In an exclusive interview with Greek City Times, Deputy Minister of Development and Investment Mr. Christos Dimas discusses research, technology and innovation in Greece and his government’s priorities in the sector.
By Konstantinos Sarrikostas
As one of the youngest members of the Mitsotakis government cabinet, 40-year-old Deputy Minister Christos Dimas has been handed the challenging portfolio of Research and Innovation; a sector that has traditionally lagged in Greece for decades.
Mr. Dimas is well aware of the challenges and has a clear vision of where he sees the sector and how to ensure Greece plays a leading role in the innovation field within the Balkan neighbourhood.
Greek City Times met him at his Athens office where from the very first moments of our discussion, he passionately outlined his vision for the sector and how research, innovation and technology must go hand -in-hand with entrepreneurship in order to be effective as a unified chain within the national economy.
Dimas wants Greece to play a leading role in innovation, with a clear aim of improving the Greek economy’s competitiveness and thus achieve better results in the European Index of Innovation.
Minister, you are a young man, probably the youngest minister of the Mitsotakis government, with Doctoral Studies in European Policy. Why has Greece been left behind in the Research and Technology field?
Since the very first day we were elected to government, we knew there wouldn’t be a period of grace. For the first time, in the last 10 years, we have had a government with an absolute majority in Parliament and one that is committed to deep structural reforms. Our basic pursuit is to make every day better than the previous day and we want this to be reflected in the daily life of our fellow citizens.
Since our very first days, we have slowly implemented our pre-election commitments such as the reduction of “ENFIA”, the end of capital controls and with the new development Bill we brought to Parliament, we created a more investor-friendly environment and one that supports entrepreneurship.
In the Ministry of Development and Investment, we work daily towards improving competitiveness, the economy, as well as the strengthening businesses so that new and well-paid employment posts are created. Finally, we aim at connecting, more effectively, Greek scientific research with innovation and the market and consequently also support entrepreneurship.
You have a really challenging portfolio in your hands. What are your goals and with which tools will they be materialised?
In the Ministry of Development and Investment we have set many goals, many of which we have already achieved.
The landed - property of “CHROPEI” in Piraeus which has been unexploited for decades, has now been ensured.
We developed the former “Olympic Riding Center” in the metropolitan park in Goudi as well as ensuring finance for development works through a donation from the Onassis Foundation so that the General Secretariat of Research and Technology can be re-accommodated.
We have legislated the National Council of Research, Technology and Innovation (NCRT) as the prime consultative body of the State on issues dealing with the relevant fields. The board members appointed are distinguished people in the academic sector and industry.
We are at the final stage of signing the interstate agreement of co-operation between Greece and the United States in Research and Technology fields. We have increased the budget and have successfully completed the evaluation process for the programme “RESEARCH - CREATE - INNOVATE Circle B΄” for the purpose of sponsoring research works, technological development and innovation, the strengthening of competitiveness, productivity as well as the extroversion of businesses to national markets.
Last but not least, we have entered into an agreement with the European Bank of Investments about the expansion and modernisation of building infrastructures for the Research Centre “Dimokritos”.
We don’t claim to have reinvented the wheel, we are still in our infancy, yet slowly but surely we are taking the necessary steps to achieve our goals and our planning.
The utilisation of sponsoring tools is one of the most basic motivational factors so that start-ups can start off and get the necessary help.
What stage are you at and what are the most ambitious objectives you want to achieve? We know that the Electronic Registry of Startup Businesses will be promptly operating. Could you tell us what this is exactly, when it will be implemented and what tax incentives will you consider implementing?
In the past, the existing problem was that the registration of the start-up ecosystem was unfeasible. With the creation of the electronic platform, we have succeeded in charting, watching and actually supporting all start-up businesses in Greece. The platform is ready and we are in the final stage of its process.
Businesses will be “entering” the list according to specific quality criteria and as soon as they are included, they will be supported with tax and labour incentives or even prizes from the private sector. The Ministry of Development and Investment will merely have the supervision.
Through the platform of startups, the State will gain a better insight into the fiscal cost of start-up entrepreneurship which until now remained a blur and hindered the possibility of providing incentives. The process now is simplified and transparent and will allow start-up businesses, without being present, to prove both nationally and internationally that they are incorporated.
The Innovation State in Piraeus is one of your first achievements. Will we be talking about the “Piraeutic” Silicon Valley in a few years’ time?
The Innovation State in Attica is a really significant government project. Our target is to utilise the Industrial real estate of 17.893 m2 in Pireos St., in Neo Faliro and to convert it into an Innovation Centre.
We actually created the first State of Innovation in Greece which constitutes a natural space where researchers, companies, start-ups and university professors will be co-operating to produce innovative products and services for the benefit of the national economy.
It’s really worth pointing out that the existing building had previously been related to the growth of Industry and Research in Greece since the end of 19th century. It’s a building which has been unexploited and closed for the last 30 years. The Innovation State will be created with the proper structures so that the entire area will be upgraded, the business environment will improve and new and of high-quality jobs will be generated, impeding -at the same time- the so-called ‘brain drain’.
Within the next few months, we proceed with the public – private partnership initiative with the Greek State granting use of the land, whilst the private sector will operate it.
There have already been signs of investor confidence in Greece from large overseas companies. For instance, Tesla co-operates with the Research Centre of Dimokritos. Are there similar initiatives in your plans?
In previous years, investor uncertainty was a problematic issue for our country. Despite having at our disposal great research personnel and serious, internationally acknowledged research results, we haven't managed to effectively partner research with the market and entrepreneurship. The cases of Pfizer, Cisco and EY for investments in research and development in our country are just the beginning and they constitute characteristic examples of how we aim at moving from now on.
You have stated that “bureaucracy kills research”. Will we ever live in a country where anything self - evident will be fulfilled by… let’s say… pressing a button? What tools will you utilise to the deal with the intricate “cogwheels” of bureaucracy?
It is true that bureaucracy causes many obstacles. To solve this problem, we introduced the “Special Account Sponsoring Research” bill which has been voted, and has resulted in the substantial reduction of administrative burdens for research centres, researchers and universities.
We are proceeding with a systematic record of legislation codification about spin-off companies so that further incentives can be given to researchers. Our target is a clear improvement in the Greek economy’s competitiveness, an accomplishment of better results in European Index of Innovation, significant progress steps not only compared to previous years but also compared to other countries.
Minister, what is your message to the Greek diaspora? Which Greece are you struggling for? What commitments will the government make towards Greeks all over the world -of second and third generation- who wish to invest in their ancestral country? They are people who either left their country due to the economic crisis or wish to “re-establish” themselves in their country through investment.
We want to create an attractive and meritocratic environment which will persuade many people to repatriate. In an environment which evolves at a fast pace and gets more and more competitive.
Investments in research and technology is a one-way path for us and it constitutes the vehicle by which we can cope with the challenges of the new era, such as National Defence, climate change, agro-nutrition, medicine as well as advanced technology. We have remarkable scientists, research centres and universities at our disposal and our aim is that they are allowed to make their mark both on the economy and on society.
We want Greece to acquire a leading role in the field of innovation in Balkans and in Southeast Europe. We are increasing incentives for businesses as a means to encourage for R & D expenditure so that they can generate more and well-paid jobs. At the same time through the Innovation State, we believe that we will be able to attract many important businesses.
Our aim is to create the prerequisites so that the “brain drain” will be stopped so that we may start repatriating an important number of new scientists and entrepreneurs who left the country during the economic crisis. A hard target to achieve but really indispensable for our country.
Mr. Christos Dimas graduated from the Law School of the National Kapodistrian University of Athens as well as Queen Mary University in London. He has a postgraduate degree in Comparative Politics from the London School of Economics and Political Sciences (LSE), and has completed his doctoral studies (PhD) in European Policy from LSE with a scholarship from the Alexandros Onassis Institution. At the age of 25 he taught “Introduction to Political Sciences” as a professor’s assistant to first year students at the London School of Economics.