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08/12/2016

Report: Athens slammed over political corruption

Justice & Home Affairs

Report: Athens slammed over political corruption

The Council of Europe, in Strasbourg.

[Devin Smith / Flickr]

Political corruption has played a key role in Greece’s economic crisis. But national governments still refuse to take determined measures to tackle it. EurActiv Greece reports.

A new report focusing on parliament, judges and prosecutors by the Council of Europe’s Group of States against Corruption (GRECO), calls on Greece to enact rules that will make political and juridical procedures more transparent.

The report emphasizes that although corruption is one of the fundamental problems that caused the Greek economic crisis, successive governments have taken minimal steps to tackle it, especially amongst lawmakers.

The fight against corruption in the debt-ridden country has been a priority of every Greek government before getting the power.

It was also at the top of Syriza’s campaign platform, with premier Alexis Tsipras vowing to take tough measures against it.

But almost one year later, things remain the same.

The report says that the perception of corruption remained at high levels.

“Politicians at national and regional/local level are perceived by a large proportion of the population as particularly affected by certain forms of corruption.”

The immunity

The Council of Europe stated that Greece had no rules for the integrity of parliamentarians, particularly those who are ministers.

“There is no code of conduct as yet and rules are missing in respect of a variety of areas […] such as circumstances in which gifts, hospitality and other benefits can be accepted and contacts with third parties and lobbyists,” the report claims.

According to figures mentioned in the report, for the period 2001-2014, 274 requests for the lifting of immunities had been made. 137 concerned ministers, and 137 lawmakers. But the results were quite poor.

Only 15 requests had been accepted, and all of them concerned MPs.

During that period, the country was governed by the conservative New Democracy party, and the Pan-Hellenic Socialist Movement (Pasok).

“GRECO recommends that determined measures to be taken in order to ensure that the procedures to lift the immunity of parliamentarians do not hamper or prevent criminal proceedings in respect of members of parliament suspected of having committed corruption-related offences, notably by defining clear rules and criteria in that area,” the report says.

The “invisible” lobby

The GRECO evaluation teams also underlined that there was no regulatory framework regarding the contacts of MPs with third parties who might try to influence a political decision and parliamentary procedures.

“It is clear that the absence of any regulatory framework on this matter generates important risks for the integrity of parliamentarians,” the report stresses.

Greek politicians, according to the report, said that the existence of lobbyists was a “taboo” in Greek politics, but members of the business community confirmed to the authors of the report that lobby practices actually take place.

“It is thus important for Greece to better protect parliamentary work from external influences and risks of misuse, and to do this in future in respect of the broadest range of activities, not just in connection with the adoption of legislation.”

A more transparent judicial system

As far as the Greek justice system is concerned, the Council of Europe urges Athens to make it more transparent and accountable.

The report underlined that judges and prosecutors were sufficiently protected in their activity against undue interference, but the term of the most senior positions created “dependence” with the government.

“The situation of the most senior positions in court and the prosecution service needs to be improved since for instance the method for their selection and their term of tenure creates a dependence vis a vis the executive,” the document contends, adding that courts are among the institutions which are generally trusted by Greek citizens.

The report continues, saying the justice system suffers from plenty of pending non-examined cases, which could cause risks of undue interference.

“Adequate guarantees against delays in the early stage of proceedings are thus needed”.

According to the World Bank’s latest report on “performance” of the judicial system of all countries, Greece scores 155th, with an average hearing of cases up to 4.5 years.

EurActiv Greece contacted the general secretariat for the Fight against Corruption in Athens, but has not received any reply by the time of this article’s publication.