It is a great pleasure for me to be here again among you, to be back in Ioannina, to be back in Epirus. This time in the context of the institution that even though we are starting now it has proved to be extremely productive. And I refer to the institution we started with the Regional Conferences, through which we aspire to structure our plan for the next day together with the local societies, production organizations, sectoral organizations as well as the local government. Our plan for the Productive Reconstruction and the new growth model which we are envisioning. The model of fair development, now, as the final exit from this tremendous adventure is slowly emerging, we must realize that the biggest mistake we could make is to wish or believe that we can, because either way we cannot, go back to how things were before the crisis in 2009. If we do not change the production model and the growth model, the crisis will recur. Therefore, along with the exit from the crisis we must fight against the causes that led us to it. And I believe that this successful attempt, and success is evident from the presence not only of the Prime Minister’s speech, but especially at the round tables, where there is a very substantial discussion, almost with half the cabinet at a time.
So this experience is a way of recording the thirst, the desire of local societies not to be commended in this performance in this endeavor, but to participate in our joint effort for a new productive model, not to repeat the mistakes of the past but to exploit the very important, comparative advantages, the competitive advantages of each place. And every place is unique and obviously has different needs, priorities, and expectations.
So I want to say that the two-day work here in Epirus has confirmed the momentum of these initiatives.
They reaffirmed the warmth with which local communities are embarking on this open and unprecedented discussion on the problems and the prospects of the regional development. A dialogue, in which the ministers of the government are not just coming to speak. They come, above all, to listen and record. And let us not be afraid to use the word that they, also, come to be evaluated by the local communities, by the production organizations, through a direct and vivid process of social dialogue.
Allow me, however, my friends, to begin my intervention not from the local issues, but by making, briefly, a small account of a course, admittedly, extremely difficult, from 2015 until today.
And why do I feel this way? Because, I see we are at a turning point, at a point where we take the turn. And so, there is no need for complacency, we do not have to think that everything is over. But we also need to bare consciousness where we were and where we are. And we also evaluate why we are in a better position today.
You know, we never claimed that the course would not be difficult.
On the contrary, in the September 2015 elections, after the tough and difficult negotiation that led to a difficult compromise with our partners, we spoke openly to the world about the uphill road that we would have to cross until the end of the program and the memoranda.
At the same time, however, we had also committed ourselves to some basic principles.
That we are going to consolidate the country’s public finances, which for decades have been the subject of corruption, mismanagement and plunder.
That we will strike, if necessary, with conflicts, which may also have political costs, the root of interdependence and corruption. And that in this effort, a difficult twofold effort, both inside and outside. Outside, with ongoing negotiations on the implementation of the program, inside, with conflicts. In this effort, however, we will not lose sight of our support towards the weakest in every way. The uninsured, the unemployed, those threatened by the nightmare of poverty.
On these fronts we worked with stubbornness. And today, I believe that we are in a position to present a positive account and, above all, we are in a position to have the absolute confidence that sacrifices and efforts are not lost. Because today the whole of Europe admits that we are taking the turn. Today, the international press recognizes that they are finally completing the programs. Today, even the last Greek is slowly starting to feel that we have the last steps in front of us to exit this long-lasting adventure that our country has faced.
Indeed, we worked with stubbornness. We have collided with very strong interests that have held the country and the economy captive for many years and we took advantage of every opportunity, even under difficult budgetary conditions, to consolidate social protection and social employment programs.
To ensure total access to health services, for example, for all, insured and uninsured, to support the structures of the social state, which, unfortunately, previous governments, in the years of prosperity, abandoned and virtually demolished them over the years.
But today, when we are at the turning point of this path, in the report that we have to complete, I would like to say to you: Unlike the two previous programs, the failure of which has caused huge problems in the country and the economy, this program implements its objectives and is moving towards its completion.
Why, then, do we succeed where the past failed? Why is the third program succeeding, and the first two failed to do so? The third program had a lighter budget adjustment. That was the profit, the essence of the deal. The smaller surplus than the previous government, which was 4 and 4.2% for the three years that we are crossing. The additional 20 billion euros is not a small burden, which in 2016, 2017 and 2018 would fall on the shoulders of the weaker.
And of course, I think that if this is the first reason, the second one is that we were targeting at structural reforms, many of which were necessary.
For example, it is necessary for the country the wealthy to pay, and how will this happen? Anyone with large real estate fortune, which is an objective element, has to pay. Because all previous years, the contributions of the wealthy were almost voluntary. The big problem is that the first two memoranda placed the tax burdens, unfortunately, on the middle and the low.
Structural reforms in public administration and the state that were necessary. Everybody was talking about the depoliticisation of the state, but unfortunately we all knew that not only when the governments were changing, but also the ministers when they were changing took along with them even the last official.
We have dared these reforms. But, these reforms are being achieved for a reason. Because we have created a framework of consensus and if not full acceptance, I would say, of full understanding on the part of society of these reform efforts. Because, no reform can succeed if it does not have the elemental agreement of society.
So we succeed where they failed. Because we have secured a smaller budget burden of 20 billion over the three years, we have also formed consensus, as we were the first, in this many years, seven years to date, adventure of the country that we went to the ballot box after the deal and not before. And so everything was known to the Greek people. And we demanded, with boldness, the choice of select who is capable of walking us through this difficult course. Again, openly when this cycle is completed, and we hope it will be completed by the end of the program in August 2018, but at the end of our government in September 2019, we will again turn to the Greek people to choose, by comparing where the country was when we took over and where the country would be the next day, what was the Production Reconstruction and Development plan and what would be the next day.
I have to say that at this point, and I will close my introductory statement in order to address the problems of Epirus and the solutions we have been exploring here this weekend to tell you that we are watching with interest the panic that has taken hold of some who witness that not the government, but the country is achieving its goals, it is internationally recognized, reigned with international prestige, and is no longer the black sheep that no one wanted to deal with.
And because some people are bothered by this, they have unleashed an unbelievable disinformation effort. The phenomenon is not only Greek, it is also international. It is the phenomenon of fake news, fabricated information. When we read that there is a collapse of public finances and revenue, when our lenders are unhappy with the redistribution of surplus and they will punish us. Another example, when there is no surplus, when there is a problem and we will not receive the 800 million sub-dose which we get these days. Even that the third assessment is blown. All these news, stacked, to create an atmosphere until they are contradicted, usually the following day they were printed and became headlines. And of course, to find out the next day that the program is evolving smoothly, and the country is meeting its goals and that we are at a better point than ever before at these critical assessments. So, I would like to say that here in Greece we do not experience the fake news phenomenon. We witness the phenomenon of desperate news. It’s not just false news. They are desperate news because they do not suggest anything else, but the despair of a power system that is trying to maintain its influence in the broader masses, spreading false news. And when they realize that distortion does not bear fruit on finances, they reveal that cholera and plague appeared in hospitals and insane SYRIZA members through religious icons from the offices of the Education Ministry.
This is the reality today, unfortunately. This is the reality. But we turn our backs towards this fake reality,. We do not care. And we look forward. We look forward to conversing with the healthy forces, the productive forces of the Greek society, with the people who produce and create, trying to establish a relationship based on sincerity and trust. We are not interested in neither answering, nor dealing with this misery. Because what matters most to me is what I told you at the beginning. To forge, to build together that framework, the foundations on which, to speak in terms of engineering, the new era will be formed, the new production and development model in our country, which must be fair, must cover the social needs and must see the great potential, the untapped potential of this place, and in particular the opportunities for young people to live in this place in dignity.
So I will refer to the Region of Epirus.
Dear Mr. Governor,
You, at the end of your speech, you referred, in general, to the problems. Thankfully you did not address the specific ones because I think we would have a lot to talk about. But, I say this because the general problems determine how great the difficulties are. Everything you said is very important. But I want to point out one thing, only one disagreement on everything you said. And it is not a bad thing, because I am glad that in these two-day conferences the basis is discussion, to exchange views and to disagree. I, therefore, in all that you have said, will also refer to the great difficulties and possibilities of this place. My disagreement lies in the fact that while you pointed out at the end of your speech the need to proceed with wider and broader consensus, somewhere in the beginning, if I am not wrong, you expressed your complete opposition to the debate that we are launching as a government. Of course, we want consultation and dialogue with local government to create a new institutional framework that makes such agreements and consensus necessary. Because it is easy to say that consensus and agreements are a good thing, as long as it does not concern us. It may be good for a government that will govern 11 million citizens, but not for a municipality that will rule 100,000 citizens or a region.
So I would say that this country cannot go forward with its model of yesterday, neither on the field of production nor in the institutional framework. We must create new institutions that will force us to sit, talk, disagree, but compose in the end. And that’s why I believe that the debate about the proportional representation and local government is a debate that needs to happen. And let’s result in compositions. Let’s look at what model other European countries have? Why are they different from ours? And look at the best solution and move forward.
The Region of Epirus, now. I do not want to make many introductory points. It is an injured region that has tremendous possibilities. And it is also a historical region, a historical place. I’m not saying this because my origins are here, but this is true.
It has suffered a lot after World War II, the Civil War, Migration and Urbanization, and the policy of shortcomings that have been implemented in recent decades.
A policy that did not use the available financial resources did not protect the mountainous and more remote populations, it did not protect the unique environment and the unique wealth of natural resources.
Epirus is a geographical region with rich history, culture, education and economic power, but is unfortunately today one of the poorest regions, not just in Greece but in Europe. And, unfortunately, with the highest unemployment rate compared to the rest of Greece.
The growth that we are pursuing, with increased production and employment, reconstruction of the welfare state, and the formation of a sustainable environment must overturn all these negative dynamics, the malaise that Epirus has been burdening for decades now.
And we have to state this clearly. We cannot talk about growth and rebuilding production here with these unemployment rates. So, let’s make it clear that we do not want growth to see positive indicators, which concern only the few, who used to earn less and now earn more. But we want a growth that will diffuse into society and, above all, that will lead us shortly, from one day to the next, to reduce unemployment rates. Because that is the biggest problem, a national problem that we have to deal with today. We received it at 27% in 2015. Today it is at 21%. It decreased by almost six units, but it is extremely high. We cannot speak and say ‘we live in Europe’ when we have this unemployment rates and in the rest of Europe they have half the unemployment rates than we do.
Therefore, there are many significant productive capacities in Epirus, traditional and new, that are not exploited and we must use them to regain work, first and foremost.
And I start from the primary sector. This is because I know that it is a weakness of the Governor, but it is also a weakness of many of us.
And I believe that it is one of the comparative advantages of our country in terms of agricultural production and agriculture as well as livestock farming.
In the field of primary production, therefore, many problems have accumulated. But the potential for growth is ahead of us and we have to support them. Our policy is based on stable axes that overcome structural weaknesses and address the accumulated malaise of the past decades.
That is why, for us, our priority is:
- Firstly, faster rationalization, redressing injustices in the distribution of farm aid.
- Renewal of the rural population.
- The production of agricultural products, with the potential in competition and extroversion, which can only be achieved through collective, collaborative professional schemes.
- The development of research and innovation in the agro-livestock sector. A very important issue, because it offers added value, creates infrastructure and, of course, also requires support from a new scientific resources.
I know that in the specific discussion that took place in this conference two days ago on agricultural issues, the actions funded by the Rural Development Program were presented in detail.
Our policy in the rural area is mainly aimed at:
- The production of Agricultural Products of high added value, as I said, but also of competitive nature and we have such examples. You mentioned the aromatic plants. There are such products of a competitive nature.
- Also, the production of special products of export interest, which are favored by the climatic conditions and the comparative advantages of our country.
- The production of basic nutritional products for our country, such as dairy products and meat.
Particularly, regarding the support to the livestock farming, we will need to focus even more on policies such as domestic production of feed and forage crops and the protection of native breeds, for which there is great potential for improvement.
In the field of agricultural products processing, it is indicative that Epirus’s great interest in agro-food is reflected in our submissions to the new Development Law. 55% of the Epirus applications concern agro-food. Altogether, 17 proposals were submitted with a total budget of approximately € 35 million.
Also, with specific programs from the NSRF to improve extroversion, such as the “Business Abroad” program, a budget of 30 million, by which we support small and medium-sized enterprises to develop export activity at each stage of the process.
The program will finance business participation in international trade fairs as well as other ways of promoting their products on international markets. And in this direction we have already announced the launch of the Hellenic Label, aiming at the development of a single Greek identity for the products of the agro-food sector.
The program that meets a firm demand from the industry will, I believe, improve the position of Greek agro-food products and will allow them to claim better terms and a larger share of international markets.
The benefit to the economy of Epirus, from this program, is expected to be particularly important, as many products of Epirus, the Region, meet, and I would say, the specifications for the international market.
And I want to point out here that one of these products, of international reputation and value for which we have fought great but we have already won, we are the only ones that have won fights and continue to give, it is the feta of Epirus, to protect it which we have already done so, and we will continue the battle to secure its origins.
We also give special emphasis to the Production Reconstruction of two major sectors, fishing and aquaculture.
Today, I found myself in Thesprotia, outside of Igoumenitsa, and I spoke with producers. I saw the excellent work they do, producing only 12 thousand tons in Thesprotia. And we are talking about the fish farming sector, which gives the Greek economy 600 million euros a year in the trade balance from exports.
We must therefore help these sectors become viable and sustainable, both in the management and conservation of marine biological resources, and in the sustainability of the jobs that are derived from them.
Already EUR 520 million of the new Operational Program for Fisheries and the Sea are directed to the area, to the fisheries and aquaculture.
Allow me, here, to make a more general point, which I imagine many of those in the field or those watching us from our TV are farmers will wait to hear this. Today, they are credited and will be available to all farmers tomorrow, EUR 750 million of their basic aid will be entered in their accounts.
By the end of the year, a total of € 2.8 billion will have been earmarked for 2017, which is, of course, a great economic breakthrough for the entire Greek countryside.
And I want to make a comment on this occasion.
For the first time, on the days of this government, the farmer has a payment schedule. He knows when he will get the money he is entitled to.
And it is also the third year we pay for the billions of rural aid on time, and at the same time our country has not got a single euro fine.
You will probably say to me, what are you talking about, that is self-evident. Unfortunately, friends, the self-evident things have not occurred for many years in this place. And we are, at last, making these self-evident.
Because, when we took over, the country was loaded with fines and charges of over EUR 3 billion that we now have to manage. And we will manage them as painlessly as possible for the Greek farmer.
The development of the agro-food sector, however, obviously places us ahead of the next step.
And the next step is to support manufacturing, support industry.
Our industry plan is based on a three-pronged “integrated value chains – extroversion – environmental sustainability”.
The Ministry of Economy implements a comprehensive network of interventions to strengthen industrial and manufacturing activity.
These interventions are funded by the NSRF, the Infrastructure Fund, and the New Development Law.
The orientation of these interventions seeks to support the innovation and extroversion of manufacturing enterprises, synergies and partnerships in the sector, as well as the access of small and medium-sized enterprises to international markets.
In Epirus, the total number of submissions to date is 51 million euros. However, allow me to say at this point that we cannot strengthen the secondary sector and the processing and consequently the primary one, because Greek agricultural products will be processed if they fail to find financing tools.
A separate area, therefore, in our national strategy has what we call the decentralization of growth.
The goal is growth to seize concerning only Attica and a few large urban centers but embrace the whole country.
That is why in 2016 we increased the National Strand of the Public Investment Program for Epirus by 279%.
While for 2017, we have already approved 31 million euros of mature projects from national resources.
And we are also announcing from this conference the allocation of additional EUR 5 million to the Region from the national section of the Public Investment Program to cover more needs. By the end of the year, we will seek to increase this amount even more.
In Epirus, we use these resources primarily for infrastructure projects, direct interventions on the quality of life of citizens, emergency response and the restoration of important cultural and historical monuments.
Of the new NSRF, 7.3 million Euros are currently being deployed in Epirus and € 21 million have been launched in the waste management sector. Moreover, more than € 22 million will be directed to businesses in the Region from entrepreneurship support programs.
Finally, we decided to increase the budget for the regional program by 151% in infrastructure and transport and 145% in education, health and welfare. This will ensure the implementation of additional projects in these particularly critical areas. As part of the initiatives for the development and reconstruction of the region, I would say that the implementation of the project “Guarantee for the Enhancement of the Ecosystem of Social Enterprises in Greece” is of particular importance. The main objectives of this project are the creation of a Guarantee Fund for Social Enterprises and the provision of support tools for the initiation, development, consolidation and growth of these enterprises. The project partner is also the Cooperative Bank of Epirus.
This initiative will strengthen the Epirus Region’s already existing tendency to use the new law on Social and Solidarity Economy.
Therefore, on the basis of this production strategy, I would say, the broader issues that concern the energy issue are included.
The Public Gas Company for the Rest of Greece, DEDA, has submitted a plan for the development of distribution networks in 42 cities, including four cities in Epirus: Ioannina, Arta, Preveza and Igoumenitsa. The four capitals.
It is planned to build 400 km of natural gas networks within the four-year 2020-2023 covering the urban fabric of these four cities.
It is also planned to build 15,000 connections of all consumer categories, with most of them being related to households.
The company’s development plan also includes the connection to the gas networks of several public and municipal buildings, such as school buildings, municipal gyms, swimming pools and other public facilities.
This is a very important step in modernization of the four capitals of the Region of Epirus, the capitals of the prefectures, with the oldest administrative structure.
In order to implement the above strategy, investments are required, which, according to the DEDA studies, amount to approximately € 50 million, funded by the new NSRF, equity of the company, but also through borrowing from the European investment bank.
The key to the success of the program, of course, is and I am sure we will have it, our close cooperation with the Region of Epirus, in the models of the successful cooperation with the other Regions.
The DEDA development plan predicts 2020 as the starting year for construction in the region.
However, the four cities of Epirus are far apart from the existing and planned gas transportation systems, DESFA and the TAP pipeline, which is at a very high rate of integration and starts from Alexandroupolis and ends in Thesprotia.
For this reason, as it is not foreseen to build new transport systems that will cross the area, also, the supply of the cities of the Region of Epirus is possible, mainly transport by the sea, either in liquid form (LNG) or as a compressed gas (CNG).
The port of Igoumenitsa is one of the four ports in the country, which are part of the European program POSEIDON-MED II for refueling liquefied natural gas.
Therefore, in the port of Igoumenitsa the installation of tanks for the storage of liquefied natural gas is planned.
These tanks will also be able to store the quantities needed to supply the four cities of Arta, Ioannina, Preveza and Igoumenitsa.
As far as hydrocarbons are concerned, it is well known that large players on the international market have shown their willingness to engage in research and exploitation of relevant deposits.
Interest in the area concerns both the land area of Epirus and the marine area in the northern Ionian.
For Epirus, the contract for granting the right to explore and exploit hydrocarbons in the land area between Arta and Preveza was signed last spring.
These developments are expected to give new impetus to growth in Epirus as the Region of the country where hydrocarbon exploration is under way is projected to be allocated, a regional resource of 5% of the revenue generated in the production phase. An important resource, of course, will also help local employment positions.
In the field of Renewable Energy Sources, a significant number of projects, mainly photovoltaic and small hydroelectric projects, have been implemented and operated in Epirus, while wind farms in the Municipality of Zitsa and Pogoni are under construction.
There is also significant potential for further development in the fields of geothermal, biomass and biogas, in the primary sector, greenhouses and livestock units.
Geothermal fields can support the reduction of energy costs in agriculture and fish farming, subject to the sustainable management of hot water reserves and measures to prevent chemical and thermal pollution.
In this direction, we plan to launch a new public consultation on a new bill on geothermal energy and its exploitation in the direction of supporting local societies.
Vehicle, however, for the promotion of Renewable Energy Sources, can also be the Energy Communities. The bill will be put to vote in the Parliament next year and will give citizens, Local Government Organizations and small and medium-sized local businesses the opportunity to engage in energy planning through their dynamic engagement in energy projects.
The Energy Communities will be able to operate in the fields of production, storage, own consumption, distribution and supply of energy, as well as in the field of energy saving in the final use at local and regional level.
I will address now, dear friends, the equally important issue of infrastructure.
A few weeks ago, I was here again. We delivered the entire Ionian Road. A project of strategic importance, finally ending the transport blockade of Epirus and, more generally, of Western Greece.
As part of the concession of the Ionian Highway, we are also promoting a number of flood protection projects along the motorway from Antirrio to Ioannina.
These projects aim at flood protection and protection of neighboring areas. But also to the radical upgrading of motorway connections, to the provincial and national network.
Within the week, the concession is commissioned by the concessionaire without any expense for the Greek State.
While the focus and priority of the Ministry of Infrastructure and Transport are the first flood defense projects to be launched this year.
In the framework of the INTERREG cross-border program and in cooperation with the Ministry of Development, the Ministry of Infrastructure and Transport is proceeding with the study of the Igoumenitsa-Sagiada-Mavromati road, with a budget of 2.5 million euros.
This is a project, which is a long-standing demand of local residents and institutions.
At the same time, a major development project, I will add, but also of the highest national importance, is the Yannena-Kakavia road axis, which is also on track.
We are promoting its funding through the European Investment Bank, with which we are looking for the best financial tools. This is a project of a total budget of 350 million euros, which will complete the motorway of the Ionian Road and in connection with Egnatia will stimulate the extroversion of Epirus towards the countries of our northern frontier.
As for the Ioannina Airport. The issue of fueling facilities for refueling aircraft has been definitively solved. While it is already installed and within the next month will be put into operation, the automatic landing system, in order to tackle traffic problems due to weather phenomena.
These two interventions significantly upgraded the airport, resulting in increased tourist traffic and freight traffic both for the city of Ioannina and for the entire region of Epirus.
The study on the Amvrakia road, which has already been funded, is also being completed. A project of particular importance for the development of Preveza.
Also important for the tourist upgrading and utilization of Epirus and the Ionian islands is the waterway network, which is planned in the area.
The first and immediate priority is the creation of watercourses in Igoumenitsa, here in the Lake of Ioannina, but also in Preveza.
Finally, in cooperation with the Ministry of Development, Egnatia SA and the Region of Epirus, we are implementing an important holistic approach to the road safety problems arising in the “black spots” of the national, the old and the provincial road network.
More specifically, this program for the region of Epirus has a total budget of around 50 million euros, and for the subject you have mentioned, Mr. Governor, regarding tolls, I say that the study on analogue tolls is our goal, in any case, to come to a conciliation with the concessionaire, which still does not exist because the contest is not complete, but there is free access, I would say, for people who want to traveled a small distance in their everyday life that is if they live in the area or they need to go to their jobs, to their workplaces.
I’m not saying anything more about the roads, because they will misunderstand me and say that all this is because Spirtzis has his in-laws in Giannena and Arta. But, no, they are not done for this reason, nor because I draw my origins from here. They happen because we believe that there are no second-class citizens and that, at last, the isolated region must gain access and contact with the rest of Greece.
However, on infrastructure issues, I cannot forget the port of Igoumenitsa, which I mentioned before. In recent years, there has been a steep rise, a progressive increase in passenger and freight traffic. Now, with the completion of the Ionian Road, you realize that this will multiply and has already begun to appear.
The projects of the second phase of the project to upgrade the port have already been put into operation. While the third phase has been included in the next programming period of the Cohesion Fund.
And I also say that the operation of the harbor, together with the operation of these two axes, the Egnatia and the Ionian Road, turn the port of Igoumenitsa into a modern combined transport center that will connect our country with the other big ports of the Adriatic.
The development of the Igoumenitsa Merchant Center, to which the administration of the Port Authority of Igoumenitsa, with the support of the Ministries of Shipping & Island Policy, Economy & Development and Infrastructure & Transport, contributes in this direction.
In total, we have more than € 50 million to upgrade the port of Igoumenitsa. While there is a political will to complete the process of declassification of all land areas of the harbor that are not required for port activities and their performance in self-government for utility purposes is a political priority for us.
Already, the Board of Directors and the General Assembly of the Agency have approved the declassification and the Agency has forwarded the relevant documents to the competent Ministries for their own agreement.
Before I move on from the infrastructure, I must not forget to mention something that also marks our choice of not forgetting people in this place.
I am referring to the fact that in many mountainous villages, mainly in Epirus and all over Greece, some people who handed over the public frequencies in our country for free and who also gave the birr signal, they had taken care to leave out television coverage – not the internet – hundreds of thousands of citizens in our country who cannot view Greek TV stations.
Our priority is to implement a program by the end of the year, involving 400,000 citizens, providing them free equipment, satellite dishes so that they can also watch Greek programs even the last mountainous village of Greece.
The creation of value chains, as well as the modernization of production at all levels, require one thing: supporting Research and Innovation, and linking Education to productive activity.
Epirus has great performance in research and development and has a very long tradition. Let’s not forget, Giannena first not only in chariots, but also in plots and letters.
Nevertheless, I would say that, although there are important activities in research and development, it has a lower national average in terms of the percentage of companies that are innovating and we want to overthrow it.
Proposals submitted to Epirus in the Research – Innovation – Income program reach a total budget of 62 million.
Metsovo already has the Metsovian Center for Interdisciplinary Research of the National Technical University of Athens.
While I am happy to officially announce from this step, the foundation of the Agricultural School in Arta, which will be included in the Schools of the University of Ioannina.
I am, also, pleased to announce that, through the collaboration of the Ministry of Education and Rural Development, three biannual Programs are under way, under the aegis of the University. It is the Dairy program, the Farming Production Program and the Fish Farming Program.
These two-year programs, which are institutionalized for the first time in the Universities, will radically upgrade technical education and will be accessible to all Vocational High School graduates.
At this point it is very important that their students will receive professional certificates of European qualifications.
And I would like to exalt here the cooperation of the Ministry of Education and the Holy Metropolis of Ioannina, because I always believe that close co-operation, we have much to do together, can bring results especially in the field of education and research, which give a perspective to new generation of our country.
Finally, the adoption of a proposal by the University of Ioannina for the establishment of a Research Center, with institutes for Biomedicine, Environment, Materials and Applications Technologies, and Humanitarian Studies, is an important decision.
However, as I pointed out from the beginning, friends, our development proposal for Epirus can only have as a prerequisite the balanced planning and the coexistence of development with rational exploitation and respect for the natural environment.
Related to this is the management of aquatic ecosystems.
A field where we need to address the effects of a long-term abandonment and downgrading.
As far as Achelous river is concerned, I said in Larissa and I think I made myself clear. Because we have a plan, we have a strategy and we do not say it differently at each Regional Congress. Previously governments have done so. Different things were said in Larissa, and others said in Tzoumerka. We say the same.
Today, however, I will refer in particular to Amvrakikos.
The Ministry of Environment and Energy proceeds directly to the following actions:
Firstly, the integration of the whole area into the Natura 2000 network.
Secondly, the elaboration of a Special Environmental Study, which will present the current situation and make proposals through broad consultation procedures.
Thirdly, in the drafting of a Presidential Decree, with clear land uses and permitted and not activities.
Finally, based on the Special Environmental Study and the Presidential Decree, we will proceed with the preparation of a Management Plan, satisfying the local community’s demand for an integrated development plan taking into account the specificities of the area and combining investment activities , compatible with protection, but also the emergence of the environment.
The combination of socio-economic development and protection of the environment, because we do not forget that the natural environment, the beauty of our country is what makes it different from all others and we have to protect it. That is why the combination is the case for the Mayor of Lake Pamvotis in order to achieve a satisfactory balance between these two factors. The Ministry of the Environment and Energy is in the process of finalizing the draft Presidential Decree, which is expected to be ready by the end of the year.
With the Presidential Decree there will be more clear land use and analysis of permitted and non-activities.
And now I will refer to the field of tourism.
The emergence of the protection and local cultural heritage and the development of alternative tourism are areas in which Epirus could play a leading role due to its particular environmental and cultural characteristics.
I am referring to the dense network of rivers, to the mountainous area, combined, of course, with its rich history and the traditional characteristics of the area. All this can become a lever for growth.
We capitalize resources for the national part of the Public Investment Program for this purpose.
We take part in the great effort to restore the bridge in Plaka, recognizing its emblematic character.
This is why funding of € 5.6 million has been approved for the work of fixing, restoring, restoring and highlighting the historic bridge.
Within the framework of the NSRF, an invitation is also planned for the emergence of areas near lakes and rivers, with a view to mild growth.
The budget for this will be € 20 million.
An additional € 25 million from NSRF funds will be allocated to the use of recognized thermal springs, the jurisdiction of Local Authorities of the first degree.
Tourism, however, in the region, I believe has very serious growth prospects. The call will be announced immediately for the launch of 120m euros from the NSRF for the establishment of new tourism enterprises.
Recently announced results for the action that finances the upgrading of tourism enterprises.
In Epirus, there were high-level proposals and a high percentage of success. 64 of the 68 proposals received were positively evaluated and the temporary beneficiaries will be directly subsidized with EUR 3, 3 million.
Also, in Epirus, the implementation of public projects for the development of tourist capital has been launched through the new NSRF. Six proposals for a total budget of € 6.5 million have already begun.
I return to this point, and at the end of my speech, to leave the material goods behind to speak about the intangible but very important ones, because not only growth, numbers, programs, economy, is the meaning of the quality of life. And the quality of life cannot exist without a health system that addresses inequalities and opens its doors to all citizens.
It is therefore necessary to include qualitative goals in our development planning for people’s well-being. And of course, well-being means a good level of health.
Health for us is a privileged field of ending inequalities, a human right, right of social redistribution and fair development.
A field, however, where to their full extent and our basic political commitments were honored, such as universal coverage, priority in the NHS, and the “Healthy System” moralizing. Because, let’s not forget, the problem of all past years is not only that they have achieved a great social breakthrough, the national system almost to dissolve it. But, at the time they demolished it, and at the time when the Greek people paid the memoranda, they continued profiteering from the national health system, HCDCP, Novartis, with everything we all know very well.
It is, therefore, an area that ensures the social reward of increased tax and insurance obligations of the citizens.
For this reason, for Epirus, within the framework of the great reform of Primary Health Care, 20 local health units in Ioannina and one in the other capitals of the prefectures, each of them, will be operational by the end of the year.
At the same time, there is a constant struggle to fill the staff gaps, as well as for the technological upgrade of the hospitals and health centers of the Region.
And I have already learned that more than 350 nurses and doctors have been hired in the last few months in hospitals in Epirus and there is certainly a prospect of having more recruitments in the next few years. Some will blame us, of course, that we are recruiting. But let them blame us, because they do not hide their real face, which is the depreciation of any social service. Why this real face of neoliberalism.
Also, to mention the installation of a new Magnetic Resonance Tomography at the University Hospital of Ioannina.
The completion of the procurement for the new CT scanner at the General Hospital of Arta, which will be installed by the end of the year, as well as the reopening of the department of orthopedic surgery at the General Hospital of Preveza, reinforced by staff.
And allow me to tell you something that my friend Euclid, who is from Preveza, also tells me every time I discuss with him about the necessary reduction of the tax burden, which will be done. Because according to forecasts at the end of 2018 we will have the necessary financial space, on this economic path to make the necessary relief, especially for the middle classes and the low ones. Not the high ones, I repeat. But, he told me a story in a cafe that is frequent in Preveza during the summer holidays. They say to him: “Minister, heavy taxes.” He answers: “What do you prefer? Cut them by 10% to each of us, reduce them tomorrow, removing 10 nurses from each nursing institution, or be able to keep them, struggle, but know that we will support hospitals, support medical centers, support social services, we will support those services that helpless, poor, weaker people have access to. I challenge the answer that Euclid gave me, and assures me that he tells us that we prefer hospitals. So I think we are on track.
So, I would say, our goal is to support hospitals, to support social services, to support our schools which for the first time began the lessons on time, with teachers and staff – for the second time, for the first time in recent years – to support the welfare state, to reduce unemployment and ultimately to be able to create the necessary fiscal space, through the development of the economy, to reduce tax burdens. This is what I answer to Euclid, I do not know what he answers to me. We will see it along the way.
This is the picture, though. The picture is that in recent years an unequal battle is taking place, but I believe that we are doing our best to support the weakest.
And we managed that because it was our priority. Because in the past years there have been no claims and we have claimed and achieved 2.5 million uninsured people have free access to all services in all public hospitals in the country.
700,000 of our fellow citizens are entitled to the Social Income of Solidarity of 700 million euros. Last year in December, what we managed to do was the over performance of surplus to be spread to low-paid pensioners. And this year, in December, whatever stock we have will be shared among those who need it most. What we do is this, not a customer policy.
So, what I said today certainly cannot cover all the concerns expressed in these two days at the Regional Conference of Epirus.
From our side, we will keep a commitment: We will continue to work as closely as possible with the Region, the municipalities of the whole region and the productive agencies of the region, so that we can support the productive potential of this region in any way.
But I want to point out something. As for us, it is not worthwhile to come here to make a speech, but to listen first and to compose, so what is crucial is not to leave from here, all the ministers and I, and meet you again after two years.
The crucial moment is, as we say in Athamanio, the follow – up, that is, to be able to continue. We can do what has been said here, designed here, and composed here, to have a continuity. And we will implement them together.
We are not on the one side and the actors of the local government on the other, whatever color or party they are voting for, we are not interested in this.
We must realize that we are at a crucial turning point for the country. If we do not agree on the self-evident now when will do?
So some people tried to boycott these conferences by being absent from the sessions. They are wrong, and we are telling them, even now, to correct their mistake. To come here together, to plan the next day of our country, to exploit the productive potential, to set up a model of growth that will stand on its feet, not to make the mistakes of the past, now that we are exiting the crisis and entering a model of fair development. That is our vision and I believe that together we can make it happen.
Thank you very much. And be strong.