Dear Herbert, Dear Mayor of Astypalaia, Ministers, Ladies and Gentlemen
In these really dark times we are sending out a very optimistic message to the world. I remember very well when we first discussed with Herbert the broad context of this project. This -at the time- seemed like a fascinating idea. But, I would like to really commend our teams for working very hard to reach the point where we will be signing today a Memorandum of Understanding, committing all parties to actually making what is a great idea a real project that will significantly change, I will dare to say transform, this beautiful island of Astypalaia.
Two and a half thousand years ago, Heraclitus wrote of change, being the one constant of life. He was known as the “Obscure” because his vision of the world was complex. It was difficult to understand. And he quite frequently used this metaphor of being asleep to describe how people understood the world at the time. And “truth” to Heraclitus was being awake.
I think that many people -dear Herbert- would argue that the world has been asleep to the issue of climate change for way, way too long. And only in recent years we are reaching this stage of awakening that forces us to confront what is the most important challenge of our generation. But Heraclitus reminded us that change needs to be persistent and continuous.
Sometimes, it starts small. But over time, it can compound into real transformation. And I think this is particularly relevant when we do talk about climate change.
As far as today’s project is concerned, we are at the beginning of a long journey that will transform this beautiful island into a model of smart and green living. It is going to be a small step but it will have – I think – huge consequences for everyone.
When we think of Greek islands, innovation is not the first thing that may spring to mind. We immediately reach out to mental images of natural beauty, sand beaches, unique architecture, folk culture. Although I did notice in the Astylapaia video we had images of quite a few windmills. What we consider today’s cultural heritage was innovation centuries ago.
And of course for all those who live on Astypalaia year round, dear Mayor you know the difficulties of life especially in the winter. This is an island of 100 square kms. Despite its size, it has very limited transportation. It has a “fleet” of two buses. They operate a specific route that does not include the northern or the southern part of the island. If you live there, tough luck.
It is an island that has a population of 1,300 but receives more than 70,000 tourists and aims to receive many more.
So it is very clear that when we thought with Herbert about one island we could use as a laboratory to demonstrate the impact of smart and green mobility and technology, Astypalaia was a very natural choice.
You’ve spoken extensively about the nature of the project. I just want to point out the 3+1 important pillars.
One is the concept of smart mobility. Buses will be replaced by electric shuttles. These shall operate as needed, with flexibility, to all around the island. It will combine new, intelligent services, such as “ride-sharing”, vehicle on-demand, micro-mobility. Basically, this means that we don’t all need to own a vehicle. We can share vehicles. Which means that we can also reduce the number of vehicles that will be operating on the island -as Herbert said- by approximately a third.
The second plank -which is quite radical- is to replace all internal, combustion vehicles on the island with electric ones. The private vehicles, the public vehicles. We will need approximately 1,000 electric cars. And we will have a framework of very attractive incentives to make sure that we encourage the citizens of Astypalaia to actually make that move.
The third plank of the project is to create the necessary infrastructure. Smart mobility is not just about replacing conventional cars with smart cars. You need the software to connect everything together and, of course, you need the charging stations and you need to make sure that the electricity that is produced is produced from Renewable Sources. This is our part, our commitment, to make sure that this green energy will be available, in abundance, to make sure that it can fuel the electric mobility of the future.
Of course behind all that is the whole project of autonomous driving. The need to test new systems in a relatively contained environment that is not too big and not too small. The world is moving very quickly towards semi-autonomous and, eventually, autonomous driving. It will be a reality in Greece as well.
So, dear Herbert, this is a partnership. A partnership between the Greek government -all the Ministers that have cooperated- the Municipality of Astypalaia, because Dear Mayor you are going to be the first beneficiaries. Not just in terms of your life becoming better but in terms of the overall publicity that the island will receive. Because, this is a very high-profile project.
And I would like, in particular, to thank Minister Fragogiannis who has put this project together. But also all other Ministers who have cooperated very closely in making this a reality.
Just a few more words to point out how important this project is in highlighting the attractiveness of Greece as an investment destination. Volkswagen’s decision to come to Greece to implement this project is also a vote of confidence in Greece’s growth prospects, but also in the seriousness of this government, to be able to implement a complex project.
As you know, a month ago Microsoft announced a 1 billion data center capital project in Athens. Pfizer has made a decision to set up one of its digital hubs in Thessaloniki. Just yesterday Digital Realty, a big US company, announced the acquisition of Lamda Helix, which is the leading data center operator in Greece.
All this points to a repositioning of Greece, a country that does not just rely on its traditional natural advantages -such as tourism- or its geographical position, but is really embracing the future. And when we talk about the future we talk about innovation and addressing climate change. I think this project brings all of these components of our strategy together.
One last point, we want to make sure that this strategy provides opportunities that are fairly distributed across the country. This is not just about Athens. This is not just about Thessaloniki. It is also about medium-size Greek towns that are currently centers for innovation. But it is also about our islands, our smaller islands.
Astypalaia can and will become a model of sustainable development not just at a national, but European, a global level. It can set an example of how small communities can benefit from addressing old problems with new solutions.
Of course what we try out on Astypalaia, Herbert, I am sure once it is successful -and it will be successful- can be scaled elsewhere.
So I am absolutely convinced that we will be proud of what we achieve. It will be in Astypalaia, of all places, that we will be able to get a glimpse of the future.
So thank you all again very much. Herbert, I hope to see you in Astypalaia once this Covid adventure is over. And dear Mayor please convey my greetings to all the people of Astypalaia. I hope I will be able to visit you soon to talk more about this project in situ.
Thank you again very much.