December 2, 2013
Mr. George Katrougalos, PhD, is Professor of Public Law at Democritos University of Thrace, member of the Executive Council of the University, and Constitutional law expert running a robust office in Athens with international appeal. The last years is writing critically on the legal issues of Greek Debt and challenges before domestic and international courts, the austerity measures and their impact on human rights and the social state. In the same framework, he has been a founding member of the Initiative for a Public Audit Control of Greek Public Debt.
1. From a legal perspective, do you consider the persecution and arrest of Golden Dawn’s MPs as a fully-fledged process whatsoever? In addition, what are the political insinuations that this process could trigger for similar acts of other political parties?
The Greek constitution provides (i.e. Article 62) that the members of the Parliament cannot be prosecuted, arrested, imprisoned or otherwise confined without prior permission granted by the Parliament. However, there is an exception, when members of the Parliament are caught in the act of committing a felony. The crime of establishing a criminal organization (i.e. Article 187 of the Penal Code), under which the Golden Dawns MPs have been arrested, is considered a perpetual fragrant felony. So, technically, their arrest was not contrary to the Constitution.
However, in my opinion, it would be much better for political and legal reasons if the normal procedure for lifting their parliamentary immunity had been followed. This would deprive them from the argument that they are facing a political persecution.
2. The political establishment is publicly and wholeheartedly condemning actions of violence. Can violence be scaled and are all actions of violence meant to be persecuted?
The political establishment tries to assimilate acts of murder, as these committed by the Golden Dawn, with acts of civil disobedience or even constitutionally protected rights, such as the right to demonstrate. In my opinion, every criminal action should be persecuted. However, the resistance of the society to immoral and unjust measures is not a crime, but a right.
3. Do you consider that the Greek Constitution, with reference to the increasing cuts on wages and pensions and the continuous taxation, has been violated?
The austerity measures imposed to Greece by the ” Memoranda”, their executive legislation and the related international loan treaties constitute a grave deviation from constitutional, European and international legality, both on procedural and substantive grounds: At the first level, neither of the two loan treaties has been ratified by the Parliament, contrary to the explicit provision of Article 36 par. 2 of the Greek Constitution. The reason for that was that the loan treaties contained some so exorbitant clauses regarding national sovereignty that would make it impossible for an important number of MPs to vote for them. More importantly, the austerity measures violate several structural constitutional principles (i.e. such as the principles of equality of public burdens and of social state of law (i.e. Article 4 par. 5 and Article 25 par. 1 of the Greek Constitution) and fundamental social rights (i.e. Articles 21, 22 and 23 of the Constitution).
4. There is a widespread belief that the Greek judicial system is moving very slowly and irrelevantly with the pace of daily life and political decisions. What is your opinion on that?
This is one of the fundamental problems of our judicial system. In many occasions the European Court of Human Rights has found Greece in violation of Article 6 par. 1 of the European Convention of Human Rights, considering that the long delays of Greek Courts are violating the principle of a fair trial.
5. Regarding the Memoranda of Agreement that the Greek government has signed with its lenders since 2010, is there any constitutional prediction that gives the ongoing or any other government the authority and power to breach the agreement with troika unilaterally?
A combined use of a Human Rights approach to the debt with the principle of international law on “State necessity” could provide an efficient legal instrument against the “Memoranda” . They have both support on international instruments and case law. For instance, in its General Comment No. 2, on Article 22 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights has indicated that “[…] international measures to deal with the debt crisis should take full account of the need to protect economic, social and cultural rights through, inter alia, international cooperation”. In the same line, the Maastricht Guidelines on Violations of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights deem a human rights violation of omission, “[…] the failure of a State to take into account its international legal obligations in the field of economic, social and cultural rights when entering into bilateral or multilateral agreements with other States, international organizations or multinational corporations” .
6. According to pollsters, the Greek public is on one side desperately suffering from austerity measures, but on the other side it is afraid to massively support an alternative pathway. What is the explanation for this, to say, irrational behavior?
There is an easy explanation for that. It is called reign by terror. The government and its international supporters have managed to persuade a part of the Greek electorate that any alternative to the neoliberal dictates of the “Memoranda” would result to an unimaginable catastrophe. The truth is that the continuation of these policies is catastrophic. Their remedy is more lethal than the disease of the debt.
7. Do you believe that austerity politics can lead to the consolidation of Greek economy?
This is quite impossible. The austerity policies have trapped the Greek economy to a vicious circle of slow death. Austerity is provoking the shrinking of the economy and the sky-rocketed unemployment.
8. Do you believe that our political system and regime should be reformed in order to timely provide solutions against issues of wider public concern, especially when these concerns arise between electoral periods?
I think that our political system is now far beyond any hope of readdressing itself. We are facing the situation described by Gramsci, as the crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new is not yet born. I hope that a new political start, based on institutions of direct democracy, involving all active citizens, is our only hope.Dimitris Rapidis