Interview with Giorgos Georgios AKEL Member of the European Parliament and member of the C.C. of AKEL
The pandemic has highlighted the bankruptcy of the neoliberal austerity policies
Health is a public social good not a privilege for the select few
27TH June 2020, ‘Cyprus News Agency’ CNA
- Most EU countries have for the most part returned to a new reality after months of quarantine, but many measures are still being enforced. What is your initial assessment of the handling of the crisis by the European institutions? There has been strong criticism by citizens of an absence of solidarity, a common policy and strategy. What are your assessments?
GG: The pandemic found the EU sick and on its knees because of its very own policies that were being imposed. Over the past decade, the Brussels directorate has repeatedly urged member states to enforce drastic cuts in expenditure on health and to proceed to the privatisation of the health sector. As a result, this most important right to health and medical care was turned into a commodity and public hospitals were severely undermined.
With the pandemic spreading, governments but also the peoples, very logically, expected that substantial support and practical solidarity would be provided by the EU, so that they could confront the crisis, but also the effects of the policies that were imposed by the EU itself in public health systems. After all, the EU has a responsibility to complement national policies, helping member states provide quality health care to all. However, the EU has unfortunately failed miserably.
A comprehensive European health strategy has still not yet been elaborated. While the EU has numerous mechanisms for the coordination of the states that could be made use of, we have regrettably not seen any substantive action being taken whatsoever in the field of health. What was decided by the EU was very far from what the dramatic situation demanded and demands. Instead of providing practical solidarity towards member states, we once again see that what prevails is fierce competition between them and the economic interests of the powerful states and monopolies.
- The pandemic has highlighted the need for strong public health systems in all countries so that they can cope with such a crisis with many challenges. How do you assess the situation in Cyprus? Many say the challenge was won.
GG: The pandemic has generally highlighted the painful consequences of the neoliberal austerity policies imposed and has reaffirmed the importance of the struggle we are waging for an alternative Europe of social justice, solidarity and a humane approach serving the interests of the peoples.
More specifically, as regards health, it has been demonstrated how important it is to invest in public hospitals so that health ceases to be the privilege of the select few and that the right to health should be safeguarded as a public social good!
Proponents and advocates of neoliberalism in Cyprus, on the orders of the Anastasiades-DISY government, have imposed cuts of 600m Euros in the public health system, undermining public hospitals and ranking our country last in the table among EU member states as regards expenditure on health. As a result, with the outbreak of the pandemic, the lack of staff, the serious shortages observed in equipment and consumables and the consequent inhumane working conditions made the work of the medical and paramedical staff in Cyprus’ public hospitals extremely difficult. However, despite these adverse conditions, public hospitals and health workers waged the battle, with self-sacrifice, remaining in the front line to serve the people and our society.
We therefore can only thank them for their superhuman efforts, which contributed decisively so that the public health system in our country managed to with stand the difficulties. Equally important, however, is the need for investment, even belatedly, so that the public health system is strengthened significantly.
It is important to note that a key factor in the hitherto successful curbing of the pandemic is the strong sense of social responsibility that our people have shown by following scientific guidelines and implementing the measures proposed. However, when epidemiological conditions permit it, there must be an immediate return to a democratic normality with the full restoration of all human rights and democratic freedoms.
- Given the warnings issued by scientists that there may be a second wave and given that in the fall we will have to deal with the seasonal flu and other viruses, what could European governments do to be even more prepared? Many governments are already talking about shortcomings in the vaccine for the influenza A.
GG: Our longstanding demand, which has never been more relevant than today, is that the public health system must be enhanced so that all people shall have access to quality public health services. A fundamental precondition, of course, for this is the effective operation of the National Health Scheme (GESY), with the provision of substantial support for public hospitals and health workers and professionals, who have demonstrated in practice their irreplaceable role.
The international scientific community is currently working to develop a vaccine against the coronavirus. However, there is an urgent need to ensure that this vaccine will be made available to every person and that it will not become a new commodity for the maximization of profit to the benefit of the pharmaceutical industry.
As AKEL, together with the Left Group in the European Parliament, we launched, on 23rd June a pan-European campaign (www.right2cure.eu), urging the European Commission to approve strict legislation that will ensure that vaccines and therapies to confront the coronavirus will be safeguarded as a public good, freely accessible to all.
- The crisis has assumed dimensions and had consequences both economic, as well as social. As far as the economy is concerned, how do you assess the government’s measures and the support under discussion at an EU level for countries?
GG: The main criterion determining AKEL’s assessment of the measures that are being taken is the degree of support provided to the vulnerable groups of the population, to workers and small and medium businesses, which make up the backbone of the Cyprus economy. Unfortunately, every day it is being demonstrated that they are precisely the ones that are being called upon to assume the economic burden of the crisis which is insurmountable. The individual measures taken by the Government, many of which have been adopted also after our own proposals were submitted and are moving in the correct direction, do not address the structural weaknesses of Cyprus’ economic, developmental model and cannot, in the long run, have any substantial effect.
It is, therefore, imperative that a new developmental model for Cyprus is elaborated and proposed. This model should unleash our country’s productive potential, by simultaneously supporting a strong public system for health, education and social protection, with the safeguarding of modern labour and social rights.
At an EU level, unfortunately, the same policy priorities are being pursued. Despite the turn that the EU was forced to make by developments themselves for the provision of one-off separate state subsidies, the proposal for the new multiannual fiscal framework follows the same neoliberal philosophy. Ignoring the crisis and the impact on the peoples, cuts in funding from the Cohesion Policy and the Common Agricultural Policy are once again being proposed, while the EU continues to insist on increasing funding for its militarisation and the strengthening the war arms industry. Consequently, any subsidies are incorporated within the framework of the European semester and the much-advertised “support” towards member states will be provided on the precondition that the European Commission itself will judge the economic efficiency of the packages in each state separately, indeed with the right to propose structural changes and to punish those states that will not proceed to the reforms it proposes.
In reality we are talking about new and small Memoranda under another name. The peoples, especially of the European South, cannot endure any other debts. They are already on their knees from the previous Memoranda…
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