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Annamaria Simonazzi is Professor of Economics at Sapienza University of Rome, Italy, where she has been the director of the Master in Economics and local coordinator of the European Phd in Socio-Economic and Statistical Studies. She presides the Scientific Committee of research institute Fondazione Giacomo Brodolini, is co-director of the journal Economia & Lavoro and member of the editorial board of inGenere.it. Her research interests range from macroeconomics, to social policy, gender and labour economics. Her recent publications include: “Economic relations between Germany and Southern Europe", The Cambridge Journal of Economics, 2013 (co-authored) and “Italy: Continuity and Change in Welfare State Retrenchment” in The European Social Model in Crisis – Is Europe losing its Soul? (Edward Elgar 2015).  

Rafael Muñoz de Bustillo Llorente is Professor of Applied Economics at the University of Salamanca. is Professor of Applied Economics at the University of Salamanca in Spain. His main fields of study and research are Labour Economics, Economics of the Welfare State, European Integration and Development Economics. From in 1999 to date, has participated in over twenty research programs, written chapters in collective volumes and published several articles in scientific journals in both Spanish and English. Some of his books that have been translated in English are: “Measuring more than Money: The Social Economics of Job Quality”, (co-authored, Edward Elgar 2011) and "Operating Hours and Working Times: A Survey of Capacity Utilization and Employment in European Union" (co-authored, 2007).

The two professors recently attended the European Conference on “Inequalities, Neoliberalism and European Integration: progressive responses”, organized by the Nicos Poulantzas Institute and transform! europe, that took place in Athens 23-25 November, as speakers in the panel “Inequalities, welfare state and middle classes in Southern Europe”. Simonazzi and de Bustillo spoke to Greek News Agenda* about how the crisis has affected the middle classes in Spain and Italy, if welfare states in Southern Europe share common traits, how the shrinking of the welfare state is connected to the rise of nationalism and what can be done to defend the european social model:

How has the crisis and subsequent austerity measures affected the middle classes in Spain and Italy? 

Annamaria Simonazzi: In Italy, economic stagnation had started much before the crisis; the labour market was severely segmented, with a very high rate of young people with atypical contracts, in precarious jobs or unemployed.  Thus, before the crisis, middle classes' anxieties were mainly related to their children’s bleak future. The crisis has spread unemployment problems to all age groups, and the middle classes were not spared. The possibility of bleak future for the children is now complemented with an equally bleak present for the grown-ups of the family. Unemployment and the associated decline in labour income is the main reason behind the inequality surges occurring in Italy during recent years, affecting especially the lower middle classes.  

Rafael Muñoz de Bustillo: The impact of the crisis on the middle class in Spain (defined as the population with an income equivalent 80 % to 200 % of the median income) has been double: on one hand there has been a reduction of the size of the middle class, as many have slid down the income ladder to be absorbed by the lower income classes. In relative terms we estimate this reduction at 5%.  On the other hand, as a class, after the crisis, the middle class is poorer, as there has been a 4.5 % reduction of the income they command (out of a total income that is already lower as result of the decrease of GDP, 5.8 % lower from 2008 to 2011).

The middle class has also been affected by the huge increase in unemployment related first to the crisis, and then to the austerity measures taken after May 2010 -when the countercyclical Keynesian policy applied until then by the social democratic government (PSOE) was changed to a policy of fiscal consolidation to address the debt crisis- resulting in unemployment reaching 26 % in 2013.

Furthermore, austerity measures had a negative effect on many public services such as health, education or pensions, services that are closely related to middle class aspirations such as a certain standard of health care, university education for the children etc.

Do classical typologies of welfare state regimes (e.g. Esping-Andersen's classification of welfare states as liberal, conservative and social democratic) also explain differences in income inequality among EU countries? Some authors have argued there exists a fourth type of welfare state: the Southern European, shared by Italy, Spain, Portugal and Greece. Would you like to comment on this? 

Annamaria SimonazziThe Mediterranean welfare state has been mostly based on the family in order to complement a very unequal provision of services. There had been timid attempts in various countries (and in Italy) to increase the role of the state and extend the coverage of the social services newtork beyond pensions (e.g., long-term care, childcare, poverty assistance), but these have been mostly cancelled by the fiscal crisis.

Rafael Muñoz de Bustillo: Generally there is an inverse relation between the size of the welfare state (social expenditure as a percentage of Gross Domestic Outpout) and income inequality. Spain for example is one of the EU countries with higher income inequality as measured by the Gini Index, as result of the increase in inequality during the crisis.  But interestingly, the higher level of inequality is not the result of higher inequality at the market level, i.e. in terms of market income, but results from the small redistribution power of the meager welfare state existing in the country.

As for the existence of a fourth welfare state model, although I think that Mediterranean countries share some elements, like the lower level of social expenditure as a percentage of GDP, I don´t think they conform a “model”. For example, clientelism, supposed to be one of the elements of such model is completely absent in Spain, while in some areas, such as health (or pensions) the Spanish welfare system is perfectly comparable with the systems in place in the Scandinavian countries: universal, fairly efficient, etc. The only difference, again, is the lower percentage of GDP allocated to the services.

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Middle classes are defined not only by their income, but also by their aspirations. What is the effect of the generalized sentiment of vulnerability and insecurity among the middle classes today? How is it connected to the rise of populism and nationalism? 

Annamaria Simonazzi: The generalized sentiment of vulnerability due to the state of the economy, has certainly contributed to a shift towards populism and a growing sentiment against immigration, though the female migrant carers represent the backbone of the elderly care system, and male immigrants sustain a large part of agriculture and construction. In Italy the anger is directed more towards the political class, expressed in the form of supporting "populist" parties or not voting at all.

Rafael Muñoz de Bustillo: The crisis has gravely affected incomes, but more than that it has affected expectations about the stability of the future, anything could happen, nothing can be taken for granted anymore (not even the unity of the country, as is evidenced by that Catalonian crisis). There is a growing concern regarding the possibility of middle class children to reach middle class status, and regarding the capacity of the State to honor its compromises in terms of pensions, healthcare, etc.

It seems that the so-called “European social model” is under threat everywhere in Europe. Can progressive policies be sustained under the current circumstances? Under what terms?

Annamaria Simonazzi: As far as I know, the Nordic welfare model is still resisting (although with some scars): it is based on a high rate of employment (both male and female) which is indispensable to pay for the public services through taxation, and industrial relations are aimed at easing the transition towards new technologies -what once was called the "high road" to growth with equality. Of course, countries with a lower level of development and sharing a common currency with stronger partners face much greater difficulties in pursuing a road of high employment. The process of fiscal consolidation and high levels of debt severely constrain their options. 

Rafael Muñoz de Bustillo: Certainly. They can be sustained as long as the correlation of political forces allows it. It is not a problem of economic sustainability of the model but a problem of having the political strength needed to allocate enough economic resources to make it sustainable in the future.  This can be done within an economic area such as the EU, but, again, only if there is a coalition of countries large enough to readdress the type of policies adopted in the past.

* Interview by Ioulia Livaditi

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ntokosthanos9Thanos Dokos (Ph.D., Cambridge) is Director General of the Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy (ELIAMEP). He served as the Director for Research, Strategic Studies Division, Hellenic Ministry of National Defence (1996-98) and as an Advisor on NATO issues to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (1998-1999). He has taught at the Universities of Athens and Piraeus, the Hellenic National Defense College, the Diplomatic Academy and the Hellenic National Security School.

His research interests include global trends, international security, Greek-Turkish relations & Mediterranean security and his recent publications include: “Greek foreign policy under the Damocles sword of the economic crisis”, Katoptron No. 2, Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, Athens, April 2015; “Greek foreign policy towards the Middle East”, Welt Trends, May 2015; ‘Would GREXIT be a geopolitical disaster’, Strategic Europe, Carnegie Europe, June 17, 2015; ‘It’s the War in Syria Stupid!’, Europe’s World, September 2015.

Dr Thanos Dokos spoke with Greek News Agenda* about Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's visit to Greece, Greek-Turkish relations today and their economic aspect, as well as EU-Turkey relations and Turkish foreign policy in the Middle East:

How would you describe Greek-Turkish relations today?

Greece has moved away from zero-sum game perceptions vis-à-vis Turkey and overall, the two countries are much better off today in terms of bilateral relations (including trade and people-to-people contacts) than they were a few years ago [before 1999 to be more precise]. Having said that, neither country has moved from their firm positions regarding ‘high politics’ issues and Greece and Turkey continue to perceive each other through a Hobbesian prism. Greek policy-makers are moving away from “zero-sum game” perceptions regarding Greek-Turkish relations, but scepticism and distrust continue to linger as Turkey insists on its revisionist policies. During the last few years Turkey has been conducting frequent low level overflights of Greek islets and islands whose sovereignty Ankara started disputing rather recently. Turkey’s political objective is to promote its claims regarding maritime zones in the Aegean. Challenging the sovereignty of inhabited islands is a highly escalatory and potentially destabilising policy of brinkmanship, however.

It seems unlikely that there will be major progress in the near future in fully normalizing bilateral relations. It would be more productive if the two sides explored ideas for confidence-building measures and functional interim solutions regarding overflights, air-space violations and dogfights.

Erdogan has already visited Greece in the past. This will be his first visit as President. In fact he will be the first Turkish president visiting Greece in 65 years. What do you think about the timing of the visit and which are the expected outcomes for both sides?

The visit is taking place at a time of President Erdogan’s choice. It is probably related to Turkey’s difficult relations with the majority of EU countries, as well as the US and the resulting diplomatic isolation. A state visit to Greece would be a good photo opportunity and a successful public relations exercise for the Turkish president, who is eager to show that he is still welcomed in an EU member state, despite the bilateral problems and his authoritarian style of government. For the Greek government the expectation is that this visit and the resulting good will, in combination with Ankara’s many foreign and domestic problems will lead to a period of lower tension between Greece and Turkey and perhaps better cooperation on the migration issue. Boosting economic cooperation is another expectation for the Greek side.

Are we to expect further progress in the field of economic cooperation between Greece and Turkey?

TheTurkish side has put on the table a few potentially interesting proposals for economic cooperation. Boosting economic ties would be important for both sides, as Turkey remains an export destination for Greece whose economy is still struggling with the economic crisis, whereas the Turkish economy has been slowing down after several years of impressive growth rates. Energy is another area of potential cooperation. Already there is a natural gas pipeline linking the two countries and another one, the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline (TAP), that will carry gas from Azerbaijan to Italy, via Turkey, Greece and Albania, is under construction. The Russian proposal for an extension of the so-called Turkish Stream (another proposed pipeline) through Greece and then to other European destinations will have to overcome the obstacle of difficult political relations between Russia and the West.      

You believe that Turkey still wants to join the European Union or that it wishes to establish another kind of relation with the EU?  

President Erdogan has made every possible effort to cause tension with major EU countries and alienate Turkey’s Western partners and allies. As a result of undemocratic practices inside Turkey, a number of European policymakers and a majority of the members of the European Parliament have been asking for a formal suspension of Turkey’s accession negotiations. Greece is one of several EU member states believing that such a decision would be counterproductive as it would cause Turkey to drift further away from Western institutions. Turkey’s key role in the management of refugee/migration flows would make such a development rather costly for the EU. It would also be tantamount to ‘abandoning’ those in Turkey (probably 50% of the population) who are against undemocratic practices and support a closer relationship with the EU. Of course, any expectation that Turkey could join the EU in the foreseeable future would be unrealistic. The best both sides could aim for is a better working relationship that would allow more efficient cooperation in areas of common interest (or concern).         

What is the Turkish foreign policy in the Middle East?

After decades of very selective engagement with the Middle East, AKP’s Turkey has been trying to increase its presence in the region, using mostly its soft power to increase its regional role and influence. A confrontational attitude towards Israel was intended to serve those objectives. The Arab revolts significantly disrupted Turkey’s Middle Eastern policies. Ankara then tried to play the Sunni card by supporting the Muslim Brotherhood in various Arab countries. This policy failed spectacularly in Egypt. Turkish support for the opposition in Syria also didn’t produce the expected results, as the Assad regime proved to be quite resilient. The situation became more complicated because of the emergence of ISIS and the support given to the Syrian Kurds by various powers. Turkey is currently struggling to prevent the emergence of autonomous Kurdish entities and is trying to re-define its relations with regional and global actors in the Middle East.

*Interview by Sotiria Gotsi

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lamb OK1Karl-Heinz Lambertz is the President of the European Committee of the Regions (CoR) since July 2017. He has been a CoR member since 2001 and was President of the CoR's PES Group from 2011 until 2015.  After a number of functions linked to his academic background in law, he became Member of Parliament of the German-speaking Community in 1981.  From 2014 until 2016 he was President of Parliament, before taking post as Senator.

Last November, the European Committee of the Regions in partnership with the other EU institutions organized the 8th European Public Communication Conference (EuroPCom). The event (9-10.11.2017) brought together over 600 public communication professionals, including high-level political representatives, to debate current challenges in both EU and public communication, putting particular emphasis on how to engage citizens in the European project whilst examining the cross-over between communication and engagement.

Karl-Heinz Lambertz spoke to Greek News Agenda* about the need for a new narrative for Europe underlining that delivering results is the best way to communicate EU. He also stresses the importance of cohesion policy as an expression of European solidarity to the unprecedented challenges that the EU has recently faced, such as the economic and migration crisis, indicating that the EU should fulfill its promise of social progression by meeting the real needs of people. He is referring to the EU richness concerning regional diversity and how we can avoid regional nationalism, while he accentuates the need for a strong cohesion policy in the future inviting all interested parties and individuals to join #CohesionAlliance.

cohesionallianceIn your speech at the 8th EuropCom opening session you referred to the EU “double paradigm shift” describing a situation where citizens feel remote from an EU that does not bring hope. In your opinion, is there any responsibility of the EU for this sentiment? What do you think is the task of politicians and communicators?

The European Union is far too often viewed as something distant in Brussels, that doesn't matter to daily life, when in fact we need to remember that Europe is every region, city, town and village.  Whether it is creating jobs, improving transport, delivering public services or spurring innovation, demonstrating what the European Union is and why it matters must begin locally and regionally.

Delivering results is the best way to communicate Europe which is why EU policies and investment must be led by a simple criterion: does it improve the daily lives of citizens? The EU needs to bring hope and fulfill its promise of social progression by meeting the real needs of our communities but this means ensuring decision-making begins from the ground up and regional investment is protected. Politicians and beneficiaries must also take responsibility, contributing to a shared vision of Europe and giving credit to the EU when it brings about positive change.

Everyone working with and in the EU needs to re-think the way we communicate. We need a new narrative of Europe that listens to the aspirations, hopes and worries of citizens and actively responds. It means speaking out when it does improve lives but being honest when it fails. We need to break the communication gap that for too long has existed between Brussels and the citizens it serves through using new technologies, by continual engagement with citizens and talking about Europe locally. 

More than 300 regions are embedded in the EU structures, in parallel with national governments. Is there any risk that this regional integration and “localization” may lead to regional nationalism?

By defending the role of local and regional authorities in the EU, the European Committee of the Regions is not calling for a European Union composed of 300 micro-states. The EU is rich in its regional diversity. Often regional and local identities are even older and stronger enrooted than national identities. This is a fact that needs to be reflected in European policymaking. If we want to avoid regional nationalism, we need to make sure that the EU is accepted by its citizens, which is to say that they believe in it as an added value and not as a threat. More autonomy is ideally something that renders regional nationalism redundant. The key is to strongly involve regional and local authorities in the implementation of political strategies.  Correctly applying the subsidiarity principle – through for example our Committee's participation in the recently launched EU Subsidiarity Task Force - are means to ensure regions and cities are involved and heard.

Greece in the last few years has experienced both a migrant and an economic crisis. What do you think is the role of cohesion policy in enhancing solidarity among EU citizens? 

The European Union has faced unprecedented challenges in recent years and the insufficient response has made too many citizens questions its very purpose. We are starting to see our economy grow, yet in many regions and cities, unemployment remains stubbornly high. The migration crisis may have been stemmed, but it has placed further strain on many local and regional authorities, responsible for the reception and integration of refugees. EU cohesion policy – currently worth one-third of the EU budget – has softened the blow tackling economic and social disparities; supporting investment in training, education, employment, housing and health; and fostering cooperation across borders. In all its dimensions - economic, social and territorial - cohesion policy is an investment in people and the ultimate expression of European solidarity.  It needs to be strong, simpler and more visible in Europe's future.

What is the role of the European Committee of the Regions and cohesion policy in EU’s future, especially at a time when social inequalities in Europe have risen?

Given the potential economic implications of Brexit on the next EU budget after 2020 and changing political priorities, cohesion policy is under threat. As the EU's assembly of local and regional governments, our 350 members are united that cohesion policy must continue to be an integral pillar of Europe's future.  This is why, together with many other European territorial associations, our Committee launched the #CohesionAlliance – a growing coalition open to anyone who believes cohesion policy must continue to be the same percentage of the EU budget as it is today. It needs to be protected to add to the 5000 km of roads and 1500 km of railways that have been built; to ensure that not just the six million Europeans have access to better drinking water, but every citizen. A Union without cohesion policy is not the Europe we want.

*Interview by Ioulia Elmatzoglou

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economides1The sun never shines for Yannis Economides’s film characters. Lumpenproletariats suffocating in small apartments, surrendered to their fate and instincts, unable to reflect on the conditions of their own existence. Economides says he loves them, but why does he put them through extreme situations?

Yannis Economides was born in Limassol Cyprus. In 1987 he moved to Athens to study filmmaking. After making short films and documentaries, he wrote and directed his first feature film, “Matchbox” (2002). His second feature, “Soul Kicking” (2006) and his fourth feature, “Stratos” (2014) premiered at Cannes Film Festival and the 64th Berlin International Film Festival respectively. His third film, “Knifer” (2010), won seven Hellenic Film Academy awards, including Best Film, Best Director and Best Screenplay. Each of his four films has won the Greek Film Critics Association Award for Best Greek Feature Film. In October 2016 he made his theatre debut at the New Stage of the National Theatre in Athens, directing his own play Sleep, Stella, Sleep. He has appeared as supporting actor in several Greek films as well, including Fatih Akin’s latest film, “In the Fade” (2017). He is currently preparing a new film, “Ballad for a Pierced Heart”.

In his interview with Greek News Agenda*, Yannis Economides explains that putting his characters through extreme situations serves as a means of exposing their inner thoughts, noting that he is interested in the dark areas of human nature, with Greek reality always in focus. He makes clear that he is not interested in analyzing and deconstructing the Greek family as an institution, which serves as a mere canvas in his films. Elaborating on the traits of his distinct cinematic style, he emphasizes his persistence on realistic representation and his loving gaze for all his characters, the good and the bad. Finally, Economides expresses disappointment in that although contemporary Greek Cinema has gained international critical acclaim, it does not have a political impact on Greek society.

MatchboxErrikos Litsis, The Matchbox (2002)

Do your heroes represent extreme cases?

I don’t think they are extreme cases; what is extreme is the circumstances I put them through. They represent the average Greek inside out, and what he or she have made of their life and country. I put my characters through extreme situations to shed light on them, to expose through these extreme situations how they think, how they feel and their dark sides, in which I am particularly interested.

How do you build these characters and what are the reasons for their poor judgment and misery?

I build my characters through observing people around me. I’m not interested in the reasons why something happens as much as what comes next. As an artist, I work with the human condition, human nature. The darkness of the human soul has been ever present. There is no reason why. That is how human beings are and jealousy, hatred, arrogance, avarice are archetypical facts of human nature. I try to shed light on the Greek version of all this.

In your films, you work a lot on deconstructing the traditional family institution which is a source of neuroses. What are the maladies of the Greek family that make it a place of oppression?

Actually, for me the Greek family is a pretext. It is the canvas on which I draw my dramatic composition to depict human darkness. I do not make social cinema. My films deal with humans and the depths of their souls. I try to follow a Shakespearean path of characters and dramaturgy. Critics may see different things in my work. The family is what it is. I’m not interested in analyzing the facade of contemporary Greeks. What I am interested in is how people evolve in this environment through what is happening to them.

soul kicking mariaMaria Kehagioglou, Erikos Litsis, Soul Kicking (2006)

What about the female characters in your films? Usually, they set the plot in motion, they are as angry as the male characters. How do they function in your films?

It is evident that in my films there is no Virgin Mary or the old fashioned model of the self sacrificing or submissive woman that used to exist some decades ago. They are dynamic in a bad sense and their distinctive feature is that in order to survive in a men’s world, they foster male behavior; that is what happens to women in the Western world. They are aggressive. I’ m not being judgmental. Since women have an equal role in society, at least in Western societies, they have chosen to adopt male behaviour. It’s not my job to examine or evaluate this. I’m interested in what this generates; and its product is violence, which is necessary for life to go on. I don’t judge my female characters. They are trapped and they have to find means of survival from what surrounds them. They will either surrender and die or find a way out. That’s the way things are.

You have developed your own distinct realistic cinematic style, signature dialogues, experimentation with film form; you have developed your film frame from “Matchbox” to “Stratos”. Would you like to elaborate on the traits that distinguish your cinematic expression?

I like the way you put it. What is crucial for me is the accurate representation of reality, the way I understand it. I try to construct a story as it would happen in the real world. I add humour and extraordinary characters in the plot, the signature dialogues you mentioned, but there is always one principle that has to be obeyed: realism. I don’t do films that belong to an unreal sphere, which are not relatable with the audience, no matter the viewer’s social background. There is also one distinctive feature that I am especially proud of and that is the love with which I embrace all my characters. I see my characters in a loving way regardless of whether they are good or bad. I feel for all of them. I don’t examine them as guinea pigs in a cold laboratory, neither am I experimenting on them. I try to recreate what they go through. And maybe that is the reason why the actors liberate themselves and put that extra something that’s engraved on the film.

knifer2Maria Kallimani, Stathis Stamoulakatos, Knifer (2010)

There are characters in your films, such as the youths in the work place in “Soul Kicking” that are violent, racist and blind as far as their own existence is concerned, and maybe this is where followers of the extreme Right come from.

This is a very accurate observation. In my films, I’d predicted that the wasted energy of these young people is on the verge of finding and fitting into the ideological mold of the extreme Right. They are trapped in a dead end job, all the energy of their youth is going down the drain. They could be working somewhere else and be useful, be happy, but this is not the case. They work where they work, they are unhappy and they have to find a scapegoat for their misery.

What is the role of the city in your films?

In my first films it is decisive. The city causes suffocation at least in my first two films “Matchbox” and “Soul Kicking” in a way that is implied and reflected upon the characters. After the Knifer I have widened my frame bringing small town Greece into the discussion. So yes, the role of the city is decisive. I should make clear that I’m not interested in morality tales. Ever since my first film, I’ve been trying to dive deep inside my characters. I’m not underestimating morality tales, which is a genre with its own difficulties, and I respect immensely the poetic ethnography of Otar Ioseliani, but my work is different.

You have been directing for the second year in a row at the New Stage of the National Theatre in Athens your own play Sleep, Stella, Sleep. Was the transition from cinematic to theatre conventions difficult?

It was a great experience for me. It was the first time I worked in theatre, I was lucky enough to work with an amazing group of actors and I was offered freedom of expression. Theatre is much more direct. It’s liberating that you don’t have to go through the ordeal of finding funding. It’s much easier to stage a play for the theatre.

You mentioned the difficulties of funding. Has the fact that you are an established film director made it easier for you to find access to funding?

Things remain the same, both in Greece and abroad. Making a film has never been easy. On the whole, things get harder every year, not only in Greece but in Europe as well. It’s difficult to find funding, especially for a Greek film, with Greek actors, shot in Greece and according to some standards.

stratos1Vangelis Mourikis, Stratos (2014)

You are a pioneer within a generation of directors that critics have described as the renaissance of Greek cinema, a cinema that is subversive and has brought Greek cinema into international focus.

So what? Greek cinema has no impact in Greek society. Greek films do not constitute a social and political fact for Greeks, as used to be the case with Angelopoulos’ and Voulgaris’ films in the 70’s. Their films were discussed by students, movements and the audience. In the 70’s, cinema was something that concerned Greek society, it wasn’t something outside it. Contemporary Greeks don’t give a damn about Greek cinema. It’s not the same for Greek theatre, which has its public and is revered by Greeks. And it’s not the audience’s fault. It’s the filmmakers fault. They have not managed to engage the audience and gain its trust and respect. The audience is lost in its own problems and struggles.

I don’t know what kind of stories contemporary filmmakers want to tell. I don’t know if they are only interested in international film festivals. For instance, why do the majority of Greek films have an English title? This doesn’t happen with other countries. It’s OK to find an English title when your film goes to a festival abroad, but why make a Greek film, in the Greek language, with an English title? Would acclaimed playwrights as Dimitris Kechaidis or Giorgos Dialegmenos give an English title to his plays? Once in a while there is a point in using an English title, as is the case with Vassilis Katsikonouris’ “Arizona Dream”, but it shouldn’t become the rule. Authenticity is needed if Greek society is to be shaken and moved. Thus to be honest, I don’t see any point in winning awards at Festivals. The issue for me is for films to have an impact on the community, in real life. Now is the time for artists to make their point; if not now, when then?

Read also: Economides interview with Kathimerini on the “Matchbox”, Economides interview with Cineuropa about “Stratos”.

Watch "Stratos" trailer:

* Interview by Florentia Kiortsi

RosanvallonPierre Rosanvallon, who holds the chair in modern and contemporary political history at the Collège de France, was invited by the French Institute in Greece to deliver a lecture on the challenges faced by democracy in the 21st century. He spoke to our sister publication Grèce Hebdo* on the democratic disenchantment in Europe and the rest of West, the mutations of modern democracy in a globalised economy and the challenges faced by the traditional political system due to emerging new demands.

Some analysts state that market fundamentalism inevitably creates a gap between election promises and government policies, thus discrediting political forces on both ends of the political spectrum. Is this situation unavoidable, in your opinion?

No, I think it should be considered within a historical context for democracy. Democracy was established on the idea that the electorate has the right to appoint legitimate, representative governments who prioritise the common good, since the general will is expressed through elections. We see however that elections are not successful in advancing legitimacy, representation and the public interest. Other mechanisms are thus needed; and I think we find ourselves at a moment, a threshold of a second democratic revolution. The first democratic revolution was that of universal suffrage, and the second democratic revolution should mark an expansion, a multiplication of the forms of representation (society cannot be simply represented by a delegate) of the means of promoting the common interest -given that the common interest is more than the will of the majority party- and also an increase of legitimacy, since democracy must be confirmed in a permanent way, while elections are intermittent. Thus, everywhere in the world we witness a democratic disenchantment, which has its roots specifically in the realisation that election promises cannot be entirely fulfilled.

RosaCollageYou note that “democracy is the people’s watchful eye”. What exactly is the meaning of this phrase?

First of all, this is a historical observation. Take the French Revolution: the foremost symbol of the revolution is an eye; it is the eye, because the people henceforth keep their eyes open constantly, even as they speak intermittently. It has often been said that democracy is the voice of the people; I believe that, since the beginning, democracy has probably proved itself to be the people’s eye as well – that means it doesn’t only relate to decision-making but also with monitoring, which is continuous. So the concept of the people monitoring deputies and the administration to ensure the provision of the common good is a concept of crucial importance. This means that, in order to have a functional democratic regime, we need a functional civil society, democratic media, a whole social fabric which allows the people’s eye to serve its purpose.

We have recently witnessed in France the triumph of nonpartisan candidates (Macron, Mélenchon, just to name a few). Are political parties no longer qualified to acquire political power?

It is obvious that political parties are facing a crisis, and this crisis has primarily social roots. It is important to keep in mind that throughout history political parties have represented social groups such as labourers and the self-employed, the middle class, farmers and ideologies – for example, Christian democratic parties have been of great significance in Europe. Social stratification has now become less conspicuous, causing the loss of party roots anchoring them to society. But there is also a second reason, namely that parties conform to what could be called “demand-based politics”. The function of parties is to serve as mediators between society and the political system, yet nowadays we see that politics are being restructured as “supply-based politics”: It is individuals that offer a specific “political supply” to the people, and this transition from demand-based politics to supply-based politics has, I believe, primarily social origins and possibly also stems from some weariness of party structures, considering that political parties have been in power too long and there are expectations for renewal. This renewal is affected through individuals responding to a very simple need; it is through personal embodiment that a sense of responsibility can be achieved. A party is, in its way, irresponsible, because it is a group, while an individual can be held directly responsible. Hence, there is a demand for accountability, and partisan parliamentary democracy did not adequately respond to this need. So, if we have transitioned to supply-based politics, it’s because we have progressed to a brand of politics passing from the legislative to the executive, and the executive is much more embodied while, by definition, the legislative branch is composite; the assembly bears no responsibility. I think that this transitioning from demand-based politics to supply-based politics should be conceived as a mutation of democracy instead of something circumstantial. Because even in the countries where political parties keep their power -such as Great Britain or Germany- the party leaders are the ones who make all the decisions. It can be said that parties no longer constitute democratic organisations, where the base is responsible for planning.

RosaCollage2And what is the relation of economic globalisation and market fundamentalism with the democratic process?

Market fundamentalism plays a very important role because it globalises issues and, in doing so, creates a chasm between economic sovereignty, which is global, and political sovereignty, which is local. Thus, market expansion -because it is not simply a matter of market power but of expansion- leads to forms of political and democratic regulations beyond (the borders of) national democratic republics. And this poses a great challenge nowadays because, paradoxically, political systems now tend to fall back on a principle of homogeneity. There are many instances of inequality and we think that the answer to that is a populist ideal. The populist ideal promotes national homogeneityas an answer to rising inequality, and so we seek to once again put forward the notion of nationality while on the contrary we should now more than ever embrace internationalism. We can see clearly now, with the “Paradise Papers”, that if there is no action in the form of an international democratic economy then the market wins, because it works on a larger scale.

What can we learn from the recent Greek experience?

I believe there is a lesson to be learned from Greece, something which was expressed more aggressively there but is also relevant to other countries as well. It is the fact that countries throughout the West tried to solve their social issues by swelling their debt. In doing that, all they did was buy time, as Streeck, a famous German sociologist, put it. What we have here is a kind of democratic defect: a democratic system should be able to make concessions, to make choices, and creating an unsustainable debt is a means of avoiding concessions and choices. And I believe that Greece is an archetypical example of this -which is also true for the other countries to a less dramatic extent- and that the situation in Greece is just the grimmest illustration of a general phenomenon in modern democratic societies.

Read also: Quo Vadis Europa? | Nicolas Leron on the need for a democratic leap

Dimitri Athanitis

Born in Athens, Dimitris Athanitis studied cinema and architecture. Member of the European and Greek Film Academy, he has directed seven feature and three short films. His last film “Invisible” (2016) won 14 awards and screened at more than 35 film festivals. His debut film “Addio Berlin” (1994) won Jury’s Prize and Critics Mention at the Thessaloniki International Film Festival (TIFF) for its innovative style, while his second feature “No Sympathy for the Devil” (1997) was nominated for Best Feature Film and won the Best Actress Awardat TIFF. “2000+1 Shots” (2000) was placed by Australian film critic B. Mousoulis among the 10 best films of the year for the Senses of Cinema film journal. His 2012 film “Three Days Happiness” won 4 awards and showed at more than 20 festivals.

Greek News Agenda interviewed* Dimitris Athanitis in connection to his film “Invisible”, a tough urban western focusing on the unequal battle fought by 35year-old factory worker Aris against injustice after being fired without notice. Shocked and unable to react rationally, Aris decides to take justice into his own hands, when his ex-wife appears unexpectedly leaving their 6 year-old son with him. Athanitis explains how he has woven a dense narrative on clearly cinematic terms which follows the protagonist’s gradual loss of contact with reality. He underlines that he is interested in exploring his characters’ desires and thoughts, going under the surface, beyond conventional distinctions between “good’ and “bad” and that his films always include social criticism, despite appearances to the contrary.

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Christos Benetsis, Yannis Stankoglou, "Invisible" (2016)

Asked why he chose Aspropyrgos, an industrial area on the outskirts of Athens, as setting, Athanitis replies that it is an area that fits into the notion of invisibility around which the film revolves, in the sense that it has lost its place in society, as is the case with the central character, as well as his son who is being ignored by both parents. Finally, Athanitis invites the reader to a view of his personal journey in filmmaking through twenty five different encounters, from the 80’s to the present, as laid out in his book “Secret encounters”.

“Invisible” is an innovative combination of genres, combining social drama with noir and western elements and an enigmatic, open ended plot. How do you think these elements contribute to the narration?

“Invisible” is in a way innovative in combining elements from different cinematic genres but it is mainly the ending of the film that brings something really new. Ιn this long, almost endless sequence, there are three plot twists which strike hard at the audience. The viewer feels lost with all the twists and turns and has to think to put the pieces together. The decisive factor is that “Invisible” combines reality with elements of fantasy. The film begins describing Aris’s cruel reality and step by step lays out what goes on inside his mind. This is the key to also understanding the ending.

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Christos Benetsis, "Invisible" (2016)

On the other hand, it is important to observe that underneath the simple surface lies a narrative condensed, enriched with two and three stories running at the same time. Although Aris is always kept in frame, we can also follow his kid’s story, which is as important and complicated as his own. We also observe in an abstract way, as described through cinematic language, the complicated existence and relations of other characters around Aris.

There is underlying social criticism in your work. Would you like to elaborate?

In my films I am interested in scratching well under the surface. I want to go beyond the characters’ social façade, to see what they really want, what they think, far beyond the artificial distinction between “good” and “bad”. Finally, my films make a strong social comment despite appearances to the contrary. The plot of my first short film “Philosophy” - shot in 1993 when the war in Sarajevo had just begun – deals with the expansion of war in the Balkans, the collapse the Greek economy and the declaration of bankruptcy by the President, leaving philosophy as the only possibility left that’s cost free. The film won the Best Fantasy Film Award at the Drama Film Festival. A few years later, the film proved to be prophetic. 

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The city is a protagonist in your films. Why did you choose Aspropyrgos as a background in “Invisible”?

My six previous films were shot in central Athens and they focused on city life. Aspropyrgos however is not really that far away; it is just a decadent industrial area on the city’s outskirts and I felt that it was the right setting for my story. Moreover, although this area is so close to the city, it remains invisible to the people, as Aris remains invisible for his employer and as the kid feels invisible in the world of the adults.

How do film makers deal with the economic crisis? Are they intimidated by it?

The crisis has proven to be productive in a way. It gave more space for creativity and made clear how urgent it is to make films. So, I am optimistic.

MYSTIKES SYNANTHSEIS

Would you like to tell us a few things about your book “Secret Encounters”? What do these encounters offer the reader?

“Secret Encounters” relates to my encounters with some extraordinary people in the course of my cinematic journey all these years. There are stars like Ben Gazzara and directors like Chabrol or Kakoyannis, writers, singers, fictional characters, chess players and even some unknown persons. There is a challenging mixture of characters and at the same time my own personal voyage in filmmaking through twenty five different encounters from the 80’s to the present. This book is an expedition involving people, places and times and constitutes an anthology of extraordinary people and a personal mythology at the same time.

What are your future plans?

The only I can say is that a female character will be at the centre of my next film, which will be in black and white, and it shall be shot far from Athens.

* Interview by Florentia Kiortsi

Read also: Film review by Elie Castiel, Sequences, Montreal (in French)

dim theo bigAdministrative reform is among the top priorities of the Greek government aiming to transform public administration into a key tool for economic prosperity, serving at the same time the needs of citizens and businesses. Within this scope, a coherent and well prepared “National Strategy for Administrative Reform 2017-2019”  has been recently put forward.

Greek News Agenda interviewed* Grigoris Theodorakis, Secretary General of the Ministry of Administrative Reconstruction on recent developments:

Asked whether administrative reform is part of the Greece’s economic adjustment program, Theodorakis said that although fiscal consolidation requires adequate measures in the administration, establishing an independent, functional and transparent public administration has long been an enduring request. On the other hand, simple horizontal spending cuts without structural reforms bear no result. In order to succeed, a coherent and well prepared reform strategy is needed, as with the current National Strategy for Administrative Reform 2017-2019, not as an obligation but with the support of the political leadership and all public administration.

Regarding the size of the public sector, Theodorakis referred to the numerous international reports indicating that Greece does not suffer from overstaffed public administration, and noted that the main problem lies with the irrational allocation of staff. He further underlined that the newly established mobility system based on job descriptions and digitized procedures will bring the right people with the right skills to the right place through a transparent and easy mechanism combating clientelism. At the same time, emphasis is given on stable, permanent and de-politicized working relationships in the public administration so as to provide quality, transparent and effective public services.

Regarding the technical assistance of Expertise France -the French international technical cooperation agency- to the Administrative Reform in Greece, Theodorakis explained how helpful this assistance has been towards the implementation of reform policies, underlining however that any reform conducted in public administration will be conducted mainly by the Greek administration. For this reason, Greek civil servants are collaborating with French experts in work-groups showing remarkable results, he added.

The Secretary General also referred to the term “participatory administration” mentioning that the Strategy foresees the evaluation of public services by citizens through a web platform as well as the improvement of public consultation including for the first time local government decisions. Promoting the use of open data in the following years is an additional means of enhancing citizen participation in public administration and encouraging interactive communication. The ultimate goal is to have a more effective, but most importantly, a more democratic public administration.

* Interview by Costas Mavroidis

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The National Strategy for Administrative Reform focuses on 8 principal areas:

- Shaping and implementation of public policies by enhancing interministerial coordination as well as cooperation with public organizations

- Structures and procedures: Through the re-organization of formal structures and the simplification of administrative procedures, the aim is to reduce operational costs while enhancing the quality of services to both citizens and business

- Local government: Modernization of the legal framework concerning the operation of local government entities putting emphasis on social participation and accountability

- Human resources: Emphasis is given on meritocracy, transparency and impartiality so as to ensure an efficient and effective administration

- Regulatory governance: Modernization of the legal and regulatory environment as well as creation of a single point of open access to legal information for the public sector, citizens and business.

- Transparency, accountability and open governance: The aim is to enhance citizen participation in decision-making through public consultation, evaluation tools and open data platforms.

- E-government strategy: Improvement of public services provided to citizens and businesses through the simplification and digitalization of procedures developing new skills and competences in public administration.

- Anti-corruption: Through the National Anti-corruption Strategy the aim is to identify sectors with the highest level of corruption risk, improve legislation and codes of ethics, enhance accountability, implement Public and Private Sector Collaboration etc.

The myth of Greece’s overstaffed public sector

The number of civil servants has been reduced since the beginning of the economic crisis by 18.4% (i.e. 127,236 fewer civil servants in 2016 than in 2009), bringing Greece below the OECD average.

Between 2013-2014, organizational structures also decreased by 23% in General Directorates, 38% in Directorates and 35% in Departments, generating important budget cuts in wages and remunerations.

Moreover, administration in Greece has an ageing workforce with an average of 45.3 years in 2016 (43.1 years in 2012), hindering innovation and the development of new skills. The Greek government intends to adopt new programming schemes in order to hire “fresh” human resource and tackle the ageing of the workforce.

Reforming public administration does not necessarily mean further reduction in staff and services but rather increased performance through optimal allocation of staff, simplification of procedures, extensive use of digital technologies etc. In the aforementioned National Strategy, great emphasis has been given to the workforce in order to improve the internal functioning of public administration through initiatives such as a new mobility system, performance evaluation, selection for heads of units, job description etc, currently implemented in the public sector.

According to the Ministry of Administrative Reconstruction, Greek Public Administration will gradually become the guarantor of social cohesion and solidarity, as well as the vehicle for economic growth. The ultimate goal is to respond to the needs of society offering high quality services to citizens - especially in these times of crisis – and to businesses.

Read more via Greek News Agenda: PM Tsipras unveils National Strategy for Administrative Reform 2017-2019

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Public sector employment as a percentage of total employment (OECD, Ministry of Administrative Reconstruction)

Edited by Ioulia Elmatzoglou

Koulmasis photoGreek film director and script writer Timon Koulmasis was born in Germany in 1961 and has studied History and Philosophy in Germany and France. He has filmed three fiction feature films: “The Waste Land” (1987), “Before the Night” (2004) and “What colour are the walls of your apartment?” (2005). He has also filmed nine documentaries: “Urlike Marie Meinhoff” (1994), “Anis Naccache – Revolutionary or Terrorist?” (2000), “Ways of Rebetico“ (2003), “Sinasos, A Survey of Memory” (1996), Martha (2006), “Michalis” (2007), “Nico Papatakis- A portrait”, (2008-2009), “Words Of Resistance” (2010), and “Portrait Of My Father In Times Of War” (2016). His films have been selected by international Film Festivals, including Cannes, Berlin, Venice, Montreal and Locarno and have won many distinctions. Koulmasis has also taught script writing and documentary filmmaking in France, and he is the Representative of Greece at the European Cinema Support Fund Eurimages.

His film “Words of Resistance” is about the Greek radio programme of Germany’s public international broadcasting service Deutsche Welle, a daily programme that nearly all Greeks were secretly listening to during the years of military dictatorship in Greece (1967-1974). Like many of his previous films taking place at the crossroads where personal experience meets collective memory, the film tells the story of the men and women who created this programme and, forced into exile by the junta, continued from abroad their fight against the regime for seven years. One of the broadcasters of the programme was Danai Koulmasi, the director’s mother.

Interviewed by Greek News Agenda* about “Words of Resistance”, Koulmasis explains that what prompted him to film “Words of Resistance” was the need to not only tell the unknown stories of the people behind the DW Greek programme but to also question the power of critical, politically engaged discourse and redefine its necessity today. Asked if the younger generations that are the target group of the film are sensitive to political issues, he argues they are, although they have neither references nor perspectives. Koulmasis also stresses that he is satisfied by the levels of Eurimages funding absorption by Greek films as well as current Greek film production, thanks to talented young directors in every field and a new generation of open minded, internationally oriented producers.

Afisa Koulmasis

In your documentaries, you like to tell personal stories that evolve within a historical setting. What prompted you to film “Words of Resistance”?

There had never been a film about the men and women who created the legendary Greek programme of Deutsche Welle and, forced into exile by the fascist regime, continued to fight for seven years to maintain the dignity and the hope of a whole people. I knew them since my childhood and so I tried to uncover the important part they played during and after the dictatorship and indicate their place in collective memory today. As you noted, most of my films deal with the issue of individual and collective memory.

But it was different then.Times have changed. Critical discourse used to be perceived as a powerful and threatening tool. The Chinese emperor Ts'in Che Hoang, for example, had all the books in his kingdom burnt, with the sole exception of those dealing with medicine and cooking recipes. Closer to home, the colonels’ regime feared the Deutsche Welle Greek radio programme to such an extent that they interfered with jamming transmitters. These days, hardly a generation later, politicians in Greece and elsewhere in Europe consider journalists and intellectuals as totally harmless, and they are probably right. Words of Resistancereflects on the power of critical, politically engaged speech, and redefines its necessity today.

The film also reveals the dilemma facing discourse when it tries to translate into action ("praxis"), when it attempts to bridge the gap that almost inevitably exists between poetical ethics and political demands. This issue was explosive then, it is still important today, and it is aimed at young people.

“Words of Resistance” revolves around the fight for democracy. Fifty years following the collapse of the military regime in Greece, do you think that younger generations are sensitive to political issues?

They obviously are but they live in "unhistorical" times and lack references and perspectives. There is also a lot of disappointment and distrust, since promises by political ideologues aren't credible anymore. The crisis is less economic than ideational, and that is what makes it so dangerous.

Critical discourse thus would take place in specific historical circumstances like these ones, devoid of clichés and ideological prejudices. Only this way can it resist becoming commonplace. Sometimes it has to denounce, but its main role is to propose new ideas. Critical speech has not disappeared today but it is hardly audible. The economic censorship prevailing in mass media transforms every single thought into a publicity slogan. It has yet to be proven that the Internet might become an alternative.

This "silence" breeds inevitably the germs of violence. I sincerely fear that a relapse into barbarism cannot be excluded anymore.

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 Angelos Maropoulos, Giorgos Kladakis, Danae Koulmasi, Kostas Nikolaou - 1973

You are currently representing Greece at Eurimages. How does the financing of co-production operate and how can Greek films make use of it?

Eurimages is a fund that enables producers from member states of the Council of Europe, who coproduce with production companies from another member state under the revised European Convention of Co-production, to apply for gap financing. There are technical and financial eligibility criteria. But for years now, Greek producers handle these and apply successfully for funding. 2017 will be the best year ever for Greek Cinema since Eurimages came into existence: so far, this year, already eight Greek Films - 4 majority and 4 minority productions - have been funded by Eurimages.

What is your opinion of current documentary production in Greece?

A lot of progress has been made in recent years, and there is an increasing awareness of the social and political issues that need to be addressed artistically in times of crisis. But I would not make a difference between documentary, short film and feature fiction: there are a lot of talented young directors in every field, and a new generation of open minded, internationally oriented producers is doing a tremendous job in developing high level projects - artistically and financially. In spite of the enormous difficulties due mainly to the (compared to most other European countries) ridiculously low amounts of funding granted by the Greek Film Centre and TV channels, I am very optimistic about the future course of New Greek Cinema.

* Interview by Florentia Kiortsi

Read also: Timon Koulmasis interview with GrèceHebdo (in French) 

Watch the full documentary:

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Leo Panitch is co-editor of the Socialist Register and Professor Emeritus at York University, Canada. 

In an interview* with Tassos Tsakiroglou, political editor of the Athens daily "Journalists' Journal" (Η Εφημερίδα των Συντακτών), he talks about Greece’s current economic situation, the SYRIZA government room for maneuver especially in relation to redistribution policies and the northern European working classes responsibility to try to change the correlation of forces so as to improve SYRIZA’s position and credibility. Professor Panitch emphasizes that “the great danger for any radical government taking office is its social-democratization” and the the “danger of being overwhelmed by the problems of managing the existing state”. In conclusion Leo Panitch underlines that “even with SYRIZA been forced to be social-democratized, Greek society did not give Golden Dawn beyond the 8%... It is something you should be very proud of and I think SYRIZA has something to do with it.”

The government claims that, in the summer of 2018, international economic surveillance will be over, and that Greece will start borrowing from the markets. How realistic do you think this is, given the country’s current economic situation?

This is very difficult for me to judge. On the basis of what I read in the press, this appears to be somewhat confirmed. The real question though is at what rate of interest it will be able to access international funds, that is, what will the spread be between the interest Greece would have to pay and the rates applying to Europe. On the surface, access looks increasingly like a possibility, and it still may be feasible after the German election. What the IMF has been calling for in exchange for the terrible structural adjustment that’s been forced on Greece is relief from a large portion of its debt. What I might have hoped is that, after the election, the Germans would have finally agreed to this.

I think however that the Liberals who will participate in the new government are against this.

That’s why I said “hope”. I don’t know if it is true or if it will happen or mere speculation that the liberals have insisted on taking the Finance Ministry. That’s quite possible. Your question makes a valid point in relation to the existing debt and whether Greece will be able to fulfill its obligations to gain access to the markets.

There is also the obligation to maintain the surplus at 3.5%

This rate is extremely high. It may not be impossible to meet, but at a cost of not being able deliver on many things the Greek government still wants to do, such as its distribution of some of the surplus to pensioners in last year’s budget. Tsakalotos nonetheless may still have some room for maneuvre even with that 3.5%, given the shifts in both unemployment and growth. That may give him enough room not to meet the 3.5 surplus requirement. But the causes and effects of all this go back 40 years, long before the Economic Monetary Union and the euro.

You have argued that the Left must take on government responsibilities and not exhaust its actions at protest events. How do you see things after 2.5 years of SYRIZA rule in Greece?

I still believe that. The prime responsibility in my view for the credibility of the SYRIZA government lies outside Greece, above all in the northern European working classes who could not -and at times did not want- to change the correlation of forces to give the SYRIZA government more room for maneuvre.

That said, I think that I was aware all along that going into government provided the leadership with an impossible choice. Had they said they would leave the Eurozone they would not have been reelected. That is what the Left Platform and many outside SYRIZA were insisting on, but this was completely unrealistic as abandoning the euro required introducing capital controls as well as import controls; and you cannot remain in the European Union with these limitations. There was always a lack of sense of reality in the claim that “we’ll leave the eurozone but not the European Union”. If you leave amidst a crisis without securing any funds from the ECB, and given the failure of Greek banks, it would require capital and import controls. And you couldn’t have remained in the E.U.  And SYRIZA did not have a mandate for that even after the referendum. It was an impossible situation and it required a shift in the correlation of forces.

In that sense, there is a parallel between 1917 and the situation in Greece. The only difference is that the Russians had oil to cover their energy needs, whilst Greece has only olive oil. You can’t run the economy on olive oil. Then there is another very serious dimension, which is membership of NATO and all of its implications that the left did not wish to discuss.

You mean the geopolitical implications?

Geopolitical, yes, but also the nature of the Greek military and the Greek Police, as well as the correlation of forces within them. On the other hand, it is clear that not to go into government would’ve been irresponsible also. There is a different situation in Portugal, a different alignment.

In an interview with our newspaper (Η Εφημερίδα των Συντακτών), Tsipras said that he will continue to seek cooperation with social democrats in Greece. Given the experience in Europe, do you believe that this political space now has any credibility?

No. I think that the great danger for any radical government taking office is its social-democratization, given the difficulty of carrying through a socialist programme in any country, and above all Greece in the context of the crisis: the danger of being overwhelmed by the problems of managing the existing state.

This was bound to happen with SYRIZA. Some of the leadership, especially Tsakalotos and the group of 53 he is associated with, have a vision beyond this. I don’t think they have been helped by so many people with shared views walking away from SYRIZA. The Left Platform could have turned itself into a major political force. Had they remained, developments would have been different.

Tsipras is now forced to govern with AN.ELL, a very conservative party.

Yes and that has implications in terms of the relationship with the church and so on. But there’s also been a failure: their overwhelming concern for able and honest people running the state versus their lack of concern- not only in the leadership- for developing the capacity of the party, to educate, mobilize and develop alternative means of production and consumption. It has been a problem with this government but it is further reinforced when someone like the former general secretary of the party walks away from his position instead of trying to mobilize the party to be SYRIZA again. Thus, the Left cannot be the political force it needs to be.

What we see in Europe and the United States is the rise of conservative, xenophobic, even fascist political forces, while the Left is on the decline even though it engages in solitary struggles from time to time. What is your explanation?

I think what we are seeing is that institutions are promoting neoliberalism, with the European Union doing it as a whole, social-democracy also embracing neoliberalism -PASOK did this in Greece- and the centre-right parties have also embraced neoliberalism; these institutions have all lost their legitimacy during this long crisis.

In my opinion, the ideology of neo-liberalism was never as popular as people thought it was. We see that with the antiglobalisation movement, and the deceit of the attempted reform of the European constitution along neoliberal lines. Even in the USA there are resistances from the working class.

There is huge suspicion of neoliberalism and in this long crisis we see the delegitimation of institutions.

In Greece, that resulted in the rise of Golden Dawn and much more importantly to the explosion of support for SYRIZA. The wave of occupation of public spaces and student strikes has put the rise of Golden Dawn relatively in the shadow.

I think it’s remarkable that even with SYRIZA been forced to be social-democratized, Greek society did not give Golden Dawn beyond the 8% it had already achieved. It is something you should be very proud of and I think SYRIZA has something to do with it. 

That said, the bankruptcy of social-democracy, its embrace with neoliberalism and the delegitimation of centre-right parties leaves enormous space open to a xenophobic, nationalist Right which expresses itself in anti-globalization terms and identifies capital globalization with human rights in particular, especially with liberal notions.

And this is extremely worrying. It’s not just an appeal to the white working class: the appeal is homophobic as well as xenophobic, it’s patriotic and it’s sexist. That is why Putin is a hero for all these people; because in the context of the Olympics, he openly showed that he was homophobic. It even has an appeal to immigrants in certain countries who espouse a similar stance.

In America for example, 33% of the Latino vote went to Trump, with 43% of educated women voting for him. That said, the natural base of the old communist and social-democratic parties has been left open to this. And this is the great danger of our time.

Is there anything positive?

There are some positive elements in this political protest from both sides of the spectrum, Right and Left.

And that is SYRIZA, Podemos, Block, but also Sanders of the Democratic Party in the USA, as well as Corbyn of the Labour Party in Britain, both of whom distinguished themselves. Corbyn campaigned for the rights of Palestinians, nuclear disarmament etc, which is very positive.

There are also many limitations. The Labour party, not to mention the Democratic Party, both in internal structure and goals is oriented towards linking its path to power with a process of education, mobilization and capacity building that would give support.

The momentum development in Britain is very important. But will they have the capacity to turn Labour constituencies into centres of working class life?When I was in Greece, SYRIZA was caught in a great dilemma, meaning this juncture in political time. Because of the crisis and its impact on working people, because of the danger of the rise of the Right, you don’t have the time to wait until you’re in power to do what you can. And you need a great deal of time to change these parties into what they aren’t as yet. And this is a terrible disjuncture. There is no easy answer to this.

Από τα επιτόκια δανεισμού θα εξαρτηθεί η επιτυχής ή όχι έξοδος στις αγορές (28.10.2017)

N.N.

lois labrianidhs9Lois Labrianidis is Secretary General for Strategic and Private Investments at the Ministry of Economy & Development, Professor in the Department of Economics, University of Macedonia Greece and Head of the University's Regional Development and Planning Research Unit.  He is an economic geographer (BA – Aristotelian University of Thessaloniki, MA -Sussex, Ph.D. -LSE). His scholarly publications include many articles and books.

Professor Labrianidis spoke to Greek News Agenda* about Greece's comparative advantages, the structure of Greek entrepreneurship and its limited demand  for highly specialised personnel, the need for the Greek economy to focus on knowledge intensive activities, the “National Development Strategy 2021” and government’s “Build knowledge and partnership bridges with Greece” initiative that aims to networking the world of educated Greek professionals and entrepreneurs, "wherever they are". Labrianidis invites members of the Greek diaspora to visit the initiative's website, use it, spread the word and support it.

More than 250,000 Greek citizens appear to have left Greece in the past 7 years heading to various destinations primarily in Northern and Western Europe. What are the motivations of these “crisis” migrants and who exactly do emigrate?

To start with, I want to point out that the phenomenon is not new. Although it had become a serious issue by the 1990s, it undoubtedly worsened during the crisis period. There are many reasons for this: unemployment, underemployment, and attempts to find employment more in line with a person’s skills/qualifications or with better prospects or even the desire to live in a different cultural environment (cosmopolitanism). However, the main reason, I would say, is the long term imbalance between supply and demand of work for graduates, which arises from the limited demand of the Greek economy for highly specialised personnel.

Unfortunately, although, up until now, it hasn’t been possible to record the migration of specialised personnel, I believe that it may be possible if comprehensive records were to be kept and this exactly is one of the main goals of our initiative. We estimate that today there are approximately 250,000 Greek professionals who live and work abroad.

This disparity is not a result of the allegedly large, or  surplus numbers of graduates and the outcome would be tragic if an approach were taken to alleviate the problem by reducing this alleged number of graduates in accordance with a limited demand, since that would mean the degradation of the country in the international division of labour further with incalculable negative consequences. 

It is a myth that in Greece the percentage of graduates is disproportionately high, at least since in fact it is below the EU average (during the 2006-2016 period, for the 25-34 age group the average percentage for the EU 28 was 34.1, while for Greece it was 33.1as for the OECD for the 25-64 age group, the average percentage for 2015 was 31 while for Greece it was 28) but mainly since we need to invest in the emerging knowledge economy as a prerequisite of success in the new economic world order. In this respect, an important aspect of the question relates to the structure of Greek entrepreneurship and broadly speaking of the Greek economy, which, in recent decades, hasn’t been orientated towards knowledge intensive activities. Additionally, we shouldn’t overlook the fact that the migration of highly educated personnel to other countries is a timeless phenomenon as far as further acquisition of knowledge from the ‘source’,that is the university or research centre specialising in a specific subject, is concerned. A third and very significant aspect is obviously related to the economic crisis in the country while simultaneously other countries are implementing actions to attract young scientists, which are accompanied by very attractive financial rewards, the prospect of career advancement and a better standard of living. 

What is the purpose of the government’s “Knowledge and Partnership Bridges” initiative and how does it connect with the national goal of “brain gain”? Does Greece’s "intellectual capital" continue to be a strong national asset despite the numbers of young people that are leaving the country?

The National Development Strategy 2021 of Greece advocates the need for a paradigm shift and more specifiacally it argues that the country should develop towards the 'knowledge economy', which means that human capital and even more skilled human capital is a crucial factor. Thus the government wants to utilise its human resources irrespective of where they live today.

However, quite a number of Greek professionals living and working abroad do not want or cannot return to the country immediately. We must, therefore, find a way to work together, both in the country where they are and by creating appropriate conditions for the development of  their business or research activities in Greece. It is for this reason that we have developed the initiative ‘Build knowledge and partnership bridges with Greece’ (http://www.knowledgebridges.gr/). Let’s not forget that over time Greeks have created open-minded diaspora activity networks which safeguard and strengthen national unity and prosperity (from Greek communities in Egypt and the Middle East to Austria, London and Australia).

More than anything, we want this platform to be a networking world for Greeks, wherever they are. The success of the initiative depends critically on all Greeks around the world!

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Through the initiative’s website, you can find partners, information about funding programmes and scholarships within Greece etc, help a Greek business to sell its products in the country where you live and are active, help friends who are self-employed or are employed in a business in Greece to come into contact with businesses abroad, or even set up a business in Greece alone or jointly by acting as a mentor/business angel to a start-up.

Through the platform’s “Partnerships” sector, we intend the initiative to act as a bridge between young and/or renowned Greek professionals and entrepreneurs abroad and Greeks that live in the country (that is professionals that are self employed, or employees of a company in Greece or a university or a research centre). Greek professionals and entrepreneurs who work either abroad or within the country, can register on the co-operation /partnership section of the platform by completing details regarding their professional or business background and the needs they have for work in Greece or for networking with the country or even with other young professionals, in this way creating an online community.

Greek organisations can register on the platform by completing details, either about open job positions or the need for partners and networking with Greeks abroad. The main objective is to create links, ultimately to create new opportunities for all Greeks around the globe.

‘Bridges’ is a national initiative, in which I strongly believe, and from which only benefits will result on an individual, local and national level. With the opportunity this interview gives me, I invite members of the Greek diaspora to visit our site, use it, spread the word and support it. Their contribution is invaluable, since the return to national and individual prosperity is not a matter of collective responsibility but also the result of personal effort and the participation of everyone.

According to the latest data, R&D investment in Greece has been growing steadily in recent years. Is the country moving towards a knowledge based economy and how? 

Αccording to the official figures of the National Documentation Centre (EKT) R&D spending in Greece has been growing steadily in recent years, both in absolute terms and as expressed in GDP. Spending on R&D came to 1.73 billion euros in 2016, up from 1.49 billion euros in 2014 and 1.39 billion in 2011, despite the economic crisis. The "R&D Intensity" index, expressed as a percentage of GDP, has also risen steadily, from 0.67% in 2011 to 0.84% in 2014 and 0.99% in 2016.

Since the ‘Brain Drain’ is a structural problem, there is a need for fundamental changes in our development model and the development of a new social mentality among horizontal political actors, producers, the state etc. Our economy needs to produce more complex products and services. This is the new development model of the National Development Strategy 2021. The outcome of this will be medium to long term. To alleviate the problem we are discussing, policies are already being exercised, mainly small scale, to target the containment of the outward flow of young professionals, for example through the fostering of innovation and self-employment of higher education graduates, the hiring of doctorate holders by Higher Education Institutes so that they gain academic teaching experience and so on. 

Which are the main comparative advantages of the Greek Economy? And which are its main weaknesses? Does Greece have prospects in the industrial sector and which other sectors of the Greek economy need special support?

Greece has a number of strengths in comparison with neighbouring countries and generally, for example: an established democracy, a key geographic and geostrategic position, being a member state of the EU and has substantial infrastructures. In the present investment environment, adequately supported, Greece could become a springboard for major investment activities in the EU and Europe generally. The country has natural and/or comparative advantages when investing in tourism, real estate, agri-food, various branches of industry, transport and energy.

What I really want to stress is that the country has high quality human resources with proportionately low wage costs, exceptionally good weather conditions and an exceptional quality of life, with amenities and infrastructures (good schools etc). Such advantages could attract knowledge-intensive investment (e.g. research centres, businesses etc) which would provide employment for highly specialised people who opt to live in areas which can offer them a good quality of life.

In this way, the country would not only keep its specialised human resources with a significant proportion of those who had left returning, but could also be attractive to other specialised personnel from abroad. 

One of the special traits of the Greek economy is the small size of enterprises...

Historically, SMEs are considered central in identifying entrepreneurial activities in Greece which are important at the present time. It is commonly acknowledged that SMEs are the backbone of the domestic economy. According to 2014 data, in Greece 85 % of private employment is concentrated in SMEs and more than 50 % in micro enterprises (0-9 employees). 

What are the main priorities of Greece’s development policy as far as incentives for investment, employment perspective, entrepreneurship, innovation in the private sector and exports dynamism?

Paradigm shift to change the development model and move towards a knowledge economy with reduced social and regional inequalities. We need to move to a value chain which produces products and services of high value added. Businesses need to be more outward looking and innovative.

What kind of branding does Greece need?

One might argue that the key factor of the global economy is no longer goods, services, or flows of capital, but the competition for people. Of course companies have always sought to attract highly skilled employees; the difference today is that instead of bringing those skilled people to their existing locations, companies are setting up facilities based to a great extent on where the highly skilled people are residing. 

Greece, has high quality/middle cost human capital, an exceptional climate, world-class cultural assets, wonderful nature, quality of life, high quality schools, notable infrastructures, democracy, is an “island of stability” in a very good geostrategic position between East-West and North-South, security, etc. Having all that, Greece appears to be an ideal place to attract investments that require the employment of highly qualified people from all over the world. These people, who are highly skilled and have the luxury to choose where to work, can afford to choose where to live based on the quality of life offered in a country. In this sense, our country is an ideal destination for such people and this in turn will attract businesses that want to employee highly skilled employees.

*Interview by Gianna Kakalides and Nikolas Nenedakis

Read more via Greek News Agenda: New national initiative: "Knowledge and Partnership Bridges"Eumigré: A research project on the new crisis-driven Greek emigrationGreece’s Νew Emigration at Τimes of Crisis

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