Health Commissioner accused of snubbing invitation to Greek islands

Panagiotis Kouroumplis []

Panagiotis Kouroumplis, Minister for Health and Social Solidarity in Alexis Tsipras’ government, has accused EU Health Commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis of damaging the bloc’s image by ignoring his invitation to visit Greek islands. EURACTIV Greece reports.

Speaking at a Brussels conference organised by the European Public Health Alliance on Wednesday (2 September), Kouroumplis heavily criticised the EU executive’s stance on the health aspects of the refugee crisis.

Cash-strapped Greece is facing a surge in refugees arriving on its shores, most of them coming from Syria. Islands like Kos have suffered a severe blow during the tourist season and asked for urgent assistance to respond to the crisis. 

>>Read: Greek health system nears collapse

Despite unprecedented budgetary constraints, Kouroumplis said, “The Greek health system did not make any exception and took care of all the immigrants,” some of whom are vulnerable to various diseases and need care.

Greece received more than 20,000 migrants and refugees during the second week of August, according to UNHCR. The number reached 50,242 in July.

Busy health Commissioner

“I have been asking persistently and for months from the relevant Commissioners, and especially the Health Commissioner [Vytenis Andriukaitis] to pay a visit to the Greek islands and this has not happened yet,” Kouroumplis said.

“That’s the image of the European Commission,” he added.

Sources from the Greek health ministry told EURACTIV that Andriukaitis had made the promise to visit the islands at the beginning of June. But due to his “heavy” schedule, Andriukaitis postponed the visit until after 20 November.

“Then it will be winter and the migration flow will have definitely decreased due to weather conditions,” the source remarked ironically.

>>Read: Uninsured patients left untreated in Greece

Contacted by EURACTIV, Andriukaitis’ office confirmed that the EU Health Commissioner had accepted the invitation on 18 June, but that staff members were still “discussing possible dates”. Officials also pointed out that €60 million in emergency funding were made available for Greece and other EU countries “to cope with the situation of migrants and finance health-related needs”.

The Commission’s First Vice-President, Frans Timmermans, and his colleague in charge of Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship, Dimitris Avramopolous, are scheduled to give a press conference from Kos at 12.30 Brussels time, on Friday (4 September).

Greek health system under strain

Kouroumplis was appointed Minister for Health and Social Solidarity in the cabinet of Alexis Tsipras, who resigned on 20 August. He is from the centrist “socialist” wing of Syriza, having left the Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK) in 2011 to found the anti-austerity Unitary Movement, which, in 2013, merged with Syriza.

Born in 1951, Kouroumplis was blinded at the age of ten, following the explosion of a German hand-grenade, left over from World War II.

Kouroumplis also blamed Greece’s international lenders, claiming the latest bailout has imposed budgetary measures without consultation on a public health sector already hard-hit by austerity cuts.

“The proposed cuts crossed the limits,” he said, referring to a €65 million reduction in pharmaceutical expenditure. He also referred to “dramatic” cuts in Greek hospital’s budget saying they were now finding it hard to meet their needs.

“My experience in the last negotiation was stunning. I felt that I represented a country defeated in a war […] like Germany with the Treaty of Versailles,” he said.

He also quoted a Troika representative who allegedly said, “You either give me the answer that I want, or I will cut €26 billion from your country.”

“European people need to be aware of what kind of discussions took place between Athens and creditors’ representatives,” Kouroumplis said. 

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