Wednesday, 25 September 2019

Striking Greek unions accuse government of leaving them powerless

This article was published by Al Jazeera International.
Supporters of the labour union of the Communist Party of Greece marched through Athens on Tuesday.


Greece’s three month-old conservative government faced its first public sector strike on Tuesday, as it presented a bill it says will bring growth and jobs.

Athens city buses and electric trolleys remained parked, as did light rail and passenger shipping. The result was gridlock when commuters took to their cars. Government services were shuttered. Public schools closed and hospitals operated on skeleton staff. The civil aviation authority grounded flights for three hours.

Although Tuesday’s strike was primarily a public sector strike, private sector unions were present. Banks remained closed and some retail, construction and telecommunications workers’ unions joined protest marches to parliament. The private sector will hold its own full-blown strike on October 2nd.

Greece’s tourism industry left reeling from Thomas Cook collapse

This article was published by Al Jazeera International.

Almost one in ten of the 600,000 Thomas Cook travellers left stranded by the holidaymaker’s collapse were in Greece on Monday.

The government said 15 aircraft were en route to fly them from the islands of Corfu and Zakynthos, in the Ionian Sea, and Kos in the Aegean, back home. It estimates that as many as 22,000 of the roughly 50,000 stranded travellers in Greece will be repatriated by Wednesday. It appeared that all of these flights were being chartered by the UK Civil Aviation Authority.

“The expenses, overnight stays and flights home for tourists who flew with Thomas Cook from now until the end of their booking have been secured,” a Greek tourism ministry announcement said.

Monday, 16 September 2019

Greece vows to “simplify” asylum process, then appears to reconsider

This article was published by Al Jazeera International.

Greece’s announcement that it will “simplify” its asylum procedure has met with such concern from human rights groups and the judiciary, that the government may be reconsidering its course of action.

The two month-old conservative New Democracy government issued a statement on September 1 accusing the previous, leftwing Syriza administration of creating an “absurd… unique, complicated” legal framework for asylum leading to “endless recycling of asylum applications”.

“The government will simplify this system,” it said.

The legal profession believes this likely means an abolition of the appeals process to which an asylum reject may apply, and which is mandatory under European and international humanitarian law.

Wednesday, 11 September 2019

Is PM Mitsotakis the austerity-hit Greek economy's best hope?

This article was published by Al Jazeera International.


THESSALONIKI, Greece - As Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis mounted the podium at the Thessaloniki International Fair to unveil his vision for a robust Greek economy, he already seemed to have a fair wind behind him.

“People believe there will be change for the better in all things - in the market, in the economy, in education,” says Mariana Valetopoulou, a second-generation business owner in this northern port city’s market district.

She looks back on the left-wing Syriza government’s four-year rule with dread. “There was no police,” she says looking at the street outside her shop that sells sewing and knitting goods. “They didn’t intervene for any reason. There was lawlessness… There’s already more police. You don’t have this licentiousness.”

Thursday, 11 July 2019

How family and politics shaped Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis



This article was published by Al Jazeera International

The election of Greece’s reformist prime minister could mark a change in political culture after decades of overspending and a decade of austerity




When Kyriakos Mitsotakis assumed his first cabinet post in 2012, Greeks broadly agreed that he’d been seated before the poisoned chalice. Under the terms of a freshly signed, €130bn emergency loan from the Eurozone, the conservatives had to dismiss up to 25,000 state workers over two years and bring down the cost of government. It was Mitsotakis’ job to get it done.



Over two years, he dismissed more than 5,000 people, including the entire municipal police force and two thirds of the state television payroll – something no Greek government had done in living memory.



He also introduced evaluation. “Impunity in the state is over,” he told parliament in March 2014. “We will pull skeletons out of closets and we will send people home who’ve provably engaged in illegal practices.”



Asked about it on state television during his 2016 election campaign for the party leadership, Mitsotakis said, “The dismissals were a difficult political decision and I shouldered it myself without much support, but it was a government commitment. I don’t appreciate ex post facto criticism.”


Sunday, 7 July 2019

Conservative New Democracy poised for victory in Greece election


This article was published by Al Jazeera International.

Athens, Greece - Greece’s conservative New Democracy party is poised to take power in a general election on Sunday, after nearly five years of leftwing rule. The latest polls show the centre-right opposition party of Kyriakos Mitsotakis leading the ruling Syriza by 9-11 percentage points and taking as many as 165 legislators in the 300-member parliament.

A jubilant Mitsotakis, the son of a former prime minister, promised hundreds of supporters in the Greek capital, Athens, prosperity after a decade-long financial crisis.  

“The warmth of your reception is a sign that tomorrow Greece is lifting its head high, but it's also pulling up its sleeves to build a new future,” the 51-year-old former banker said beneath the Acropolis.

The snap election on Sunday comes three months before the end of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’ term runs out. The embattled leader called the poll hours after New Democracy trounced his party in May’s European elections.

Tuesday, 25 June 2019

In Greece, an organic rebel farm goes against the grain

 A Greek family’s quest for seeds, sustainability and independence

This article was published by Al Jazeera International 
 
Yiorgos (L) and Antonis Antonopoulos on a hill overlooking Dilofo.

DILOFO, Thessaly - On the Greek government’s list of certified organic farmers, Antonis Antonopoulos has the serial number one.

What really makes Antonis and his brother, Yiorgos, a singular phenomenon, though, is not that their model farm pioneered organic methods in Greece; it’s that they were among the first to realise that organically grown, local varieties of wheat and barley other farmers had cast aside could be a commercial hit.

The Antonopouloi have branded and shipped their organic flours made from indigenous grains to specialty shops and bakeries for years. Two years ago, their branded Zea flour, derived from a double-kerneled wheat bred in their town of Dilofo, became the key ingredient in an eponymous sliced bread that is distributed nationwide. Although sales figures are a closely guarded secret, it is clear that Zea’s commercial success has brought an ancient grain back from the brink of extinction.

“Demand is growing,” says Yiorgos Antonopoulos, who won’t divulge his annual turnover or how many hectares he cultivates. “Suffice it to say that I’m better off than anyone else in the area.”

This success is important because Greece is a natural gene bank. Its archipelago, varied terrain and microclimates favoured so many divergent evolutionary paths that today it has the highest plant biodiversity in Europe, with approximately 6,000 wild plant species or subspecies, and thousands of cultivated plants. Should this vast genetic vocabulary be lost, scientists and farmers could lose a vital resource in the fight to keep feeding the planet in a rapidly-changing climate.