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Amending the Greek Constitution in a Time of Crisis: The Greek Socialist Party’s (PASOK) Blueprint

–Christina M. Akrivopoulou, Democritus University of Thrace, Greece

On the 24th of July 2013, on the 38th anniversary of the Greek Constitution of 1975 and the return to Democracy after the ‘Colonels’ dictatorship (1967-1974), the President of the Greek Socialist Party and a well known constitutionalist, Evangelos Venizelos, presented a proposed fourth amendment of the Greek Constitution (previously amended in 1986, 2001 and 2008). Article 110 of the Greek Constitution of 1975 only permits its amendment five years after the conclusion of the previous amendment. The amendment procedure requires votes from two different elected parliaments, the first one proposing the amendment and the second one revising the Constitution, while two majority votes of 150 and 180 out of 300 members are needed for the amendment to be successful.

In his first blueprint for an upcoming constitutional amendment, the President of the Greek Socialist Party underlined not only the benefits but also the risks that the current financial crisis poses for a constitutional revision. Thus, he pointed out that the amendment process would take place during the hard, ongoing negotiations of the country with the ‘troika’ and in an extremely negative political environment marked by growing social disappointment in the existing political system. In his opinion, those two factors would mean that only a constitutional amendment supported by a vast parliamentary majority (three or even four party majority) would be seen as legitimate.

In his initial proposal, the President of PASOK suggested among other things: a) enhanced protection of human rights severely wounded by the crisis, b) the enhancement of procedures favoring public participation, namely referendums, c) the enhancement of public accountability and transparency regarding the government, the public sector and the political parties, d) the need for the creation of a Constitutional Court in Greece, e) the re-appreciation of the role of the President, which after the 1986 revision of the Greek Constitution became merely symbolic despite being directly elected, and finally g) the adoption of a clear cut constitutional thesis regarding the country’s orientation toward the EU and its political and financial policy.

The general concept of a constitutional revision in Greece is also supported by other political parties in Greece, including New Democracy, the leading coalition conservative party and the leftist SYRIZA, the leading party of the parliamentary opposition. However, these actors have very different visions of constitutional reform. There are three main points of contention between the parliamentary parties: a) the abolition of the constitutional restriction on the creation of private universities in Greece (Art. 16 of the Greek Constitution) which currently has only state universities, b) the introduction of a ‘debt-break’: a constitutional restriction on public lending and the adoption of a debt limit demanded by the EU and introduced in other countries (e.g. Germany 2009, Spain 2011) and c) the introduction of a Constitutional Court of Greece, which is considered by the judiciary to be an unnecessary alteration of the present diffused system of judicial review. The current dialogue regarding the restriction of hate speech in Greece, due to the racist anti-immigrant activity of Golden Dawn, a far right parliamentary party, is another point of contention.

Though no one expects that the proposed constitutional amendment will resolve the problem of the current crisis in Greece, such a revision may play an important role for several different reasons. First, using Bruce Ackerman’s terminology, all the conditions of a constitutional moment exist in Greece at the current time. The present crisis has tested the limits of the existing political institutions and the political system needs to be reformed in order to regain its legitimacy. Second, there is a strong popular movement pressing for the modernization of the state and the reformation of the existing institutions in terms of accountability and meritocracy. Third, the country more than ever needs a plan for its future and the formation of a new political and social consensus on its guiding principles. In other words it needs a new ‘social contact.’

Last but not least, a constitutional amendment is needed in order to reinstate the Greek Constitution’s lost honor. During the crisis the liberal, democratic Constitution of 1975 has lost much of its ability to adapt to changing political conditions, and according to public opinion it has failed to provide Greek society with the necessary solutions to exit the crisis. For the majority of Greeks, the present Constitution has lost its ability to effectively guarantee the freedoms and rights of its citizens. In this generally negative environment, an amendment may help return the Greek Constitution to its rightful place as the pactum societatis, the political blueprint of a polity in search of a newly-found solidarity among its members.

Suggested Citation: Christina M. Akrivopoulou, Amending the Greek Constitution in a Time of Crisis: The Greek Socialist Party’s (PASOK) Blueprint, Int’l J. Const. L. Blog, Sept. 4, 2013, available at: http://www.iconnectblog.com/2013/09/amending-the-greek-constitution-in-a-time-of-crisis-the-greek-socialist-partys-pasok-blueprint

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Published on September 4, 2013
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