In a major effort to speed up a slow-moving bureaucracy and help with a smooth reopening of its economy in the post-COVID-19 era, the government of Greece has announced plans to rapidly expand its digital services in 2020.
With the country barely out of a decades-long financial crisis, the Greek government launched more than 500 digital services through the new online gov.gr portal on March 21 of this year. According to Minister of Digital Governance Kyriakos Pierrakakis, the aim is to add at least 200 more services by the end of the year at what would work out to a rate of one new service per day.
Currently, Greek citizens can complete a number of actions digitally, ranging from obtaining medical prescriptions and filing designs for building permits — a notoriously slow process in a country that cautiously protects its architectural heritage — to applying for state assistance for ex-convicts.
“Think simplifications of a life event: The birth of a child. Up until February, getting the (social security) number of a newborn involved visits on behalf of citizens to five different public services,” said Pierrakakis. “Now, that happens automatically within the hospital and parents are notified by SMS … We’re making that example universal.”
Greece is forecast to suffer the worst recession in the European Union (EU) as a result of the impact of COVID-19, mostly due to the reliance of its economy on tourism, a market that has been devastated by the travel restrictions placed on people everywhere as a way of slowing the spread of the virus.
A major area in which digitization should help the country is lowering the administrative costs that amounted to 6.8% of the Greek GDP (about double the EU average) before the global financial crisis of the previous decade.
The resulting pressure from bailout lenders to lower this number has been the main factor in the push for the country to digitize its services, however it was only this past March that these services were put under one roof.
According to the Harvard and MIT-trained Pierrakakis, Estonia is serving as the blueprint for Greece.
“Our compass is Estonia, where you can do all but three things online: get married, get divorced, and buy a house,” he said. “We’re hoping that we can reach a similar digital equilibrium by adding and integrating more services one after another in the coming months.”
A major milestone for the Greek effort is expected to come at some point this summer, when the aim is to create the legal framework for citizens to have a single identification number, similar to what many countries around the world have been working on for the past several years.
To accomplish this, Greece will first have to overcome what is among the EU’s lowest rates of Internet penetration nationally, with household usage measuring in at 72% in 2018, though that number has climbed substantially in the past decade.