chapter  5
18 Pages

The Reform Agenda: The Citizen and the State Constitutional Reform and the Rule of Law in Greece

The modernisation project of 1996-2004 under Costas Simitis changed Greek political life in at least this respect: it made executive competence the central political issue of the day. It was not a small achievement. During the 1980s the Pan Hellenic Socialistic Movement (Πανελλήνιο Σοσιαλιστικό Κίνημα, PASOK) seemed to be guided by ideological visions of a just society or emotional outbursts over ‘the national issues’ (that is, relations with Turkey and the United States) and with redressing the wrongs of the rightwing repression that followed the civil war. Constantinos Mitsotakis’ New Democracy (Νέα Δημοκρατία, ND) government in 1990-93 too resorted to nationalist posturing and ideological bravado that resulted in some ill-fated ‘privatisations’ and other economic policies. After many disappointments on all these fronts, by the late 1990s emotional and ideological eruptions of this kind had disappeared from frontline policy debate. Simitis offered a markedly different style of politics. His moderation in speech and conduct, his emphasis on organisation and self-discipline, his openness to the country’s foreign partners and his eventual successes in joining European Economic and Monetary Union, smoothing relations with Turkey and achieving some administrative reform showed that politics was not just empty bombast. A new reality of economic progress and a sense of security changed the way ordinary citizens viewed public life. It was not meant to be

a source of fear and excitement as it had been until then, but the task of improving real life. This change, although not immediately popular, appealed to the voters and eventually won Simitis a second term. It has had a lasting effect because, ironically, the 2004 election was probably lost for Simitis’ party (despite his unprecedented withdrawal from the leadership of the party) because the electorate did not forgive it the fact that for a variety of reasons the government had stopped being competent. This return to real politics has had great impact on the law. The emphasis

on ordinary government made legal institutions and their servants more central to public life and more fundamental to political debate. Judges and other important public servants have also personally become more prominent. A major element of ND’s electoral manifesto, for example, concerned the ‘re-foundation’ of the state. The reform of judicial institutions has already figured very highly in the first few months of the new government’s agenda. This prominence of legal institutions explains, in my view, the programme of constitutional reform that was initiated at the start of the 1990s by both major parties. After a protracted process that enjoyed wide consensus, the Greek Constitution was finally amended in 2001. Although extensive, the amendment did not touch on some of the deepest

problems of social and political life. Greece has a well-established constitutional order but it is still beset by the inability to apply its high principles in practice. Some of the best known examples of such failures are: existing laws are not always properly implemented; courts and disciplinary bodies have failed to tackle widespread corruption in the civil service; courts do not deliver justice within reasonable time limits; ministries often refuse to comply with court orders against them. As a result, public authorities do not generally inspire trust and respect. Politicians are seen as indifferent to the condition of public services. It was documented, for example, in the European Social Survey in 2003 that 77.6% of Greeks believed that few or no politicians care about what ordinary people think (European Social Survey 2003). The equivalent figure for Britain, for example, was 46.7%. Many of these problems are related to a badly organised and largely haphazard civil service. This is, of course, not a legal problem but a deeper problem related to political, social and cultural factors. Yet it is important that constitutional lawyers and courts do what they can to correct a situation that drains the constitution of its real meaning. It is in this area, I believe, that we will find the content of any project of ‘modernisation’ in the Constitution.