Marietta Giannakou, Head of the Greek Delegation to the NATO Parliamentary Assembly reflects on the common challenges to citizens in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, Greece’s response to the coronavirus, and the valuable lessons to be drawn from the fight against the pandemic.
4 questions with Marietta Giannakou:
I. Allied efforts to provide resources and humanitarian assistance to the hardest-hit countries has been critical to help Allies and partners cope with this unprecedented crisis. Could you tell us how Greece has used NATO structures to help others and how Greece has benefitted from other Allies’ help over the course of the crisis?
The pandemic made humanity understand the common challenges to citizens’ lives and public health in general. While each state made decisions in that regard in its own right, it was of paramount importance to share knowledge, practices, and best practices across borders. NATO upholds partnerships between different countries and as a result, strong inter-state bonds were indispensable for maintaining contacts between policymakers in order to tackle the dire consequences of the pandemic. Greece managed to respond effectively to the situation, with no recourse to exogenous assistance. Yet, Greece remained at the disposal of its NATO allies in order to provide any kind of assistance to those worst hit by the pandemic.
II. What additional steps should NATO and Allied armed forces take to support the national and international response to the COVID-19 crisis?
One of the things that should be responsibly considered is preserving high conditions of health for military staff. Given that there is hardly any precedent with a pandemic, modern army forces had to design special rules for the safety of personnel. NATO can play a significant part in codifying a set of rules drawn from best practices among its members and diffusing them in respective military authorities. We have to build considerable experience from the ongoing pandemic given that it seems that in the foreseeable future we have to keep providing effective responses if the worst scenario comes true. This is another challenge that NATO has to encompass in its very successful mission.
III. The number of COVID-19 cases and related deaths in Greece has been very low until now. While every country has faced unique circumstances in the COVID-19 crisis, do you see any lessons Greece has learnt which could be applicable to other Allies on how to address the current pandemic and future health emergencies?
Indeed, Greece is among the best cases worldwide in terms of its response to Covid-19. This is certainly not a matter of pure luck. The government took thorny decisions in a timely manner by enforcing extreme social distancing measures. There are important lessons to be drawn. First, that we should carefully learn from the experience of other states, as for instance how hard Italy was hit. Secondly, that the government should maintain strong coordinating institutions and processes by which it can effectively implement urgent policies. Thirdly, that we should permanently take care of our infrastructure, so that it meets certain criteria of quality and functioning. Greece’s health system, despite its severe funding cuts during the austerity years, has preserved its quality in terms of hospitals and most importantly of medical personnel readiness.
Notwithstanding the next phase of the pandemic, Greece has decisively turned to tackling the unprecedented yearly recession (estimated at nearly 10%) by restoring confidence in the economy and a coherent strategy to maintain jobs and incomes. In this effort, the contribution of EU funding and policy tools is of paramount importance.
IV. What role do parliamentarians play in this crisis? And what role can interparliamentary diplomacy, including within the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, play to mitigate this crisis and prepare for the next crisis?
Parliamentarians played their own distinctive role by eagerly supporting government policies though inter-party consensus. We are the contact points with the electorate, so that our responsible stance shows the way to different social groups within society. On the other hand, I strongly believe that maintaining networking among parliamentarians across the borders is of extreme importance. This is the way to exchange good policy practices, to reach commonly accepted solutions, to apply pressure on governments to deliver better policy results and respond to citizens’ increasing demands. During my very long parliamentary experience in the Hellenic and European Parliaments, I have always stood for strong inter-parliamentary bonds as a way for fostering democratic governance.
Marietta Giannakou, Head of the Greek Delegation to the NATO Parliamentary Assembly