The pandemic has sparked the government of Greece to innovate like never before. The birthplace of democracy is going digital. But will the changes stick?
The birthplace of democracy is a notorious laggard in the European Union when it comes to its digital democracy. Greece consistently ranks low on the bloc's Digital Economy and Society Index, coming it at 26th in what was then a 28-country tally in 2019.
That means the country is significantly slower than the rest of Europe when it comes to making fast and ultrafast broadband available to its citizens, as well as offering government services digitally. But if there's an upside to the COVID-19 pandemic in Greece, it's the motivation to change all of that.
Measures introduced by the government have already led to a transformation of the digital landscape. New digital applications are available for hundreds of government services, including an electronic prescription service and a mobile platform for the cabinet to function remotely. It's even come out with a digital tourism initiative, asking people to explore Greece from the safety of their homes.
"Digital solutions are part of our overall government programme, which we decided to speed up with regards to its implementation," Kyriakos Pierrakakis, the Greek minister of digital governance told Euronews.
"We focused on the development of a unified government portal, which is currently providing more than 500 different government services to citizens. And we have added new services such as prescriptions, and especially services which touch upon the health system right now can be extremely useful for citizens. And we have obviously instrumentalised teleconferencing, we have added digital signatures to the cell phones of ministers."
COVID-19 has been a strong motivator, according to Pierrakakis. It's introduced political will, a clear plan, and a severe necessity to implement things like online government services that in the past have been slow to develop.
"[This] has become a necessity, and we're trying to provide as many services as possible to citizens," said Pierrakakis.
But another thing the government has found is digital innovation might not be as out of reach as they had thought. Greece now has systems in place that other EU countries still lack.
"You know, even though we're ranked at that 26th position, and we're modelling our policy after countries such as Estonia and the United Kingdom, we find it interesting to see that other governments haven't developed systems such as emergency alerts for instance, as I've heard about the UK, and we have. Or, other countries haven't developed the use of SMS systems to obtain permits to leave their homes in the current status of social distancing, and the Greek government has."
Every country in the world is attempting to speed up governance to respond to the global pandemic — in times of crisis, politicians are able to use emergency powers, fast-track laws, and simply make quicker decisions. The question is, can Greece keep the momentum it's gained when the world returns to something resembling normal?
"I think it will stick, I think this will have to be like that, after the virus," said Pierrakakis.
"I mean, I don't think that we will observe simplicity going back to complexity. We're currently simplifying as many government processes as we can, we're trying to turn the state digital, and I think this change, this policy, is here to stay."