We are a “latecomer” in the introduction and exploitation of new technologies. However, there is political will to continue the necessary reforms at a rapid pace, says Nikos Pappas, Greek Ministry of Digital Policy, Telecommunications and Media.
The Digital Post: What are the key points of Greece’s National Digital Strategy? What do you expect to achieve in the long term?
Nikos Pappas: The Greek economy, after 7 years of crisis and recession, has shown several signs of recovery. Growth has returned after many years and it is expected to reach 2% for 2017, unemployment has fallen by 6% over the past 2.5 years, while new jobs exceed the number of 350,000 from 2015 until now.
At the same time, investment grew by 11.2% in the first half of 2017, the general industrial production index by 6% in the same period, exports increased by 25.8% in May 2017 and tourism broke a new record of 30 million arrivals in our country for 2017.
But these figures are not meant to stay on paper.
Our government’s goal is to diffuse the benefits of growth across society, that is to achieve an equitable growth. As Ministry of Digital Policy, Telecommunications and Media, we are already contributing to the joint effort to exit the crisis and rebuild society by combining new technologies with science, knowledge and entrepreneurship.
By making all citizens participate in the new digital revolution, eliminating the digital divide and offering equal opportunities to all Greeks, we give the country a new push forward.
Our digital policy is in accordance with the objectives set by our National Strategic Plan for Growth, as for us, this sector consists the “main sector of all sectors of the economy”. This is a strategic pillar of development, on which we are going to “build” the growth of all the other sectors – while in the meantime we will make good use of the high level of human potential that we have as a country – and, thanks to the resulting multiplier effects, we will “prepare” the next day for Greece.
In view of the above, we have designed and developed the National Digital Strategy which focuses among other things on:
1. Accelerating the digitization of the economy and 2. the transition of Greek businesses from a traditional to a modern mode of operation, which explores and integrates Information and Communication Technologies (ICT).
In this context, we have set the following four priorities: i) Promoting the digitization of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), (ii) Enhancing openness and e-commerce, having as key aims the dissemination of e-commerce and e-invoicing, (iii) Greece’s participation in the 4th Industrial Revolution, supporting actions related to the introduction and expansion of sensor networks, smart grids, autonomous systems, and the implementation of “smart cities” actions – as operators of creating critical mass for the development of relevant technologies by Greek companies, (iv) Accelerating the coordination of national policy for the Single Digital Market with the operation of a central structure that will act as a center of digital excellence.
Our goal is to strengthen our competitiveness and productivity without leaving any citizen behind. Our goal is to bring “the future into the present, for everyone”.
TDP: Greece suffers from relatively low levels of digital literacy and digital skills. What are the plans to tackle this issue?
NP: We have no illusions about where our country stands: due to responsibilities of previous governments we have stayed behind. We are now ranked 26th in the DESI index against 28 countries in Europe, as we have achieved one of the top five performances in the EU in the last year.
We are a “latecomer” in the introduction and exploitation of new technologies. However, there is political will to continue the necessary reforms at a rapid pace, but also to take advantage of the highly skilled workforce (with more than 5,000 graduates each year in cutting-edge sectors of technology) that the country has, without leaving society behind.
We are working in collaboration with Panteion University on the first platform for Greece of massive open online courses (MOOCs) with very first subject the Education in Media and Digital Technologies. We want the citizens of the country and – above all – children and young people to be able to decrypt, encode and process modern technologies. We want them not only to be the recipients of this signal, but also creators and equal partners in a development effort based on knowledge and information economy. We want citizens to feel safe and confident in managing new technology and data. And we make it real.
High-speed networks are also included in our planning, so that every corner of the country, every household in Greece reaches a fiber optic network.
Two major nationwide projects – the ‘Superfast Broadband’ and ‘Rural Extension’ projects – with a total budget of around € 500 million, have already been approved for the deployment of a nationwide broadband access network in urban, island, mountainous and minority areas. The two projects are fully compatible with the EU-approved National Plan for the Development of Next Generation Networks (NGA Plan). The process has already begun for the development of the state-of-the-art technological infrastructure needed for the country in order to carry out the transition to the digital economy and to create a new competitive development model.
Moreover, our action on the development of the Internet in the Greek islands is focused on the provision of state subsidies to the permanent residents of thirty-five (35) remote Aegean islands in order to acquire a mobile broadband Internet connection for about 11,000 households and at least 22,000 eligible citizens. Our goal is to achieve a significant increase in the penetration of broadband in the Greek territory, but also to make the beneficiaries familiar with the modern and rapidly evolving broadband services and applications.
A similar program has already been implemented for the first-year students of Greek Universities and Technological Educational Institutions, and will soon be extended to benefit vulnerable social groups such as Persons with Disabilities.
Worth mentioning, among other actions, is the project of the digitization of Public Administration: a project on digital circulation-management of state documents, in which digital signatures will be used.
A pilot project was initially implemented at the Ministry of Digital Policy, Telecommunications and Information. Its cost for the Sate rose over 59.5 thousand euros, which will be recovered from the first month of its operation, as the annual savings expected for our Ministry will amount to 700.000 euros. In the following period the same system will be installed in all Ministries, and then will pass to Local Government Administration and Chambers. Due to the operation of the new platform, besides the digitization of Public Administration, we are estimated to achieve savings of 400 million euro per year for the entire public sector.
TDP: One bright spot is Greece’s thriving startup scene. How the government is supporting its development?
NP: It is our main priority to create a favorable environment for start-ups in the Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) field. Supporting the openness of start-ups and forming business clusters as well as research and development support actions have begun to bear fruit and their completion will be stepped up in the future.
Another worth mentioning initiative is the integration of businesses involved in the sector into the Needs Entrepreneurship Program, which provides about 120 million Euros for the support of Greek start-ups. In addition, as part of private initiative funding, we participate in the “Fund of Funds” program, which, in cooperation with the European Investment Fund, provides financing of 260 million euros to small and medium-sized enterprises, giving priority to ICT.
TDP: What are from your point of view the most important actions of the European digital single market strategy?
NP: I recently welcomed in Greece the Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society, Mariya Gabriel. It was her first trip to a member state after taking up her duties. We are collaborating closely with the Commissioner on a number of issues, including the modernization of public services, which, as it is clear, goes through their digitization.
I think we are halfway in terms of our transition to the digital single market. If we succeed in what consists the first priority of Digital Policies for Europe and which is nothing else but the development of digital skills of European citizens, then we will actually make the difference.
Besides, to us, everything starts from and ends up to the citizens. It is for their sake that we want to bring the future into the present. Actually, it is for everyone’s sake.
Picture credit: Theophilos Papadopoulos