This might not sound flattering, but the Greek Parliament is no stranger to absurdity. The perennial problems of the Greek political system have been impacting Greece’s top legislative institution for decades. Indeed, the economic crisis of recent years has served as a “magnifying glass”; the legislative process and the self-monitoring systems are the two main problematic areas for the Greek parliament, and the difficulties it has had in adjusting to the crisis intensified these problems.

But let’s look at this in more depth.


Parliamentary Inquiries Without Any Results

The ability of parliament to investigate issues of concern to the public through the scrutiny mechanisms provided for in parliamentary regulation and in the Constitution, has proven for decades to be the “Achilles heel” of the institution. Since 1986 when an Inquiry Committee into the issue of responsibility for the invasion of Cyprus was established, up until the recent completion of the committee investigating the series of events leading up to Greece’s submission to the memoranda, shows that the inability to determine political and especially criminal responsibility is an ongoing issue. The case of the Koskotas scandal, which resulted in a special court in 1989, essentially turned out to be an exception to the rule. In recent years criminal responsibility was not attributed to ministers or members of the Government in the following matters: TORM1 armament programs; the Vatopedi scandal, the case of SIEMENS bribery, the stock market bonds scandal, and the events leading up to Greece’s submission to the memoranda. In all these cases, committees of inquiry issued as many findings as political parties were involved in the committee. Not even in cases where there were public admissions of squandering public money could a common conclusion be agreed between even two of the parties on the committee!

The results of the largest ever investigation of government by chartered accountants challenge the limits of credulity. It was announced by Prime Minister Antonis Samaras in 2013 and was completed in October 2014 and concerned all those involved in governments and ministries from 1974 to 2013. The otherwise thorough survey which looked at 3 decades over which more than 40 scandals were reported, identified only some “minor” problems in 26 individual cases whose names were never disclosed. None of these were considered appropriate for referral to the justice system. Bear in mind that such offenses can’t be prosecuted after the lapse of two parliamentary sessions under the existing law “on ministerial responsibility.”


In the Ministry of the Interior, a committee has begun proceedings to address the issue of legislative fragmentation and over-regulation, the roots of which are naturally to be found in the parliamentary legislative process itself. We still don’t know if they’ll come to any conclusion but it highlights a key problem of the parliamentary system in Greece, the dimensions of which are…ludicrous. According to the official website of the government, around 1,500 laws have been passed in the last 15 years. In order to implement them, around 20,000 authorizations are required in the form of ministerial decisions and other mechanisms, whilst the real chaos is to be found in the regulatory — administrative instruments for their implementation, for which in excess of 40,000 authorizations are required! Here’s a characteristic example in July, the Greek parliament was informed that the current legislation concerning contracts for public procurement allows… 412 different types of contracts! As a result a law was passed limiting the type of contract to 10 in order to ensure consistency with the European average!

Greek Parliament And Greek Crisis

The overwhelming majority of political forces in the country would be quick to admit that the economic crisis exacerbated all the existing ills in the Greek Parliament. Since 2009 when the country began its adventures with loan agreements with the IMF and other European institutions, several parliamentary paradoxes began in parallel. Fast tracked legislation proliferated and this controversial period saw 67 acts passed using extra-ordinary procedures out of a total of 80 that have been agreed in the postwar history of the country. The institution of over-regulation became permanent, as well as the existence of legislation consisting of thousands of pages… for a single article, as famously happened with the Medium Term Plan 2012–2016 or the so-called “second Memorandum”. So the Greek parliament over the last seven years has been driven into conditions far from the norm, and even from logic itself: Phenomena were recorded such as acts that were never approved, even at a later date, by Parliament (like the bill converting ERT (Greece’s national broadcaster) into NERIT (a national broadcaster under a different name and administration); ministerial amendments without the constitutionally prescribed report from the Court of Auditors due to lack of time; bills that were withdrawn even though they’d been approved by Parliament (Parallel Programme, December 2015) and many other things.

The Top Ten Parliamentary Paradoxes Of 2016:

So let’s see how some of these ongoing problems influenced the year that just ended. During 2016 it was anything but rare that the Greek parliament appeared paradoxical, ludicrous, and even absurd. It’s worth presenting the ‘Top Ten’ of these moments:

1. The testimonies of two witnesses to the Parliamentary Inquiry on loans to political parties and the media stand out. And not for their seriousness. The committee minutes record one witness’ account of the events that led to the closure of the ALTER TV station with the phrase: “You should have seen what was going on! It was crazy …”.

Another particularly cynical moment was Editor Panagiotis Psiharis’ answer to the President of the Committee, Socrates Famelos, when asked how loans to the Journalistic Organization, Lampraki, were guaranteed, “with thin air…” he replied.

2. The Parliamentary Plenary session on 30 June presented a somewhat ludicrous picture when they discussed the contract for the acquisition of 67% of the port of Piraeus by the Chinese multinational, Cosco. The bill had already been passed by parliamentary committee and discussed in the plenary body, when the legal adviser of the company gave notice asking for changes in the final text. Most of the changes were incorporated into the text and then tabled by the government just a few hours before the legislation was put to the vote, making it impossible for parliament to scrutinise the additions.

3. The ‘unparliamentary’ behavior of the Golden Dawn party has become well known in recent years. On May 8, however, they outdid their reputation. MP Yiannis Lagos’ extreme behavior forced the parliamentary chair at the time, Giannis Lamproulis, to order his expulsion from the room. Lagos did not comply, and the rest of his parliamentary group, Golden Dawn, backed him up. Police forces entered the room in order to implement the decision of his expulsion. Eventually things calmed down after an hour’s disruption of Parliamentary business.

4. The non response to the Potami party’s question about the number of staff employed per ministry (not as civil servants but as external advisors, ministerial private office, etc.) provides an excellent example of… avoidance. The Potami party tabled this question in October 2016 to all ministries. Only 8 answered! Indeed, the same question was submitted for 2015 also without any substantial answer. A question that every citizen must wonder about…

5. One thing went in… another came out. The infamous Katrougalos social security bill, whose adoption was completed in May 2015; between the discussions held in the Committee on Social Affairs, and the vote held in the Parliament Plenary session… 261 changes were made to its provisions. A number which deviates wildly from usual procedure.

6. A statement by the head of the main opposition party, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, on July 22 provoked strong responses both positive and negative, “I was a political prisoner,” said the president of the New Democracy Party during the preparation for the daily agenda discussion in parliament, provoking laughter on the benches of government MPs, followed by an intense confrontation with opposition MPs.

7. Lots of MPS became independent this year but certainly the most striking of these was the parliamentary representative of the Potami Party, Haris Theoharis, and this is so mainly for reasons of continuity, as he was subsequently removed from the political party, Social Responsibility, which he had himself reportedly founded.

8. Upon hearing the remarks of the rapporteur, a member of the ANEL party, (part of the governing coalition) when Parliament discussed the issue of the extension of civil partnerships to same-sex couples, one might wonder if Greece is in fact a modern country, or one stuck in the dark ages, “The emerging alternative family structures prove that Western society has been secularised and ‘de-Christianised’,” said Katsikis, provoking a variety of comments.

9. There are many ways to achieve consensus in legislative debates in Parliament. But only in 2016 did we observe the phenomenon of … splitting up articles (into a number of smaller articles) to gain greater support for the legislation. Here’s an example: in the legislation on Proportional Representation in summer, one article in particular proposed both keeping the quota of 3% of the vote for a party to get into parliament, and dropped the voting age from 18 to 17. PASOK and the Communist party would both have voted against this article, each objecting to 1 of it’s 2 points. So the government split it up, placing each point in its own article to ensure that the article as it was would not receive ‘double the opposition’, as it were, and improving each article’s chance of passing into the final legislation.

10. Finally the classic phenomenon of adding a great number of (unconnected) amendments to the final legislation of the year was repeated in 2016. A total of 53 amendments (Ministerial and Parliamentary) were voted in on legislation for the Spatial Planning of the Ministry of the Environment. It would be difficult though to “outdo” the record of 2014 where the final bill of the year was voted in with 102 amendments.