Rena Dourou to AMNA: We have paved the way for Local Government to make interventions such as supporting the Greek National Health System
AMNA: Ms Dourou, what does this Regional Council’s decision signal? And why should the Region of Attica do a job that is the responsibility of the Ministry of Health?
Rena Dourou: Ms Roumeliotis, first of all, this is an important initiative of the Regional Authority to support the Public Health System. An initiative that can find imitators in other Regions, given that we have created the legal framework for such interventions, paving the way for similar programme contracts across all Local Authorities. Beyond that, both the Region of Attica and the Ministry of Health are public bodies acting within the framework of their constitutional powers. What I mean is that our common goal is to serve the public interest, since health is the supreme public good which is guaranteed by the Supreme Law, the Constitution. So we took this initiative to support 31 hospitals all over Attica, from Penteli to Perama, in terms of hardware equipment. We did not substitute the government nor exceeded our powers. In fact, in order to shield the legal part of this intervention, we have passed a new, specific legislative arrangement in relation to the programme contracts between local government bodies and public health institutions. Thus, we passed a special amendment to Article 100 of Kallikratis Law, in view, of course, of its radical reform. And we will certainly continue to take other similar initiatives. Because the right of citizens to have access to decent health services has always been and will remain to be at the heart of our efforts.
AMNA: You are now more or less in the middle of your term of office: what is your account regarding social policy, a field on which you have given special emphasis not only before the election but in your first budget as well?
Rena Dourou: We are indeed in the middle of our term of office and we believe that we have done a lot of work, without boasting about it, regarding social policy, and beyond this field as well. With regard to the social field, here are some indicative examples:We have solved the chronic problem of transporting pupils to their schools. We have now ensured that 19,000 pupils are being transported to their schools safely, beginning with the start of the school year. To achieve this, we have legislated both for Attica and all other Regions. We support, through the Public Market Voucher Programme, families in need. We have helped, in cooperation with the Public Power Corporation, approximately 20,000 households so that they would not have their electricity cut off. We support the work of 23 Day Care Centres for People with Disabilities, providing them with €25 million for the next three years. The Logistics Centre, which is now mentioned as a "good practice" in the Report of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe on the reception and integration of migrants/refugees in the local communities, also carries out social work. More specifically, it has supplied with medical and paramedical materials, having a total weight of approximately 3.2 tons, 12 Hospitals and Health Centres, 2 of which are outside Attica, in Volos and Mytilene, 6 Social Medical Care Facilities and Refugee Accommodation Centres. At the same time, we actively support the Social Integration Structures Network through the Social Attica application. So, there will be more such actions. Because the Region of Attica, like all the Regions, has, among other things, a serious social mission to fulfil. To that end, we also need institutional reforms since, up to date, we have either acted marginally within the limits of our competences, for example in dealing with the migration/refugee phenomenon, or we have been forced to call for reforming partially the Kallikratis Law, as we did in the case of a programme contract with the hospitals of Attica.
At the same time, important Attica changing projects are currently being implemented, providing the foundations for critical infrastructure lacking from the Region, creating jobs and contributing to the improvement of the citizens’ daily life. A typical example is the regeneration of the Faliro Bay. A project of supralocal importance which is progressing fast, following the completion of the first Tender under the new Public Works Contracts Law, protecting the area against floods, linking the city with the sea, placing the area on the tourist map. This project offers multiple benefits: social, economic, and in terms of tourism. At the same time, we are proceeding with the construction of six pedestrian bridges on busy main roads of the Region, aiming to promote the safety of the citizens, with a total estimated budget of EUR 13,000,000. These are only a few of the projects currently in the implementation phase. During last year only, we have launched critical infrastructure projects, amounting to EUR 107 million, aiming to tackle chronic problems and promote the growth prospects of Attica.
Another infrastructure project is the approval of the Regional Waste Management Plan review last December - something that should have been done 10 years ago! We have a modern management framework now placing emphasis on Separation at Source, Reduction, Recycling, Reuse, Composting. Today we are faced with the challenge of implementing this framework - a challenge that can be met through the coordinated action of central government, municipalities, and the Region.
These are some of the projects that are currently being implemented in Attica. I will pre-empt your next question: "So, is everything perfect in the Region of Attica?" No, that's why we fight small and big battles every day, sometimes unsuccessfully, as is the case with the “Pedion Tou Areos’’ Park. We have been making multifaceted interventions in this Park for 2,5 years, but let us not forget that this is not a matter falling within the exclusive competence of the Region. We cooperate with the Municipality of Athens regarding cleaning and two years ago we signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Ministry of Citizen Protection for the policing of the area. However, safety problems do remain and undermine de facto our efforts to improve the Park through the maintenance of its infrastructure, such as playgrounds, and the reconstruction of buildings, such as the Economides Building. I must also tell you that we will put all aspects of the problems of the “Pedion Tou Areos’’ Park in public debate in the near future. This is a multifaceted issue requiring synergies between public bodies, in order to have effective interventions that will be actually implemented.
AMNA: With respect to the reform of the Kallikratis Law, to what do the proposals of the Attica Region regard? Do they form part of the broader dialogue relating to constitutional reform?
Rena Dourou: Today, the public dialogue both on the reform of the Constitution and on the reform of the legal framework of the Kallikratis Law has been launched. It was about time. Because, local and regional authorities, i.e. the tiers of local government being closer to the citizens and their problems, know best and can intervene more effectively; they should therefore be given the means to fulfil their role. As far as we are concerned, we had to make amendments to the Kallikratis Law in order to fund the procurement of equipment for hospitals. In other words, we need the right tools so as to avoid red tape and overlapping of responsibilities, to have a clear picture of what the role of the regions, the municipalities and the ministries is. These ambiguities are detrimental to citizens in their daily lives. Therefore, we need to redesign and re-institutionalize functions and competences of both tiers of local government in the context of a genuinely decentralised policy. We have made concrete proposals on the need for the concept of metropolitanism to finally become operational, on the basis of subsidiarity and in accordance with the principles of modern governance, for, the said concept exists only on paper. There is a need to provide political and legal safeguards for the powers of the regions and local authorities in the field of spatial and urban planning, as well as fiscal decentralisation. All these questions are to be raised within the Two-Day Conference on Constitutional Reform, that we are hosting under the auspices of the Presidency of the Republic, with the support of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe, in the framework of the Dialogue Committee’s interventions on Constitutional Reform, on Wednesday 7 and Thursday 8 June, in the Municipal Theatre of Piraeus. These issues are intertwined and, therefore, require a holistic, institutional response. This country must finally have a local government that will be able to address the challenges posed by the 4th Industrial Revolution. Local government should be in a position to intervene in social as well as in business level. And these reforms have nothing to do with the negotiation — quite the contrary, they may turn out to be an advantage vis-à-vis the institutions as they do not entail budgetary costs and they move in the direction of modernisation of public structures.
AMNA: In early May you co-organised “ATHENS STARTUP AWARDS 2017” with the Athens Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI), to reward young entrepreneurs. What is the objective of this cooperation?
Rena Dourou: “Athens Start-up Awards” is one link in the chain of a new business environment. We focus on a new model of sustainable entrepreneurship which creates jobs through supporting openness, innovation, and smart specialisation, and through diverse synergies with public and private business stakeholders. We understand that such changes are not to be made overnight. Thus, we are laying the foundations for a new kind of “entrepreneurship”. In that context, we are organising a One-Day Conference on Friday 16 June, entitled “Entrepreneurial Attica”, with the participation of Ms Corina Crețu, European Commissioner for Regional Policy, as well as representatives of producers. We support innovative, productive efforts hosted by the Athens Startup Business Incubator (Th.E.A.) in cooperation with the Athens Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI), in order to put Attica firmly in the international spotlight for tourism and culture, through our participation with start-uppers in international fora. We attempt to change the business model through an in-depth change of mentality and through overcoming long-lasting malaise in relation to the functioning of the State. We need a stable institutional and fiscal framework for attracting investment. Those who criticize the inability to attract investment today, bear enormous responsibility for the absence of a stable investment environment, for the absence of a stable fiscal framework, for the malfunctioning of the Greek public sector and for structural deficiencies. How can it be possible that, in 2017, the country still lacks a proper forest registry and a complete land registry? After all, would it make sense for a prudent investor to risk his/her money in an environment which does not provide minimum guarantees? Today the government is engaging in a race to address chronic malaise and structural problems of a distorted growth model that prevailed in recent decades. The reactions to the adoption of forest maps are illustrative of the state rigidities. We cannot talk about innovative entrepreneurship whilst persisting in the 19th century reasoning. We cannot afford to waste any time, we henceforth put words into action. The Region of Attica gives priority to new entrepreneurship. “New” in terms of time and structure. We adopt a bottom-up approach. In this context, we have launched the public consultation via the online platform where all actors of entrepreneurship can contribute their ideas and, most importantly, their proposals. All of them will be taken into consideration for the definition of the regional strategy for innovation and specialisation, with a view to innovative entrepreneurship.
AMNA: Two weeks ago, writing an article entitled “The Sleepwalkers”, you raised the alarm about a prevailing trend of fascistization of public life. Also, there has been an attack against the former Prime Minister L. Papademos... What is your assessment of the current state of the country’s public life?
Rena Dourou: This state of affairs has not been established in two weeks’ time or in two years’ time. The crisis of Democracy we are experiencing on top of the rising of racism and xenophobia is not a linear consequence of the financial and debt crisis. It reflects the erroneous politics that have been applied in recent decades. The country’s past governments during this period hold a crucial responsibility on that matter. Because, they were the ones that gave rise to populism and created the conditions for the fascistization of public life. They neglected to draw up a coherent migration/refugee policy, while developments in our wider region had been announcing the surge of migration/refugee flows. Moreover, they failed to attach sufficient weight to education, to contemporary history and to the fight against fascism. How many school children actually know about the massacres of Distomo and Viannos perpetrated by the Nazi forces? Our education system lacks critical knowledge, the only tool against fascist approaches that attempt to distort History. If you add a structural, chronic deficit in contemporary security policy, for which the past governments bear responsibility, then you will understand how hypocritical and provocative views by those responsible for the current crisis are. So, “New Democracy” cannot argue that “Golden Dawn” is backing “Syriza” in order for “Syriza” to pass austerity measures in the Hellenic Parliament! They cannot blame the government and “Syriza” for the attack against the former Prime Minister!
This “normalisation” of indifference towards the quality of the public debate, which has been systematically degraded for decades and is accompanied by physical or verbal abuse, is extremely dangerous and should not be treated with outcries. In his trilogy “The Sleepwalkers”, Hermann Broch takes the gradual degeneration of values in society as his theme; it is about a society gradually submerged in fascism. We, who have knowledge of history and a sense of responsibility, must dare to intervene today, to move in the opposite direction, namely to redress the system of values with emphasis on social cohesion, solidarity and fairness. Everyone has an important role to play in this process, because we all share responsibility for the future of this country.