Each time a new government is elected and a new cabinet is formed in Greece, one of the many questions that inevitably come up among forward-thinking citizens is whether this is finally going to be the administration to take advantage of the many possibilities that could arise from public-private partnerships. From allowing projects to be completed on time, on budget, and on scope to using private sector technology and innovation alongside public sector incentives, there are multiple advantages to such a match. And yet historically, Greece has been reluctant to proceed with determination—often due to bureaucracy or because of criticism regarding the legitimacy of public purposes and transparency and exploitation issues on the part of the private sector. Lately, we have seen collaborations between government agencies and private enterprise make the news, and this is hopeful as such collaborations can be used to finance, build, and operate projects across a multitude of sectors.
Business Partners asked Thought Leaders from both sides of the aisle to share their thoughts on how to ensure public-private partnerships are win-win. In this first of a two-part special, we tackle the four key areas of education, energy, tourism, and digital transformation.
2020 was announced as a year of digital transformation that would bring new measures, reduce bureaucracy, upgrade the digital services offered to citizens and businesses, and usher Greece out of the recession and into the digital age. Little did we know that forma.gov.gr and 13033 would be at the center of attention just a few short months later. In what ways have the public and the private sectors collaborated in this newfound age of homo digitalis?
By Leonidas Hristopoulos, Secretary General of Digital Governance and Simplification of Procedures at the Ministry of Digital Governance
After almost twenty months of service, it has now become quite clear that the Ministry of Digital Governance and Minister Kyriakos Pierrakakis has designed and implemented bold reforms—reforms whose impact is measurable in the everyday life of citizens and businesses alike. Greece now has a new, concrete digital strategy as well as a structured national strategy for artificial intelligence. Public services have gone digital, with our single point of access to government services, gov.gr, being more and more developed. Since its establishment, more than 94 million transactions have been completed, while at the same time, we have designed a modern institutional framework for e-governance.
In the post-pandemic era, the need for attracting investment, especially in the digital sector, will be magnified
From day one, this administration has set a foremost priority: to develop an enabling business environment, supporting entrepreneurship and boosting investments. This is one of the fundamental foundations of the Ministry of Digital Governance too. Let me mention just a few of the policy actions put forward that support the private sector: Greece completed the 5G frequency licenses competitions and now ranks second among all European Union member states in bandwidth concession for fifth-generation telecommunication network licenses. Cloud first policy was established by law, while the transposition of European directives regarding electronic communications and open data was completed successfully and with significant consensus. We established the Faistos Fund, as part of the Hellenic Corporation of Assets and Participations, whose role will be key in supporting and further developing the Greek high-tech companies ecosystem. And we launched data.gov.gr which, providing open, anonymous data of the Greek public administration system, will have a crucial role in spearheading growth.
Furthermore, the Ministry of Digital Governance is currently completing the simplification and digitization of two administrative processes which, in their current form, have been counterincentives to growth; the first one is the process of transfer of immovable property and the second one the establishment of private companies, a type of flexible mid-sized company, which amounts to 70% of business activity in Greece. Especially when it comes to the second reform, one might admit that the current administrative procedure is complex, with delays and inexpediencies being common. Soon, prospective businessmen will be able to move forward with setting up their firms effortlessly, quickly, digitally, through gov.gr.
Prime Minister Mitsotakis and his government have been determined to enhance Greece’s growth potential by transforming it into a friendly and resilient investment destination. Transforming state mechanisms and administrative processes is key towards this very goal. In the post-pandemic era, the need for attracting investment, especially in the digital sector, will be magnified. The ICT sector will be absolutely supported by our strategy of speeding up the implementation of projects linked to the Digital Transformation Bible and strengthening absorption mechanisms of all upcoming financial tools, both domestic and European (RRF, ESPA, National Development Plan). To maximize our strategy’s impact, what’s required is to be in constant dialogue and close cooperation with the private sector. In the era to come, multistakeholder consensus becomes most relevant.
Despite recent strides, and according to the EU’s 2020 Digital Economy and Society Index Report, Greece found itself behind in this race, ranking 24th among EU countries in terms of digital technology integration, and 27th in availability and use of digital public services. In our Attractiveness Survey Greece 2020, we identified setting innovation and digital technology as top priorities, in order to attract foreign investment and kickstart the economy.
Moving ahead means moving together
The outbreak of the pandemic drastically changed many aspects of our lives and accelerated the speed of digital technology adoption globally, making interaction with consumers and citizens faster, safer, and more personalized. In Greece, too, both the public and private sectors responded with remarkable speed and agility, introducing new digital capabilities unimaginable just a few months earlier. Our Attractiveness Survey solidified these observations, as an impressive 73% of foreign investors expressed positive views on the speed of digitalization of the Greek State in response to the crisis. Since then, new digital public services, such as e-prescriptions and e-invoicing through the myDATA platform, have been launched, while citizens are experiencing the seamless rollout of the vaccination campaign, based largely on digital technology. In the private sector too, digital services, including mobile banking and e-commerce, have made quantum leaps, enabling new ways of doing business.
Yet, there still is plenty of ground to cover in order to keep pace with global developments. This can only be achieved through close cooperation, joint efforts, and partnerships between the private and public sectors. We need to drastically upgrade our country’s digital infrastructure and facilitate high speed connectivity at more competitive prices, while both State and business must spend more on R&D and work much closer together to commercialize innovative ideas. It is worth noting, for example, that, as per our recent study for the Ministry of Digital Governance, the much-anticipated 5G networks are expected to bring more than €12.4b in Gross Value Added and add up to 69,000 new jobs for Greece.
Academic institutions must reconsider their curricula, with greater emphasis on new technologies and in closer alignment with entrepreneurship, while private companies must urgently step up their efforts to upskill and reskill their human capital. The budding startup ecosystem needs better access to capital and mentoring, as well as more government support, in terms of a friendlier tax regime and reduced red tape. Finally, both private companies and the public sector must accelerate their efforts to further introduce and utilize digital technologies, such as AI, data analytics, and cloud, into their operations.
Today, the public and, to some extent, the private sector, are presented with an excellent opportunity to enhance technology, through the EU Recovery and Resilience Fund. This could also prove to be the last chance we get to introduce a new, digital era for our country. Adopting world-class principles and implementing end-to-end solutions with a clear roadmap, rather than doing things in the fragmented and patchy way of the past, are a prerequisite for success. Nothing can be achieved by the State or the private sector acting alone. Society has now experienced and understood the benefits of digitalization and cooperation and will be judging us all by the speed with which we adapt to and meet its rising and ever-changing expectations.
With schools and universities forced to close their doors during the pandemic, teachers and students found themselves using a host of new e-learning tools. How can PPPs help tackle sector-wide challenges, such as the recent Covid-19 pandemic, and expand opportunities across education? Can such partnerships increase transparency and communication, as well as better serve and support students?
In recent times the world has been confronted with a treacherous enemy: the coronavirus pandemic. The unpredictability of the pandemic and the constant shifting of circumstances have made it imperative for us to learn to adapt continuously in order to deal with difficulties and reversals that the pandemic has brought about.
Having a common vision and close cooperation can bear fruit and equip the State with precious tools
The field of education is no exception. As was the case in many other domains, it took immense effort and constant overreach in order to keep the educational process operating in spite of schools being shut down for public health reasons. Thus distance learning, which marked a significant success, was an effective solution. Although it cannot ever fully substitute face-to-face learning, distance learning creates a channel of communication, which, in times of a pandemic, may be the only way for all children to maintain their access to learning.
The Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs, despite the unforeseen nature of the situation, was able to quickly respond to the challenge: a partnership with a private company was quickly agreed upon, fostering the conditions that prevented the pandemic from completely hindering the daily learning process. At the same time, all students were provided with free access to platforms for distance learning. None of this would have been possible without the cooperation of all the actors who played a key role in the project: technology experts, who created the operational framework for distance learning, and, of course, our everyday heroes, who patiently and persistently worked to ensure the success of distance learning: teachers and students, together with their parents—who played a critical role, especially for younger children.
The result vindicates us. European institutions and the international press made enthusiastic comments about this Greek innovation, a pioneering idea, based on public-private cooperation, serving for the benefit of the entire new generation. After all, this is not the first time that public-private collaborations foster great results. Especially in the field of education, we often see that public and private schools cooperate in high-value programs, such as Socrates programs, Comenius, Erasmus+, eTwinning, Model United Nations (MUN), European Youth Parliament, Euroscola, school activities programs, House of Adolescents, innovative actions (e.g. robotics, creative initiatives, nationwide student competitions, European or international actions that provide a framework for in-depth dialogue), exchange of views on sportsmanship and fair play, foster the dissemination of good practices and lay the foundation for progress. Similar actions are also undertaken in the field of higher education, where public and private institutions cooperate for the evolution of science and scientists. Of course, this is not limited within the national borders of our country, but often also acquires a European or even international scope.
In conclusion, during the period of the pandemic what became apparent is that having a common vision and close cooperation can bear fruit and equip the State with precious tools. Tools that can prove useful even in unexpected situations, such as the one we are experiencing now with Covid-19. Tools that can also help the country upgrade and modernize its mode of operation for the benefit of society, making the most of the undeniable abilities of its human potential, combined with the possibilities created in the 21st century world we all live in.
By Elena Prassaki, Marketing and Communications Manager, Networking Academy Program Development, Cisco Greece, Cyprus and Malta
In Greece, the unprecedented amount of public funding that has been made available through European grants will usher in a wave of publicly funded initiatives to accelerate the digitization of the country at the local, regional, and national level. For this transformation to be a success, however, Greece needs all key players in the public, private and civil society spheres to lock arms and work in unison.
Greece needs all key players in the public, private and civil society spheres to lock arms and work in unison
Through our flagship CSR program, the Cisco Networking Academy, we have made it our focus to empower learners of all ages and backgrounds around the world to shape their own futures and learning paths through digital skills, by partnering with teachers worldwide. As the over two million learners and 28,000 educators who used our platform in 2020 can attest, our emphasis on partnership with local institutions, both public and private, is at the heart of our success and our impact driven model.
If we take the specific topic of reskilling, we know that digital transformation will drive strong demand for qualified IT professionals in Greece as businesses and administrations will look to leverage digitization to increase productivity and accessibility to services. This represents a unique opportunity for the vocational schools of the country to realign their IT curricula with industry expectations, therefore increasing employability. At the Cisco Networking Academy we pride ourselves on being the bridge between educators and industry, having worked with coalitions throughout Europe to ensure that education and the private sector work together towards the same goal: empowering learners to design their futures in the tech industry.
Drawing inspiration from some of our best practices around the European Union, we should encourage an open discussion between private sector companies and public education specialists to take place, so as to facilitate the redesigning of curricula. By involving all the key players around the table, these partnerships can foster the right conditions to promote the future talent of the tech industry in Greece and make digital transformation an inclusive path to a brighter future for the coming generations.
As the effects of climate change become increasingly evident across the globe, PPPs have become a valuable instrument for financing green energy projects, making possible the development of energy infrastructures and helping overcome the problem of limited public resources. Are PPPs a viable policy response to climate change? How is Greece proceeding in this direction?
By Alexandra Sdoukou, Secretary General for Energy and Mineral Resources at the Ministry for the Environment and Energy
Reinvigorating the Greek economy in the post-Covid-19 era is our main goal. With planned investments totaling more than €44 billion by 2030, deriving from the National Energy and Climate Plan, the energy sector is powering Greece’s passage into the future. We intend to be at the forefront of green evolution in Europe, and at the Ministry of Environment and Energy we have focused all our efforts towards clean energy transition.
The Greek government has made a clear and ambitious commitment to phase out coal in less than a decade. We are implementing it by decommissioning lignite power plants on the mainland, interconnecting most islands to the mainland grid, and greening the non-interconnected islands. We plan to increase the share of RES in the country’s energy mix to 35% by 2030, meaning Greece will need to add another 10 GW of renewable energy capacity by 2030, primarily through wind and solar technology. We are confident that those targets will create a chain effect, opening vast investment opportunities in several fields.
Our task at the Ministry of Environment and Energy is to unlock public financing and to encourage the private sector to turn to Greece and join our efforts to go green.
More than 30% of the financing that Greece will receive from the European Recovery and Resilience Fund (RRF) will go towards our green transition; that is a huge responsibility.
To accelerate the pace of investment in the sector, we have simplified and accelerated the licensing process, and are committed to reducing the licensing period from six to two years. We are working toward a regulatory framework that will increase investor confidence in the Greek market and make it a top business destination, and we are on track to deliver a new auction scheme for renewable energy capacity. In the coming months, we will also establish the first ever regulatory framework for offshore wind and energy storage. Given our goals for renewable power capacity, we are also working on energy storage projects, aiming to promote the right mixture of generation and storage technologies that match Greece’s geography and resources.
E-mobility is another pillar of our climate-neutral strategy to meet the targets of the European Green Deal. The country’s first electromobility law supports the national target for one out of every three new cars in 2030 to be electric. Boosting green transportation is the one key focus of this law; the other is to attract investments related to e-mobility and quickly develop the electromobility market. Last but not least, we should not forget the role of natural gas as a bridge fuel towards the green transition and as a key driver of energy security; projects like TAP, the Greek-Bulgarian interconnector IGB, and the Alexandroupolis FSRU are very important because they build energy resilience while upgrading Greece’s geostrategic position in the region.
If ever there was a time to invest in Greece’s energy sector, that time is now
We are willing to do more than our share in addressing the green challenge and we are committed to creating a paradigm shift in our energy system. I strongly believe that if ever there was a time to invest in Greece’s energy sector, that time is now.
By Liana Gouta, Energy Policy and International Affairs Group Director, Hellenic Petroleum Group of Companies
The EU target of climate neutrality by 2050 will affect all major business sectors and impact national economies and societies. The vision of a green future demands a fair and equilibrated transition while action has to be taken without further delay.
The role of green liquid fuels in achieving climate neutrality in all transport sectors (road, aviation and maritime) and in decarbonizing the industrial value chain will be crucial. Within this context, the EU refining industry stands ready to accelerate the collaboration with other industries, policymakers and society toward climate neutrality. Over the next years, the sector must change almost everything: the process, the raw materials, the products, even its name and terminology. Black will become Green and fuels produced from crude oil will be gradually replaced by fuels produced from sustainable biomass, domestic waste and plastic, green hydrogen, algae, recycled cooking oil, recycled CO2 or CO2 captured from the atmosphere. This may sound like science fiction, but it’s not. Several technologies have been demonstrated and the first large scale plants have already been announced.
Financing should cover all sectors of green energy, including green liquid fuels
The EU refining industry has proposed an ambitious plan to provide liquid fuels of low or even net zero carbon emissions in the coming years, offering solutions complementary to other new technologies such as electrification and hydrogen and constituting a key component in achieving climate neutrality by 2050. But producing green fuels at scale will require a suitable policy and legislative framework to drive investment. Regulatory stability through robust, science-based sustainability criteria for the investments, protection from carbon leakage against competition from non-EU countries, access to public and private funds and favorable fiscal treatment, constitute the necessary framework to enable the ambitious proposal.
The cost of all new technologies towards climate neutrality will certainly be high, and private sector investments should not only supplement limited public resources but should instead play a major role in enabling the transition to climate neutrality, providing the largest proportion of the necessary investments. The cost of green fuels will also be high. The investment needed to transform and deliver green fuels will be huge, estimated at €400 to €650 billion by 2050, and should be among the priorities for achieving 2050 Climate goals, acknowledging their key role in decarbonizing the economy. EU sustainability taxonomy criteria should reflect green fuels’ crucial role, ensuring eligibility, while access to all public and private funds should also be secured, (e.g. Green Deal Investment Plan, Recovery and Resilience Fund). Established financing tools, such as Public Private Partnerships (PPPs), together with new, innovative ones (e.g. guarantees to cover initial green project losses, Green Bond incentives), must be utilized and deployed. The scope of PPPs should be expanded to respond to the huge investments and financing needs, covering all sectors of green energy, including green fuels. Private and public sectors can both benefit through PPPs, by securing guarantees for the private sector to face investment risks, and capital investment and management expertise for the public sector.
Finally, all kinds of synergies will be critical and should be explored, not only within the industrial value chain but also with the local and broader communities, bringing together private and public investments, so as to deliver green energy, products and infrastructure that will secure a sustainable future for all.
Tourism is doubtlessly Greece’s powerhouse, and while the industry was hard hit by Covid-19 and ongoing travel restrictions and social distancing measures, there are already indications that the summer of 2021 will see a relatively high number of travelers return to Greek destinations. How could PPPs work to help cut 2020 losses and move toward the sector’s recovery?
By Vicky Loizou, Secretary General for Tourism Policy and Development at the Ministry of Tourism
Greek and global tourism suffered a huge blow in 2020. Nonetheless, the tourism ecosystem, despite its shortcomings and downside risks, can still be the driving force that will put Greece back on the growth track after the pandemic.
We have to create the conditions for economic recovery and growth through an upgraded tourism product
Greece, as a tourist destination is dual-faceted: In terms of the traditional sea-and-sun product, among global tourism competition, Greece is considered a mature and an acknowledged destination that needs to pave the way for quality over volume. At the same time, the country is an emerging destination in under-explored secondary markets, which if fully explored will boost economic growth, foremost in less developed regions and local communities. These secondary markets are built on the country’s unparalleled geographical morphology, combining activities and products of Greece’s huge coastline, the insular regions and the mountainous areas, along with a specific agro-diet based on products of unique quality.
The pandemic was also an opportunity in that it helped the country realize its weaknesses and at the same time highlighted the possibilities of the tourism sector for the Greek economy as a whole. Now, more than ever, we have to create the conditions for economic recovery and growth through an upgraded tourism product. With our 10-year strategic plan for sustainable tourism development, we are introducing a new paradigm that is greener, more digital and more diverse. We are promoting a new business model that will mobilize all available resources and connect tourism with the primary sector and manufacturing in order to act as a vehicle that brings together our products and services with their potential consumers. At the same time, this new tourism strategy takes into consideration a number of systemic challenges and priorities that the sector is facing: the large number of micro- to very small- businesses; the skills mismatch of the tourism labor force; the financing gap of the tourism industry’s needs; the under-developed internal tourism market; the modernization of the existing legislation.
The National Recovery and Resilience Plan is a great opportunity for Greece to promote cooperation between the public and private sector so as to strengthen the tourism product on the one hand and offer visitors a more diverse and authentic set of experiences on the other. It will also serve as a boost for the construction industry through green and digital investments.
We place great emphasis on exploring and investing in thematic forms of tourism—such as marine, medical, thermal, silver, MICE—which will help achieve the strategic goals of extending the tourism season and increasing profitability at the same time. We are systematically working to make Greece a country worth visiting and living in, so as to attract not only short-term visitors but also long-term residents, from the silver age group to digital nomads. It is our firm belief that this plan cannot succeed without the close cooperation between the public and the private sector.
Before the crises, most industry stakeholders were bystanders in the industry’s evolution. While everyone was enjoying the above-average growth in tourism earnings, major issues started to arise, particularly overtourism, bringing into question the sustainability of our tourism model.
Amid the pandemic, Greece, as a highly tourism-dependent country—in 2019 total contribution to GDP was 20.8% and total contribution to employment 21.7%—appeared to be disproportionately vulnerable, with both the private and public sector unprepared for this huge systemic shock.
WE NEED TO THINK DIFFERENTLY; WE NEED TO FOCUS ON RELATIONSHIPS AND PARTNERSHIPS
Over the past year, governments made considerable efforts to deal with the socioeconomic consequences of the pandemic, providing support, bolstering healthcare, ensuring the continuity of education, preserving jobs, and maintaining the stability of financial markets. Governments that managed to reduce the impact of the pandemic and ensure the provision of essential services gained the trust of their citizens and the trust needed from the global travel community for travel to gain a head start. Now, as we near the end of the tunnel and start to plan for the recovery phase, we are called upon to ignore any urge to do business as usual. To fully overcome a crisis of this magnitude, we need to think differently. We need to focus on relationships and partnerships. The private sector, citizens, and industry bodies need to work with public organizations to form the new framework and the right strategies to restart properly. Policymakers and stakeholders should be in this together and prioritize available resources. An opportunity for transformation and reform is on the table, encouraging new business models, embracing digitalization, and promoting connectivity. It’s necessary for policymakers to be proactive, and the guiding principle behind the recovery process should be sustainability: looking at current and future economic, social and environmental impacts and at the same time addressing the needs of visitors, the industry, the environment, and the host communities.
The recovery plan must incorporate both short- and longterm trends, and emerging trends must also be considered: The growth of nature-based tourism; the support of local businesses and local spending; the increase of caring for a healthy planet; the alignment with destinations’ environmental and social objectives. More and more global travelers get in line with these trends and build expectations for receiving more sustainable travel offers. The pandemic has also created an imperative for businesses to transform their operations. It forced them to adapt to new shopping behaviors and apply new innovation-driven processes. Those that don’t figure out how to reach consumers in new ways will be left behind. To succeed, public and private structures must be occupied by the vision of innovation.
Public policy should place future generations at the center of any action. To this effect, the UNWTO has set up six lines of action, inviting governments and the private sector to integrate them into their plans for a responsible tourism recovery. These include public health, social inclusion, biodiversity, conservation, climate action, circular economy, and governance and finance. It seems so obvious. In fact, it has always stood to reason that we need to focus on a sustainable model. But attempts to create the appropriate policymaking have suffered greatly from a gap between theory and practice. Let’s hope that this crisis will act as a catalyst for positive change, and let’s seize the opportunity to be value creators.
Coming up next in Part II:
With special thanks to Alexandros Kostopoulos, CEO of Foresight Strategy and Communications and Secretary General of the American-Hellenic Chamber of Commerce, and Litsa Panayotopoulos, Chair of the Education, Innovation and Entrepreneurship (EIE) Committee of the American-Hellenic Chamber of Commerce, for their help in this special feature.