Greek Government Lost in Space

A torrent of mocking and sarcastic comments followed Monday’s announcement by Minister of Digital Policy, Media and Telecommunications Nikos Pappas who said that he is ready to launch the National Center for Space Applications (EKDE).

Countless of derisive comments were posted in social media, while the issue was criticized in mass media as well, mostly for the reason that it sounds hypocritical that in debt-ridden Greece with one-third of the population close to or at poverty level and in the midst of a bailout program, the government has the funds to support “space applications.”

The derisive — and in many cases angry — comments came with the firm belief that the SYRIZA administration found a way to create job positions for its voters and potential voters ahead of the possibility of snap elections.

However, Pappas insists that Greeks must take the issue seriously. We would, but that coming from the ministry of “digital policy” is something that can’t be taken seriously. To elaborate, what is exactly digital policy that requires the establishment of a whole new ministry of dubious responsibilities? A nebulous ministry trying to convince Greek people that it will launch the even more nebulous “space applications.” All this from an administration that for two years now has not being able to draft something as simple as a road tax policy.

“Jokes apart, and the trolls of some political parties, we must deal seriously with an issue that lies at the heart of national sovereignty and security,” Pappas said with gravitas, probably failing to convince even his secretary. Most likely the security he refers to is the job security of all the SYRIZA members who were hired for his ministry, and will be hired for the ambitious National Center for Space Applications if it is ever established. Which, will be a public limited company aimed at “making up for the country’s huge deficit in this area.” Shouldn’t we worry more about the state deficit rather than the space deficit at this time? And let’s not forget also that anything “state-operated” in Greece is by definition something that creates huge debts. Like the state railroad system sold recently for 48 million euros with amassed debts of 700 million.

Of course being a SYRIZA creation, the Greek space agency could not be announced without being accompanied by lies and stabs at the opposition: After Pappas said that the previous governments ignored the opportunities of a space agency, the statement read: “The launch of the Hellas Sat satellite this year will create important commercial opportunities, which will be developed by a space policy agency along European lines.” EKDE will have the right to lease transponders that are not being used by the Greek state and will also act as an intermediary between Greek and international centers in the fields of commercial, scientific and military research.

Unfortunately for Mr. Pappas, there is Hellas Sat, and its satellite Hellas-Sat 2 that has been operating since 2003. Also there is the Hellenic Space Technologies and Applications Cluster (si-Cluster), an industrially-led and user-driven innovation cluster in Greece, “with a sizeable potential to compete worldwide in the challenging and fast-growing sector of space technologies and applications.”

si-Cluster has been in operation since 2013 and “consists of 50 members — including both large businesses and SMEs — while it is not only expanding its industrial base rapidly, but also its cooperation ties with all the innovation ecosystem actors, including academia, research institutes, European, regional and central governmental and other stakeholders involved in this demanding technological field.” [taken from the si-Cluster website]

Being a private enterprise, si-Cluster fell off Mr. Pappas’ radar.

At the moment, EKDE, like other ideas promoted by a government that would “change Europe” — as the SYRIZA election slogan said — looks like one of the many distractions the Tsipras administration uses to avert attention from the burning issues the country has to deal with. And while the threat of a Grexit and Greece’s bankruptcy are words that are making headlines again, the Greek government seems to be lost in space.