 2013 the active entities amounted to 3. Until the 31st August 2017, 296 new entities had been registered.

kaloThe largest concentration of active SSE entities is observed in the region of Attica, where 45% of all active entities operate, followed by the region of Central Macedonia (11%), the region of Thessaly (9%) and the region of Eastern Macedonia – Thrace (8%), according to the figures for the year 2015.

The number of employees in the above-mentioned entities has also increased. More specifically, in 2012 there was only one worker (who did not belong to a vulnerable group), while in 2015 the number of workers was 813 and workers from vulnerable groups amounted to 224.

The total turnover started at €50,000 in 2012, increased to €463,000 in 2013, amounting to €6.9 million in 2015. The majority of the SSE entities do not show significant profits or losses.

Concerning the sectors where SSE entities are operating, education ranks first (12.77%), while catering (10.64%), organizational activities (9.22%), wholesale (7.45%) and retail trade (6.38%) follow.

Regarding the borrowed funds raised by SSE entities from the country’s financial institutions, it can be noted that the above institutions were not able to provide the necessary funds to the entities so as to proceed with productive investments. According to the data, entities in the region of Attica raised no more than €90,000 in 2014 while entities in the region of Thessaly managed to raise around €40,000 and €50,000 in 2014 and 2015 respectively.

SSE, though in rise in Greece, is still in a premature phase having need of stable financial instruments, adequate training and skills development as well as a clear legal framework. Within this direction, the following actions have been scheduled under the “Action Plan for the development of the SSE ecosystem 2017-2023”, mainly funded by the EU’s National Strategic Reference Framework with 161 million€:

  1. Support Structures for SSE entities
  2. Direct subsidies for SSE entities
  3. Financial Instruments for SSE entities
  4. Systemic Interventions for the development of the SSE Sector
  5. Actions under the Technical Assistance of the European Commission

The creation of a Social Economy Fund is expected within 2018 aiming to offer a variety of financial instruments to those interested. The establishment of Regional Support Centers operating as info-points providing information and counseling services to existing or future SSE entities is also on course.

Best practices

The first Exhibition of Social and Solidarity Economy organized on 1st November in Athens by the Ministry of Labor, Social Security and Social Solidarity, gathered more than 150 bodies of SSE willing to exchange ideas about their activities and get connected to a new and promising network. The exhibition was inaugurated by the Prime minister Alexis Tsipras who expressed his delight that people were not discouraged during the hard years of the economic crisis, but found a way to engage in economically sustainable and socially beneficial business endeavors.

expoBest practices were also presented during the exhibition and most surprisingly by SSE entities that are already exporting goods and services. The company “Philo”, a Social Cooperative Enterprise operating in Volos, in the region of Thessaly produces completely natural body-care and cleansing products promoting the local and collective interest by utilizing local produce (pure beeswax, herbs, mastic, olive oil). The entity, receiving support, in terms of financial tools and strategies know-how, from the Department for Entrepreneurship and Enterprise of University of Thessaly, has managed to export its products to Lithuania and China. After five years “Philo” provides a small income to its basic members but much remains to be done.

“Greenland” as a Social Cooperative Enterprise helps olive oil producers in Kalamata, in the region of Peloponnese, to standardize their product in order to sell it in a more profitable price. The group also tried to expand to international markets and succeeded to export the totality of their products (more than 20 tones of olive oil and almost 10 tones of olives) in Sweden, France, Luxembourg, Belgium, Netherlands and Japan. The group was also supported by the platform Dock, an autonomous cooperative infrastructure offering assistance and networking to SSE entities especially through their initiative “Fruit of Solidarity” in order to help them expand their activities to international markets. 

Read also via Greek News Agenda : Promoting Social and Solidarity Economy in Greece; UniverSSE 2017: Athens becomes the European capital for Social Solidarity Economy

*Edited by Ioulia Elmatzoglou

nanotechnology 0Nanotechnology is considered to be a major driving force behind the medical revolution of the 21st century and its use on Medicine has created a new field of studies widely indicated as Nanomedicine. Following the latest scientific achievements and the most recent research results of Nanotechnology applications in Medicine and Health Sciences, the E-Learning Programme of the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens presents online training courses in English, addressing various aspects of the topic that often has been described as the future of Medicine.

The E-Learning University of Athens introduces four training courses (course category: Nanotechnology and Nanomedicine) in relative topics deploying the academic excellence of the University of Athens in Health Sciences and calling the scientists and professionals from all around the world to join its online community.

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All training courses of Nanotechnology and Nanomedicine Category are designed suitably for qualified graduates, holding at least a Degree in Medicine, Biological, Biomedical or Biochemical subject, Pharmacy, Chemistry, Biology and Biochemistry or in any related field.

The course Stem cells and Regenerative Medicine provides a detailed introduction to the biology of stem cells. More importantly it introduces the main aspects of Regenerative Medicine that seeks to devise new therapies for patients with severe injuries or chronic diseases in which the body’s own responses do not suffice to restore functional tissue. To this end, Stem cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine introduce novel methods and strategies to replace or regenerate cells, tissues or organs in order to restore and establish normal function. E-learners have the opportunity to learn about new, up to date technologies that are applicable to modern therapeutic approaches such as: Stem Cell Applications, Nanomedicine and Tissue Engineering (10-week course, start date: 22 Jan 2018).

Nanomedicine, the application of nanotechnology to medicine, has opened up a new, previously unimaginable world in disease diagnosis and therapy. The unique and innovating online training course Nanotechnology and Nanomedicine: Approaches for targeted drug delivery and advanced nanotherapeutics focuses mainly on the applications of nanotechnology to drug delivery and highlights several areas of opportunity where current and emerging nanotechnologies could enable novel classes of therapeutics. The course presents in an easy and effective way, the challenges and general trends in pharmaceutical nanotechnology, and also explores new strategies to overcome limitations in drug delivery. The course is also focusing in several interesting regulatory and ethical aspects of the use of nanothechnology in every day clinical practice (10-week course, start date: 22 Jan 2018).

Nanotechnology is a multifarious field and its use in the area of Health Sciences has led to innovative applications in diagnosis and treatment of living beings as well as in agricultural process. The course Basic Principles of nanotechnology applications in Health Science focuses on the basic applications of nanotechnology in Health Sciences, in clinical and research level. The goal of the training course is twofold. Firstly, to provide participants with basic knowledge concerning the applications of nanotechnology in Health Sciences including Medicine, Biology, Veterinary and Agriculture. Secondly, to explore if the use of nanotechnology opens new perspectives in the field of Health Sciences highlighting the advantages and challenges of nanosystems as tools in medical technology and health care via diagnosis and treatment (10-week course, start date: 22 Jan 2018).

The use of nanotechnology in the field of Health Sciences has triggered novel and very promising applications in diagnostics and invasive therapy of human diseases. The development of novel tools with improved imaging characteristics would lead to an early identification of the diseases.The goal of the course Nanomedicine: Applications in Diagnostics and Surgery is to provide the participant with knowledge concerning the applications of nanotechnology in the fields of diagnostics and nanosurgery. It elaborates on the types, the characteristics, in vivo and in vitro applications and the potentials of nanotools as diagnostic agents or biomarkers in cancer imaging, neurophysiological disorders, ocular imaging, and cardiovascular disease imaging. Furthermore, the course illustrates the recent advances in the development of nanotools for nano-image guided surgeries (10-week course, start date: 22 Jan 2018).

All courses follow an asynchronous model of training offering the flexibility to study in the comfort of your own pace while supported educationally. A personal tutor answers relative scientific queries and questions that may rise within the course, through an online communication system. Successful completion leads to a Certificate of Training.

See also: University of Athens Online Courses on Mediterranean Diet, University of Athens online course: The arts of ancient GreeceUniversity of Athens’ online course: Modern Greek for non Greek speakers;  Study in Greece from Abroad: E-learning Courses @ the University of Athens

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MAP PHOTOTwo online courses on Mediterranean Diet are offered by the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens (UoA) Center of Continuing Education and Lifelong Learning.

The Mediterranean diet focuses on eating foods that mainly come from plants, such as whole grains, legumes, nuts, fruits and vegetables. It also suggests eating healthy fats like olive oil instead of butter, replacing salt with herbs and spices and consuming mostly white meat like fish and chicken, instead of red meat.

The course Mediterranean Food and Diet | A multidisciplinary Historic, Cultural, Environmental and Dietary Overview aims to introduce participants to the typical Mediterranean food products and diet, as well as the intangible cultural heritage and goods that are related to food (customs, traditions, social status, etc). This course is ideal for anyone interested in nutrition and its multicultural dimensions. Furthermore, the course offers an exciting journey to explore cultures and traditions of the Mediterranean countries and how they differ when it comes to recipes, food production and ways of cooking.

(9-week course, start dates: 4 Dec 2017, 22 Jan 2018, part of the Intangible Cultural Heritage Online Programmes of UoA)

INTRO PHOTOThe course Nutrition, Mediterranean Diet, and Management of Cardiovascular Diseases focuses on the prevention of cardiovascular diseases through proper nutrition and the changes that should be made in the diet on the ground of cardiovascular problems and risk factors for them (e.g. hypertension, blood sugar etc). The course is based on the latest dietary recommendations for the prevention of cardiovascular disease, plus how they can be applied in practice. It presents the basic principles of nutrition science, recommendations for a balanced diet and the characteristics of the Mediterranean diet. Additionally it presents the medical nutrition therapy, possible drug-nutrient interactions, the changes in the diet on the ground of cardiovascular problems and risk factors.

(24-week course, start dates: 4 Dec 2017, 22 Jan 2018, part of the Health Online Programmes of UoA)

The e-learning courses are taught in English and implemented via a user-friendly educational platform adjusted to the Distance Learning Principles. The lessons are designed to fit around the e-learner’s schedule. Successful completion leads to a Certificate of Training.

See also: University of Athens online course: The arts of ancient GreeceUniversity of Athens’ online course: Modern Greek for non Greek speakers;  Study in Greece from Abroad: E-learning Courses @ the University of Athens 

Watch a short video presentation of the "Mediterranean Food and Diet" online course by Professor Michael Scoullos

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draDPVSUA5WkAAYPMxThe European conference on “Inequalities, Neoliberalism and European Integration: progressive responses”, organized by the Nicos Poulantzas Institute and transform! europe, took place in Athens (23 - 25.11.2017), bringing  together intellectuals from many academic disciplines as well as progressive politicians from all over Europe. 

In his Keynote speech “For a European Alliance against inequality” (23.11.2017)* Deputy Prime Minister of Greece Yannis Dragasakis focused on the issue of how to fight inequality from the position of a left-wing governmental responsibility. These are the main points he covered in his speech: 
 
 “… The Conference is taking place at a juncture when the end of memoranda and period of harsh supervision for Greece are already visible. Accordingly, the first stage of our country’s governance by a left-wing government is being completed. At the same time, the planning of the second and most demanding phase begins: whilst our attention has thus far been focused on coping with the extreme symptoms of poverty and inequality, we now have to plan our ways of addressing the causes with integrated and coherent policies.
 
Explosion of Inequalities
 
Capitalism is a system that inherently produces and widens inequalities. However, there have been periods in history when policies – promoted mainly by progressive governments, with the support of strong social movements – succeeded in reducing inequalities. However, since the late 1970s, there has been a clear trend of widening inequalities across a broad spectrum encompassing all aspects of economic and social life. 
 
It is interesting that the issue of inequalities is now acknowledged widely. The IMF recently, through its General Director, highlighted the impact of technological developments on inequality and called for "safety nets" to protect today’s weakest parties.
 
Similarly, the OECD corroborates that gradual economic recovery does not appear to go hand in hand with any trend reversal of the rising income inequality observed for decades. 
 
Finally, as far as the International Labour Organization is concerned, inequality threatens other social welfare factors such as democracy, public security, social stability, economic and environmental sustainability. 
 
Despite the broad recognition of the problem, if the main factors aggravating inequality - namely the dominance of neoliberalism and the crisis of the subject - are not removed, then the new technological wave is in danger of being accompanied by an even more dramatic widening of social and spatial inequalities, and this, despite the fact that the technologies themselves could facilitate a fair and decentralized development.
 
The Left in Government: the example of Greece
 
Almost three years since assuming responsibility to run the country, I personally believe that, a conclusion we can draw, is that even under the most unfavourable political circumstances, even under the harshest budgetary constraints, we were able to put a stop to and reverse the downfall in the critical areas of Health and Education, to reduce unemployment, to set up institutions such as the Social Solidarity Income and universal access of uninsured citizens to the health system, objectives for which we have been struggling for years.
 
The government has already proceed to actions and policies: 
  • for the access of all citizens to social benefits (Water and Electricity Supply concession rates, public transport access for the unemployed, free Wi-Fi for first-year students) 
  • against health inequalities (New Primary Health System / Local Health Units)
  • against inequalities in the labour market (strengthening of control mechanisms and of sanctions for combating undeclared and unpaid work)
  • to reduce discrimination and inequalities in basic civil rights (extension of civil partnership to gay couples, legal recognition of gender identity, setting limits to the jurisdiction of Islamic Sharia law in the region of Western Thrace, combating violence against women)
  • to support vulnerable groups (National Action Plan on Children’s Rights, institutional measures for the Disabled, National Roma Strategy)
  • against inequalities in schools (school meals, reinstatement of learning support, etc.)
  • supporting Social and Solidarity Economy institutions who put the issue of “equal pay for work of equal value” at the centre of their work
  • against regional manifestations of inequality (comprehensive policy for islands, regional development conferences)
Towards a European project based on equality and justice
 
In any case, addressing inequalities within a country is a multifactorial project taking into account several criteria. The capabilities of a national government are several but finite; depending on the position of a country in the division of labour, the actual scope of intervention is shaped. I think it is obvious that inequalities can be effectively addressed only to a certain extent within the boundaries of the nation state.  Recent years have shown that wider alliances and progressive governments in as many countries as possible are required for a radical change in relationships to promote more global solutions to the problem. In my view, the issue of inequality could establish a wider, left-progressive plan on a European scale; it could be the key for achieving left power, the basis for social alliances and political co-operation of the Left. The general recognition of the problem compels us towards a dynamic intervention. I think that this conference will be the springboard for an integrated policy and a wider debate.” 
 
 
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