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Politics

Mitsotakis: Greece Taking Steps to Stop Population Decline

ATHENS – The demographic issue is a national, existential problem, one which demands giving up narrow party political outlooks and that all social forces in the country come together behind a common goal, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said on Wednesday at the conference “Demographic 2022 – The Great Challenge” organised by Next is Now and Dome Consulting at the Grande Bretagne Hotel in Athens.

“We are not talking about a threat to our national identity but a direct undermining of the country’s ability to generate wealth on a personal and collective level, so as to preserve in this way the strong fabric that unites the citizens. Consequently, the danger is as present as it is critical,” Mitsotakis said, while offering assurances that the state was working on this issue.

The prime minister described the problem as a “ticking time bomb” whose counter was running down and which had to be deactivated in time, with methodical actions that would turn justified concern into targeted long-term initiatives. The first and biggest danger, he noted, was economic and social as the number of economically active members of the population fell, with repercussions on the pension and health systems.

In order to address these issues, and after assigning a ministerial portfolio specific to demographic and family affairs, the prime minister announced that the government intends to found a national council to coordinate all the relevant actions and initiatives by various services and ministries.

A measure to extend the hours of day-care centres and primary schools until 18:00 in the evening – including study time for children – was now in the final stages of preparation, he said, while a drive to hire gynaecologists and paeditricians for regional health centres, especially on islands, was underway to support families in these areas.

“It is a particular challenge for an ageing population,” Mitsotakis noted, pointing out that he has repeatedly inivted the political parties in parliament to engage in cross-party cooperation to arrive at a common approach to these common problems.

“We can only deal with the threat if we face it head on,” he added, saying the government proposes that the problem be addressed on multiple fronts, ranging from financial and tax incentives to reversing the brain drain, as well as good news about new investments and incentives for cheap housing via a comprehensive programme.

He concluded by referring to the integration of legal migrants into Greek society as a solution to the problem of labour shortages in sectors such as farming and construction, while emphasising that the new policy must “not leave anyone behind”.

“Neither should young Greeks be unable to find work, nor should there be medieval working conditions for foreign workers. A middle-aged country can be renewed with people that embrace its values and who can have and support families here. I am not talking about an easy thing but we are obliged to consider it responsibly, with seriousness and courage, but also with national self-confidence and faith in a civilisation that has lasted through centuries,” he said.

On the emigration of highly skilled young Greeks abroad, Mitsotakis noted that the focus should be on “fighting for a fairer Greece” that was seen to reward merit and hard work with opportunities to create personal wealth, find good-quality jobs, housing and health.

The prime minister noted that the figures were “remorseless” and showed that, by 2050, Greece will have fewer than nine million residents and that one in three will be over 65.

He referred to government initiatives to support new parents, such as subsidised leave for both parents and protection from dismissal, as well as financing for creches within work places and the “neighbourhood nanny” schemes and others. Another key issue, he added, would be to ensure access to affordable housing for young couples.

On labour shortages afflicting specific sectors, Mitsotakis said that Greece was testing the pilot application of bilateral agreements with other countries with large numbers of labourers for the temporary transfer of such workers for short periods, for sectors that had great difficulty finding personnel, such as farm workers.

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