Prospective EU Candidate: Maria Aretoulaki

Maria Aretoulaki's picture

I'm Maria Aretoulaki and I'd like your backing as a Euro candidate for the North West region.

I first came to Manchester back in 1991 as a postgraduate student of Computational Linguistics from Greece and an ex-Teacher of English as a Foreign Language. After a 9-year break working in Germany at Universities, Research Institutes and start-ups, I came back in 2005 to work for a big IT company near Manchester airport. 

Since 2008, I've been running successfully my own IT Consultancy, DialogCONNECTION Ltd., based in the Manchester City Centre and serving clients all over the world (US, Asia, and Europe, including the European Commission in the past 6 months). So, having lived and worked here for a total of 14 years, Manchester is my chosen home!

In that time, apart from being active in the professional world of the IT Business, I have channelled my love for electronic music by supporting the associated music scene of the North West and becoming a DJ, podcaster, and promoter myself, playing and organising gigs all over England, broadcasting online radio shows and supporting young producers in making a name for themselves. 

Having always been interested in local, European, and World affairs (since my teens), I have always been aware of the big issues, the fine interdependencies, and the common illusions. On the local level, I have always just tried to improve things around me, even if it just meant filling in a feedback form, or taking the time to email the Council or a service provider about a failing. 

At the same time, I have been online since 1991, when most people were not (the advantage of being an Academic in the UK at the time), and I was enthusiastic about the advent of email, chat, forums, and cloud-based services, which I started using profusely early on. The internet gave me my EU-funded Post-Doc position in Germany (I found the ad in a newsgroup and applied online). The internet gave me my first job in industry in Berlin (my boss found my profile online). The internet got me a job back in Manchester, and it's through the internet that I get all my client work for my company. 

Needless to say, the internet has also educated me (I am an avid Coursera student, having taken and completed more than 10 online courses from EU Law, English Common Law and International Criminal Law to Digital Democracy, Networks, Philosophy, and Astrobiology). And of course, like the case is with most people, the internet also helped me find and connect with people all over the planet who share something with me (from a biographical detail to a personal and professional interest). It has helped me meet wonderful people in real life, even though it started mostly anonymously virtually and on the ether. 

When in the last few years, things started taking a nasty turn, with requests to block access to websites coming not just from the Government but also from Charities and NGOs, and at the same time we suddenly had complete transparency of our private lives and data with the advent of the geolocated, tagged, and personalised smartphones and apps such as Facebook and Foursquare, I became really worried. 

It seemed to me that suddenly a modern version of the Dark Ages was dawning: blocking websites on the basis of keywords mentioned on them is to me dangerously similar to the book burning of scientific books by the Church in the Middle Ages. Censoring blindly webpages on the basis of keywords whose choice is questionable in itself can literally block half of the internet, with the catastrophic consequences that this can bring (lack of information, education, emotional support). When at the same time, normal citizens are supposed to freely give out data on themselves and their private lives, not complain when this data is passed on to third parties without any consent or other legal or moral control, and even having the original collector of the data benefit financially in some cases from the fact, is grossly unfair and completely contradictory. 

It was concerns such as these that motivated me to join the UK Pirate Party back in 2012 and to even stand at the local elections that year in the Manchester City Centre Ward. As a new Party, this campaign was rather a success, given that I personally got 3.1% of the (very few admittedly) votes (just 13.65% of the people in the City Centre came out to vote) and the Party Leader, Loz Kaye, 5.2% even, both of us beating Parties, such as UKIP and the LibDems. The local elections gave me the chance to talk to people I wouldn't have normally have the chance to talk to. And I already know people from all kinds of social and professional backgrounds. It also showed me how the Pirate Party is different to anything that has ever been around in Politics, as the motivation is the Common Good and not "Our Good". 

We are concerned citizens and professionals (Academics, Entrepreneurs, Social Workers) who are sufficiently up-to-date with modern technology to know its benefits, its shortcomings and the threats on it, sufficiently aware of the current political demagogy surrounding technology and the internet, and worried about having our personal and citizen's rights surreptitiously stripped by not allowing transparency in Government, Business, or the Internet, and yet demanding and exploiting our transparency provided by the same technologies that they damn.  

This year's European Parliament Elections was the natural next step for me. Even as a 15-year-old in Greece I was excited about the concept of the United States of Europe, that Greece had joined 3 years before. I was thrilled by the idea of being able to live and work wherever you wanted, following similar laws and regulations, and not having to have a particular nationality to do certain things. I was the lucky recipient of a European Union Human Capital Mobility Post-Doctoral Fellowship when I moved to Germany in 1996 from the UK and last year my company was the lucky recipient of European Commission funding as a part of a larger Research & Development project with partners in the UK, Germany, the Netherlands, and Greece. And this year I will be an external consultant for the EC in evaluating other R & D proposals. 

It has all come round. Born and raised in Greece, having attended Universities in Greece, the UK, and Germany, and having worked and paid taxes in all 3 countries, I think I am the quintessential European, or what they had in mind when they were coming up with the vision.  Or that's what I like to think. 

The funny thing with having lived in 3 countries is that you learn to love and defend all three, even when you see the failings and negatives in each one of them. Things become less black-and-white and you learn to see things from many different perspectives because even just speaking a language fluently lets you in the mindset of the psyche of that nation, and so you can actually "communicate" with them. A very underrated skill nowadays, when the focus is more on marketing, promoting, publishing, and appearances. And I'm lucky to be fluent in 4 EU languages, English, German, French, and my mother tongue, Greek
I believe that I can contribute to the European Parliament my unique perspective of the person with practically 3 national identities (or a single merged European identity), with experience in both the idealistic world of Academia and the hard world of Business, with technical expertise that makes me understand what the issues are and how to address them, with informed awareness of the English, European, and International Laws and issues, and with communication skills that can reach a 15-year-old skater and an 85-year-old pensioner. 

I am aware of the weight of the responsibility but responsibility and hard work are 2 things I am not afraid of and in fact have used to my advantage to date. 

You can contact Maria by email at [email protected] or add a comment to this post.