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Politics of Greece

The Politics of Greece takes place in a large parliamentary representative democratic republic, whereby the Prime Minister of Greece is the head of government, and of a multi-party system. Legislative power is vested in both the government and the Hellenic Parliament. Since the restoration of democracy the party system is dominated by the liberal-conservative New Democracy (Νέα Δημοκρατία - Nea Dimokratia) and the socialist Panhellenic Socialist Movement (Πανελλήνιο Σοσιαλιστικό Κίνημα - Panellinio Sosialistiko Kinima). The Judiciary is independent of the executive and the legislature.

The 1975 constitution, which describes Greece as a "presidential parliamentary republic," includes extensive specific guarantees of civil liberties and vests the powers of the head of state in a president elected by parliament. The Greek governmental structure is similar to that found in many Western democracies, and has been described as a compromise between the French and German models. The prime minister and cabinet play the central role in the political process, while the president performs some executive and legislative functions in addition to ceremonial duties.

Executive branch

|President |Karolos Papoulias |Panhellenic Socialist Movement |12 March 2005 |- |Prime Minister |Kostas Karamanlis |New Democracy |10 March 2004 |}

The Cabinet of Greece includes the heads of all executive ministries, appointed by the president on the recommendation of the prime minister. The President of the Republic is elected by the Parliament for a five-year term (election last held 7 March 2005), and a maximum of two terms in office. When a presidential term expires, Parliament votes to elect the new President. In the first two votes, a ⅔ majority (200 votes) is necessary. The third and final vote requires a 3/5 (180 votes) majority. If the third vote is fruitless, Parliament is dissolved and elections are proclaimed by the outgoing President within the next 30 days. In the new Parliament, the election for President is repeated immediately with a 3/5 majority required for the initial vote, an absolute majority for the second one (151 votes) and a simple majority for the third and final one. The system is so designed as to promote consensus Presidential candidates among the main political parties. The president has the power to declare war, to grant pardon and to conclude agreements of peace, alliance, and participation in international organizations; upon the request of the government a simple parliamentary majority is required to ratify such actions, agreements, or treaties. An absolute or a three-fifths majority is required in exceptional cases (for example, the accession into the EU needed a 3/5 majority). The president can also exercise certain emergency powers, which must be countersigned by the appropriate cabinet minister. Changes to the constitution in 1986 limited the president's political powers. As a result, the president may not dissolve parliament, dismiss the government, suspend certain articles of the constitution, issue a proclamation or declare a state of siege without countersigning by the prime minister or the appropriate cabinet minister. To call a referendum, he must obtain approval from parliament.

The prime minister is elected by the people and he or she is usually the leader of the party controlling the absolute majority of Parliament members. According to the Constitution, the prime minister safeguards the unity of the government and directs its activities. He or she is the most powerful person of the Greek political system and he or she recommendates to the President the appointment or the dismissal of the ministers..

Greek parliamentary politics hinge upon the principle of the "dedilomeni", the "declared confidence" of Parliament to the Prime Minister and his/her administration. This means that the President of the Republic is bound to appoint as Prime Minister a person who will be approved by a majority of the Parliament's members (i.e. 151 votes). With the current electoral system, it is the leader of the party gaining a plurality of the votes in the Parliamentary elections who gets appointed Prime Minister. An administration may, at any time, seek a "vote of confidence"; conversely, a number of Members of Parliament may ask that a "vote of reproach" be taken. Both are rare occurrences with usually predictable outcomes as voting outside the party line happens very seldom.

On 7 March, 2004, Kostas Karamanlis, president of the New Democracy party and nephew of the late Constantine Karamanlis, was elected as the new Prime Minister of Greece, thus marking his party's first electoral victory in nearly 11 years. Karamanlis took over Government from Kostas Simitis, who had been in office since January 1996.

Legislative branch

Greece elects a legislature by universal suffrage of all citizens over the age of 18. The Greek Parliament (Vouli ton Ellinon) has 300 members, elected for a four-year term by a system of reinforced proportional representation in 48 multi-seat constituencies, 8 single-seat constituencies and a single nationwide list. 288 of the 300 seats are determined by constituecy voting, and voters may select the candidate or candidates of their choice by marking their name on the party ballot. The remaining 12 seats are filled from nationwide party lists on a top-down basis and based on the proportion of the total vote each party received. Greece uses a complex reinforced proportional representation electoral system which discourages splinter parties and makes a parliamentary majority possible even if the leading party falls short of a majority of the popular vote. Under the current electoral law, any single party must receive at least a 3% nationwide vote tally in order to elect Members of Parliament (the so-called "3% threshold"). The law in its current form favors the first past the post party to achieve an absolute (151 parliamentary seats) majority, provided it receives a 41%+ nationwide vote. This is touted to enhance governmental stability. The electoral law can be changed by simple parliamentary majority, but a law so changed only becomes enforced in the election following the upcoming one, unless it is voted by the Greek Parliament with a majority of ⅔ of the total number of the deputies.

Political parties and leaders

Judicial branch

In Greece the judicial branch is divided into civil and administrative courts. Civil courts judge civil and penal cases, whereas administrative courts judge administrative cases, namely disputes between the citizens and the State.

The judicial system of Greece comprises three Supreme Courts: the Court of Cassation (Άρειος Πάγος), the Council of State (Συμβούλιο της Επικρατείας) and the Chamber of Accounts (Ελεγκτικό Συνέδριο). These high courts are composed of professional judges, graduates of the National School of Judges. The way the judges are gradually promoted, until they become members of the Supreme Courts, is defined by the Constitution and the existing laws. The presidents and the vice-presidents of the three Supreme Courts are chosen by the Cabinet of Greece among the serving members of each of the Supreme Courts.

The Court of Cassation is the supreme civil and penal court, whereas the Council of State is the supreme administrative court. The Chamber of Accounts has an exclusive jurisdiction over certain administrative areas (for example it judges disputes arising from the legislation regulating the pensions of civil servants) and its decisions are irrevocable. This means that they are not judged at second instance by the Council of State.
Sometimes, the Supreme Courts take contradictory decisions or they judge differently the constitutionality of a legal provision. These disputes are resolved by the Supreme Special Court, whose composition and jurisdiction is regulated by the Constitution (article 100). As its name reveals, this court is not permanent and it sits when a special case belonging to its jurisdiction arises. When the Supreme Special Court sits, it comprises eleven members: the Presidents of the three Supreme Courts, four members of the Court of Cassation and four members of the Council of State. When it judges the constitutionality of a law or resolves the disputes between Supreme Courts, its composition comprises two more members: two professors of the Law Schools of Greece. The Supreme Special Court is the only court which can declare an unconstitutional legal provision as "powerless" (something like "null and void"), while the three Supreme Courts can only declare an unconstitutional legal provision as "inapplicable" to that particular case. The Supreme Special Court is also the Supreme Electoral Court, judging pleas against the legality of the legislative elections.

Administrative divisions

Greece is divided in 13 peripheries, further divided into 51 prefectures, the "Nomoi". The prefectures are each headed by a prefect (the "Nomarch"), who is elected by direct popular vote. The thirteen regional administrative districts (peripheries), each including a number of prefectures are headed by a regional governor (the "Peripheriarch"), appointed by the Minister of the Interior. In northern Greece and in greater Athens, three areas have an additional administrative position between the nomarch and peripheriarch. This official, known as the Chair of the prefectural local authorities or "superprefect" (the "Hypernomarch"), is elected by direct popular vote together with the nomarchs she or he supervises. Although municipalities and villages have elected officials, they do not have an adequate independent revenue base and must depend on the central government budget for a large part of their financial needs. Consequently they are subject to numerous central government controls. This also leads to extremely low municipal taxes (usually around 0.2% or less).

Greece also includes one autonomous region, the Monastic Community of the Holy Mountain, Mount Athos.

International organization participation

Greece is member of the Australia Group, BIS, BSEC, CE, CERN, EAPC, EBRD, ECE, EIB, EU, FAO, G- 6, IAEA, IBRD, ICAO, ICC, ICC, ICFTU, ICRM, IDA, IEA, IFAD, IFC, IFRCS, IHO, ILO, IMF, IMO, Inmarsat, Intelsat, Interpol, IOC, IOM, ISO, ITU, MINURSO, NAM (guest), NATO, NEA, NSG, OAS (observer), OECD, OPCW, OSCE, PCA, SECI, UN, UNCTAD, UNESCO, UNHCR, UNIDO, UNIKOM, UNMIBH, UNOMIG, UPU, WCO, WEU, WFTU, WHO, WIPO, WMO, WToO, WTrO, Zangger Committee

Politicians of Greece

Political issues

Education

Under the Greek constitution, education is the responsibility of the state. Most Greeks attend public primary and secondary schools. There are a few private schools, which must meet the standard curriculum of and are supervised by the Ministry of Education. The Ministry of Education oversees and directs every aspect of the public education process at all levels, including hiring all teachers and professors and producing all required textbooks.

A recent issue concerning education in Greece is the institutionalisation of private universities. According to the constitution only state-run universities operate on the land. However in the recent years many foreign private universities have established branches in Greece, offering Bachelor's level degrees, therefore creating a legal contradiction between the Greek constitution and the EU laws allowing foreign companies to operate anywhere in the Union. Additionally, every year, tens of thousands of Greek students were not accepted to the state-run University system, become "educational immigrants" to other countries' Higher Education institutions, where they move to study. This has created a chronic problem for Greece, in terms of loss of capital as well as human resources, since many of those students opt to seek employment in the countries they studied, after completing their studies. It is characteristic that in 2006, Greece, with 11.5 million inhabitants, was fourth in the world in terms of student export in absolute numbers, with 60,000 students abroad, while the first country in this regard, People's Republic of China of over 1,3 billion inhabitants, had 100,000 students abroad. In terms of students abroad as a percent of the general population, Greece is by far the leading country, with 5,250 students per million, compared to second Malaysia's 1,780 students per million inhabitants.

Citing these problems as a result of the state's monopoly on Higher Education, New Democracy committed to amending the constitution, in order to allow private universities to operate in Greece on a non-profit basis. This proposal was rejected by then-ruling PASOK in the late nineties, and thus could not muster the support necessary to be put to vote on the constitutional amendment of 2001. However, PASOK has since changed its stance, and now also supports a constitutional provision for the creation of private Universities on a non-profit basis. This proposal continues to encounter the fierce opposition of the Left parties and part of the academic community, both professors and students.

At the outset of 2006, prime minister Kostas Karamanlis announced the initiative of his government for a new amendment of the Constitution. According to his assertion one of the main issues of this amendment (the second within less than 10 years) is going to be the creation of "non-state owned" universities.

Religion

The Greek Orthodox Church is under the protection of the State, which pays the clergy's salaries, and Orthodox Christianity is the "prevailing" religion of Greece according to the Constitution. The Greek Orthodox Church is self-governing but under the spiritual guidance of the Ecumenical Patriarch in Constantinople. About 98% of Greek citizens are nominal followers of the Orthodox Church. Freedom of religious beliefs is guaranteed by the Constitution, but "proselytism" is officially illegal. According to the most recent Eurostat "Eurobarometer" poll, in 2005, 81% of Greek citizens responded that "they believe there is a God", whereas 16% answered that "they believe there is some sort of spirit or life force" and only 3% that "they do not believe there is a God, spirit, nor life force". This would make Greece one of the most religious countries in the European Union of 25 members, after Malta and Cyprus.

The Muslim minority, concentrated in Thrace, was given legal status by provisions of the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923 and is Greece's only officially recognized religious minority. There are small Roman Catholic communities on some of the Cyclades, remnants of the long Venetian rule over the islands. The recent influx of (mostly illegal) immigrants from Eastern Europe and the Third World has an expectedly varied multi-religious profile (Roman Catholic, Muslim, Hindu etc).

During the 2001 constitutional amendment, complete separation of church and state was proposed, but the two major parties, ND and PASOK, decided not to open this controversial matter, which clashes with both the population and the clergy. For example, numerous protests occurred over the removal of the Religious Denomination entry from the National ID card in 2000. Outside the Orthodox majority, the Jewish telegraphic Agency claims that Greece had and still has a serious problem of religious freedom.

Media

In comparative NGO studies , Greece ranks among the highest in press freedom worldwide.

The Greek media, collectively, is a very influential institution — usually aggressive, sensationalist. As with many countries, most of the media are owned by businessmen with commercial interests in other sectors of the economy. There are often accusations of newspapers, magazines, and radio and TV channels being used to promote their commercial enterprises as well as to seek political influence.

In 1994, the Ministry of Press and Media was established to deal with media and communication issues. ERT S.A., a public corporation supervised by the Minister of Press, operates three national television channels and five national radio channels. The Minister of Press also serves as the primary government spokesperson.

The Secretary General of Press and Information prepares the semi-official Athens News Agency (ANA) Bulletin. Along with AP and Reuters, this is a primary source of information for the Greek press. The Ministry of Press and Information also issues the semi-official Macedonian News Agency (MPE) Bulletin, which is distributed throughout the Balkan region. For international news, CNN is a particular influence in the Greek market; the major TV channels often use it as a source. State and private TV stations also use Eurovision and Visnews as sources. While few papers and stations have overseas correspondents, those few correspondents abroad can be very influential.

In 1988, a new law provided the legal framework for the establishment of private radio stations and, in 1989, private TV stations. According to the law, supervision of radio and television is exercised by the National Radio and Television Council. In practice, however, official licensing has been delayed for many years. Because of this, there has been a proliferation of private radio and TV stations, as well as European satellite channels, including Euronews. More than 1,000 radio stations were operating before March 2002, when the government implemented plans to reallocate TV frequencies and issue licenses as authorized by the 1993 Media Law, effectively reducing this number.

Military Service

12 months for all males of 18 years of age; Compulsory with fines and imprisonment if denied, but neither fine nor imprisonment has been imposed since 1994, where the last warrant against a draft-dodger was issued. Members of families with 3 children serve a reduced time of 9 months. Military service can also be substituted with a longer public service, which by the standards of Amnesty International, ought to be considered punitive as it is twice as long as the regular tour of duty. Limited steps have been taken to turn the Greek military into a semi-professional army in the last years, leading to the gradual reduction of the service from 18 to 12 months and the inclusion of a greater number of professional military personnel in most vertices of the force. Recent developments, though, within the anti-conscription movement in Greece, such as the high death rate from suicides during service and work-related accidents, such as the Manitsa incident, combined with a high rate of draft-dodging, have advanced the idea that mandatory coscription should be abolished and an all-professional/all-volunteer army should be put in place.

Military spending

Greece directs approximately 4.3% of its GDP to military expenditures, the 2nd highest percentage in Europe (behind Russia and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia). In absolute numbers the Greek military budget ranked 28th in the world in 2005. By the same measure, Greek military budget ranked 6th in the Mediterranean basin (behind France, Italy, Turkey, Israel and Spain) and 2nd (behind Turkey) in its immediate vicinity, the Balkans. It must be noted that Greek arms purchasing is among the highest in the world: Greece ranked 3rd in the world in 2004.

These figures are explained in the light of the arms race between Greece and Turkey with key issues being the Cyprus dispute and disagreement over sovereignty of certain islets of the Aegean. For more information see Greco-Turkish relations. Reversly, the foreign relations of Greece as well as many internal policy decisions are largely affected by its arms purchases. The United States, being the major arms seller to Greece has been known to actively intervene in military spending decisions made by the Greek government. The US has at times actively stepped in to help avoid large scale crisis, as in the case of the Imia-Kardak crisis.

The reduction of military spending has long been an issue in Greek politics. The incumbent prime minister, Kostas Karamanlis has proposed a reduction to military spending through a "Defence Eurozone", referring to the European Security and Defence Policy. The previous PASOK administration, also planned on reducing military spending prior to its failure to be re-elected in 2004, while PASOK politicians usually refer to money saved from reducing military spending as a "peace dividend" ("μέρισμα ειρήνης"). The parties of the Left, KKE and Synaspismos, have been vocal in condemning military spending. Regarding the purchase of 30 F-16 and 333 Leopard tanks in 2005, both parties criticized the New Democracy administration for spending money on weapons while doing nothing to relieve the lower classes and said that high military spending "does not correspond to the real needs of the country but is carried out according to NATO planning and to serve weapon manufacturers and the countries that host them".

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