Coronavirus pandemic accelerates digital change in Greece


A woman accesses, via her phone, the website of the Public Power Company, DEH, in Athens, on May 23, 2020 – AFP

In Greece, the black sheep of digitalization in Europe, public administration has accelerated its transformation in this sector in times of home office and physical distance from the coronavirus pandemic, according to experts.

With the containment measures, “countries lagging behind in their digital transformation faced a greater challenge,” Kyriakos Pierrakakis, Greek Minister of Digital Governance, told AFP.

In Greece, “physical presence was a custom, remote activities an exception” and the country needed to catch up. It was a campaign promise by Conservative Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and the pandemic accelerated its implementation.

In 2019, Greece was one of the last European countries in “digital performance”. In the latest DESI (Digital Economy and Society Index), published by the European Commission, it ranked 25th among the 27 EU countries.

Digital skills were among the lowest, as around 20% of the active population lacked skills or Internet access, when the EU average was 10% in 2019, according to Eurostat data.

Before the pandemic, “the digital backwardness in Greece was a constant, a socioeconomic heritage in the European Union,” Nikos Smyrnaios, professor of Information and Communication Sciences at the University of Toulouse, told AFP.

If “the economic crisis and the memorandums imposed on Greece an acceleration of the digitalisation of public service, hitherto in an archaic state, this was done ‘in the Greek style’, under pressure and in a disorderly manner,” Smyrnaios told AFP.

The Greek government struggled to meet the challenge in the middle of a pandemic in a country little affected by the coronavirus, with only 166 deaths.

On March 21, when schools and businesses closed, a common platform was created, bringing together all public services, allowing simplified access for citizens.

– OECD congratulations –

The government “started to allow digital signature of documents, eliminating the need to go to administrations in person,” said Minister Pierrakakis.

During the strict confinement period, between 23 March and 4 May, the authorities dematerialized the exit certificates.

An initiative welcomed by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), as it allowed “citizens and companies to stop bearing useless burdens”.

To maintain the attractiveness of Greece, despite the uncertainty of the next tourist season, the Ministry of Tourism has also invested in the digital sector, launching the #Greecefromhome platform, to discover the country’s history, culture and landscapes.

Specialist Nikos Smyrnaios noted “a global increase in the time spent on the internet during this period”.

At the moment, the Ministry of Digital Governance has not provided data. But many criticize a still insufficient network, lack of equipment or training.

Diamanto Zafiraki, an official at the Ministry of Economy, mentions “a bad network, inadequate operating systems, computer programs that won’t open. Everything takes a lot more time and energy ”.

For the Greek Federation of Education (DOE), “the pedagogical continuity only occurred at the initiative of the teachers, since the ministry did not provide instructions or material during this period,” Thanasis Goumas, secretary of this federation of teachers’ unions, told AFP.

It is true that “there is a government effort in digitization, but it is also not enough to consider it a revolution”, estimates Dimitris Tsingos, director of the start-up Starttech Ventures. “There is still a lot of work to do”. str-chv / plh / mab / es / mr

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