Greece: Setting the Youth Agenda for 2021

Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom

Today, our country, Greece, is suffering from a deep economic crisis while facing systemic problems that undermine social prosperity and cohesion. This situation is certainly related to the debt crisis and is basically the outcome of failed political approaches, “big state” policies and clientelism of the past. As a consequence of all the above, the productive class can no longer meet the challenge of the “intergenerational contract” between the young generation and the generation of their fathers and forefathers, thus shaking the fair arrangement of relations between generations.

We, the youth of Greece, firmly believe that the current situation can only be overcome if we ourselves attempt to change the country with responsibility and self-commitment. At the end of the day, it is our own future which is at stake, but no one accepts to listen. We have understood the signs of the times – this is why we want our voice to become stronger, take action and bring about drastic and successful change.

To this effect, we, a large group of liberal-minded and committed young Greeks, met here in Thessaloniki, on 26-27 September 2014, in order to adopt a resolution that responds to the most urgent problems of our generation. We want our voice to be heard. And we want our calls for action set forth hereunder to be taken seriously.

Economy and Unemployment

Under the current economic conditions, access to the labour market has become difficult, particularly for young people, whose participation is limited. This must change radically. Taking one step further from simply lamenting this situation, we ought to put forward realistic proposals capable of bringing about subversion. Lack of prospects and the ensuing mass emigration, as well as strong disappointment from the political landscape, are the results of unemployment and require prompt intervention. This can be achieved by means of having young people involved in politics and by planning a youth-oriented economy.

Therefore, we, the liberal youth of Greece, request…

  1. reduction of the often huge administrative and bureaucratic hurdles and the costs they entail. At the same time, we should promote business ideas to efficient directions while emphasizing on counseling and mentoring for young entrepreneurs. Most notably, we propose that companies be incorporated electronically and that the completion of a single automation system be stepped up;

  1. abolition of clientelist relations which have developed in Greece and are preventing the unleashing of financial, technical and human resources for productive activities. The current situation is leading to the downgrading of vital state functions and to the discrediting of the state as an institution among citizens. We also propose encouraging the private rather than the public sector in view of ultimately achieving sustainable economic growth;

  1. reduction of taxation and, more importantly, stabilisation of the taxation and political systems in order to ensure growth of the economy. In Greece, state interventionism is the main cause of structural problems in the labour market. High taxation drastically reduces business liquidity, while high social security contributions of both employers and employees are an obstacle to new job creation. The unfair, if not absurd, pay inequalities as well as the regulation of workers’ wages by means of state decisions are additional major problems. It is worth pointing out that the most vulnerable groups on the labour market, like young people and women, are affected the most by these insurmountable obstacles and this is why we are sadly witnessing rising unemployment rates among these population groups;

  1. that the availability of credits and loans for small, middle-sized and startup enterprises be ensured. Improved competitiveness could be achieved by means of interest-free long-term loans that would gradually replace subsidies. The promotion of start-up accelerators to facilitate small business and ensure job creation, while creating certain conditions for growth, would move in the same direction;

  1. a plan to link education with employment, taking into account the needs of students and the society at every stage of learning. A major factor for skills and capabilities development is formal and informal (experiential) learning, which provides the appropriate qualifications for an academic and professional career;

  1. subsidies for the sources of job creation rather than for short-lived jobs. Traditionally, the policy in the fight against youth unemployment involved subsidization of jobs. However, the rational subsidization of research, entrepreneurship and innovation should lay the foundation for a long-term policy to ensure jobs without time limits;

  1. that the conditions be put in place for the consolidation of an attractive business environment and for the encouragement of private initiative. In a globalized society, restrictions on trade in goods and services and excessive state interventionism are barriers to free trade. Sound and socially-beneficial foreign investment can be encouraged in a steady and business-friendly economic environment. As an incentive, we propose the establishment of economic zones (e.g. in accordance with the internationally recognized OECD standards), in which businesses would enjoy special privileges, to encourage investment activity.

Education and Innovation

The Greek educational system does not come up to our expectations. The current structure of primary and secondary education does not favour the building of an individual identity. Our universities are not competitive and often function inefficiently. Moreover, compared to the world’s leading institutions, research and innovation development in Greece is insufficient. Furthermore, the prerogatives of party organisations operating within universities create a hostile environment for the average student.

For this reason, we, the liberal youth of Greece, request…

  1. the promotion and expansion of allday schools with a revised curriculum that is in line with European standards. The aim is to encourage individual initiative, participation and cooperation, so as to create more responsible and more active citizens;

  1. the strengthening of university career offices in order for high school students to familiarize themselves with and learn about the available options;

  1. the decoupling of secondary education from higher education (abolition of the Panhellenic university entrance exams); admission exams should be conducted in accordance with the requirements of each university;

  1. the adoption of an educational system based on incentives and on the promotion of excellence, both within and outside universities. Universities should be self-governed and free to introduce new courses or choose the best scientists, so as to promote competition. In terms of staff and infrastructure quality, the best practice of the leading countries in education should be adopted, adjusted to the Greek reality;

  1. that the educational system itself coordinate and efficiently publicise labour market demand between higher education and private enterprise, in order to support specialization and the rapid absorption of graduates;

  1. that Greek universities be allowed to seek and accept non-anonymous private funding (in a context of transparency) in order to increase the potential of students and researchers;

  1. the recognition of the functioning of private universities, which should enhance the quality of education through competition, create many new jobs for young scientists and enrich academic standards. Internationally recognized universities will be allowed to establish subsidiaries in Greece, so as for Greek students currently studying abroad to avoid the high financial burden by staying in Greece and increasing the GDP through investing in their studies. Many foreign students will also visit Greece for the same purpose;

  1. the abolition of party-controlled student organisations which are managing the universities not in the interest of students but rather in the interest of their parties. Universities should be free from direct political influence and focus on the promotion of knowledge, pluralism of thought and research.

European Integration

The European Union is a union of free, proud and democratic peoples. The strong and steady cooperation among European nations is a guarantor of stability, progress and prosperity in Europe. In a competitive globalized world, Europeans have more chances of out-competing other nations when they pool collective productivity and creativity. The European Union is the most successful political, social and economic framework of pan-European cooperation. Greece is an organic part of Europe and Greek citizens have the same rights to shape the future of the Union as their European fellow citizens. Nonetheless, many Greeks feel estranged from the European Union because they do not understand who is in charge of decision-making, in Athens or in Brussels.

Therefore, we, the liberal youth of Greece, request…

  1. more knowledge and information, with the use of the modern means of communication and participation, about the objectives, the structure and the functioning of the European Union, as well as about the rights of every European citizen, in view of increasing transparency and reducing the democratic deficit. Europe is the creation of liberalism par excellence, since it is based on freedom, individual and human rights, the rule of law, free market, the common history and tradition, as well as on the value of peace among the different European nations;

  1. that those Greek politicians who point the finger at “Brussels”, the vague EU policies and the “lenders’ regime”, thus undermining the joint effort, focus on addressing their own failures and weaknesses, given that all European decisions are agreed upon by the elected governments of all Member States, therefore they also share part of the responsibility. Faith in the ongoing European integration process is too important to be used as a scapegoat for the shortcomings of national legislation;

  1. the implementation of the community acquis in every aspect of social, political and economic life and the enforcement of the rules and directives adopted by the European Parliament and the Council in a way that is consistent with their purpose, spirit and timeframe, since they were voted by the representatives of the Greek citizens to the European institutions;

  1. that our representatives launch a campaign for more support from our European partners in matters of pan-European interest, like migration and border security, given that the Greek borders are also European borders. Furthermore, we believe that enhanced cooperation is needed in the areas of foreign policy and defence, in order to increase security;

  1. the creation of the conditions for a functional internal market, characterized by sufficient and equitable access of every Greek private company to the available capital. The fact that Greek entrepreneurs must pay higher interest rates on credits than their competitors in other European countries is highly non-competitive;

  1. the encouragement and strengthening of regional and cross-border cooperation, in every possible way;

  1. the development of a long-term strategy for high or low responsibility jobs in the EU. Moreover, appointments to important posts in the EU administration should be based on merit rather than proximity to the Prime Minister of the time. With regard to low responsibility jobs in the European bureaucracy, more young people should be encouraged to pursue employment opportunities at the European institutions, for a fixed term for all, and be granted incentives to disseminate their knowledge and expertise upon return home.

Institutions and Administration

It is widely known that public administration has many weaknesses, some of which are structural while others the product of the domestic mentality. Moreover, some parts of the Constitution are obsolete and require a bold revision so that Parliament may legislate according to the urgent actual needs of the society.

Therefore, we, the liberal youth of Greece, request…

  1. limitation of the possibility to “threaten” with early elections, which destabilizes the entire political process. The Parliament should have at its disposal a full four-year legislative term and, in the event of early elections, the new Parliament should be elected only for the remaining time until completion of the previous parliamentary term;

  1. a drastic reduction in the large number of state structures that will result in a reduction in the number of civil servants, as well as the abolition of the constitutionally-enshrined permanent tenure for civil servants. We should introduce the ongoing and fair evaluation of civil servants, which will ensure that all holders of public posts receive the appropriate training and lifelong learning, as well as refresher courses and updates on modern methods and standards in their area of work;

  1. modernization of the judiciary, for its functioning to be prompt, faster and more efficient. Having to wait for a ruling for over ten years is not functional, nor is it fair for the judges themselves to decide on the level of their pay as they please. In this context, we propose:

    1. the limitation of access to appeal courts, most notably by increasing the cost of bringing legal action, while providing for legal aid to low-income natural and legal persons or exempting them from the aforementioned cost;

    2. the strengthening and promotion of out-of-court dispute resolution systems (arbitration-mediation), including for the settlement of criminal cases when the amount of the penalty which is liable to be imposed is low, following an agreement between the parties before the public prosecutor;

    3. the abolition of substantive criminal provisions (like the criminal law on drug use) which cause huge backlogs for courts and overcrowding in prisons;

    4. that the correctional system be redesigned, with an emphasis on alternatives to prison, such as community work;

    5. the establishment of new specialist courts and tribunals, in order to expedite the administration of justice and optimize the quality of rulings, e.g. mercantile courts. Legal certainty and the expeditious hearing of commercial disputes will lay the foundation for strengthening entrepreneurship and improving the country’s investment profile;

    6. the promotion of automation by means of the mandatory electronic submission of documents and briefs, as well as by means of the prompt electronic engrossment of all the decisions of Greek courts;

  1. introduction of modern electronic solutions for every transaction with the state, in order to create a system that is less prone to corruption and more citizen-friendly, and also minimize red tape. The ultimate objective should be to reverse the rule in the relationship between citizens and administration: only when something cannot be done electronically should there be a physical presence requirement;

  1. true rather than formal independence for independent authorities. Their boards should be elected by the Parliament with special enhanced majority.

Markus Kaiser