Greece has performed very well in the management of the COVID-19 crisis but faces now a huge economic downturn. What are the elements of success, the challenges ahead and the role of scientific experts? Some insights from an interview with top policy advisor Panos Tsakloglou.
Some core messages of the interview:
- Greece has done well since the government followed the advice of epidemiologists and the population respected the requested rules.
- Non-essential traveling to the Greek islands was forbidden and hence very few cases of COVID-19 infections were reported.
- Trust in was a crucial factor of success.
- There were few infections recorded in refugee camps and settlements : They were dealt with swiftly and the authorities tried to create a sanitary zone.
- Greece will experience the strongest negative economic impact from the pandemic among all EU countries since it relies excessively on activities that particular sensitive in the current crisis.
- The country soon expects expert proposals for a new growth plan of the economy and the reforms necessary for its implementation.
- Greece lacks behind in Europe in the development of the digital economy, but has made progress in the crisis.
- The Greek lesson for the government: (i) listening to the experts, (ii) taking swift and early action, and (iii) convincing the population about the necessity of the actions taken.
- The Greek government is prepared to listen to expert opinion.
GLO Fellow Panos Tsakloglou is Professor at the Athens University of Economics and Business. He is a Research Fellow of IZA and the Hellenic Observatory of LSE. During the period 2012-2014 he was Chairman of the Greek Government’s Council of Economic Advisers.
Middle photo by Mika Baumeister on Unsplash
GLO: How has Greece outperformed most of Europe in the handling of the coronavirus pandemic?
Panos Tsakloglou: It seems that this can be attributed to the combination of two factors. First, the government followed the advice of medical experts (epidemiologists) and imposed lockdown and social distancing measures quite early. Second, unlike the stereotype image of unruly Mediterraneans, the population respected the rules. As a result, in the middle of June Greece has just 18 deaths due to COVID-19 per million of population.
GLO: Are there natural advantages, like the many islands Greece has?
Panos Tsakloglou: Not really. Apart from the largest of these islands, most of them do not have the appropriate hospital facilities to deal with serious COVID-19 cases. However, in the framework of lockdown measures, non-essential traveling to the islands was forbidden and, therefore, very few cases of COVID-19 infections were reported.
GLO: Trust in the activities of the government is often seen as a crucial factor. What role did this play?
Panos Tsakloglou: This was a crucial factor, indeed. Several opinion polls taken since the outbreak of the pandemic record levels of trust to the government handling of the crisis that we have not seen in Greece for a very long period of time.
GLO: Migrants and refugee camps are sensitive elements of the challenge in many countries. What is the Greek strategy?
Panos Tsakloglou: With one major exception that, fortunately, did not result to loss of life, there were few infections recorded in refugee camps and settlements and they were dealt with swiftly. Early on, the authorities tried to create a sanitary zone to such facilities since an outbreak there could have had devastating consequences. On the contrary, the rate of infections of other vulnerable groups, such as Roma, was higher than the population average, although nowhere near the rates recorded in other European countries.
GLO: What role can Europe play for the Greek recovery?
Panos Tsakloglou: The timing of the pandemic was quite unfortunate for Greece, since it happened just when the economy was taking off after years of recession. Although so far Greece has handled the pandemic successfully, the OECD, the IMF and the European Commission predict that this year Greece will experience the strongest impact from the pandemic among all EU countries, since it relies excessively on activities that are likely to be severely hit in the current crisis (such as tourism and shipping) and, further, due to the high public debt the fiscal space of the country is limited. The inclusion of Greece in the Pandemic Emergency Purchase Programme of the ECB allowed Greece to access international capital markets in favorable terms, while if the Recovery Fund proposal of the European Commission is accepted, Greece will be one of the largest beneficiaries with plenty of resources available for investments that can facilitate a speedy recovery in the coming years.
GLO: How does Greece prepare for the economic revival of the country?
Panos Tsakloglou: Even before the eruption of the pandemic, the government had asked a group of economists led by Nobel laureate Sir Christopher Pissaridis to make proposals for a new growth plan of the economy and the reforms necessary for its implementation. Naturally, after the pandemic and in anticipation of the inflow of resources available through the Recovery Fund, the work of this committee had to be adjusted accordingly. Their proposals are expected in the coming weeks.
GLO: What role will the digital economy play for the future of Greece?
Panos Tsakloglou: According to the latest report of the European Commission only Bulgaria ranks below Greece in the EU in terms of digital skills of the population and progress in digital economy. However, during the pandemic there was rapid and substantial progress in several aspects of digital government – an area that Greece’s record is abysmal. The government has stated on many occasions that digital economy is among its priorities. If there is, indeed, a rapid digitization of the economy in the coming years we are likely to experience both an outburst of growth and an improvement in the citizens’ daily lives.
GLO: What can Europe learn from Greece?
Panos Tsakloglou: I think that Greece’s handling of the pandemic was one of the few nice surprises of the current crisis. Greece’s success was due to a combination of government’s (a) listening to the experts, (b) taking swift and early action, and, (c) convincing the population about the necessity of the actions taken. This is, probably, the lesson that Europe can learn from Greece.
GLO: Is the Greek government listening to scientists these days?
Panos Tsakloglou: The examples cited above about decisions on lockdown and social distancing measures based the advice of medical experts and the formation of the Pissaridis committee to draft a growth plan for the economy probably demonstrate that the Greek government is, indeed, prepared to listen to expert opinion. Nevertheless, we should not forget that in democracies decisions are taken by elected politician; not unelected experts.
With Panos Tsakloglou spoke Klaus F. Zimmermann, GLO President.