The Council of State’s plenary session was convening late into Wednesday night to rule on the constitutionality of a recent government auction of television licenses which reduced the number of permits to four.
Sources indicated on Wednesday night that the judges would find two things unconstitutional: firstly the fact that State Minister Nikos Pappas, a close aide of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, oversaw the auction rather than the National Broadcasting Council (ESR), and secondly the fact that the auction limited the number of nationwide licenses that can operate in Greece to four.
Government officials have argued that ESR could not oversee the auction because objections by the political opposition prevented it from convening. Also they cited a university study and the dwindling market for television advertising to justify the decision to limit the number of nationwide TV licenses to four.
The court’s plenary session convened at 5.30 p.m. and the meeting was tense, according to sources, as the judges did not fall into two distinct camps but disagreed on many issues, including the extent of detail that the ruling should include and the potential implications of the decision, political and otherwise.
Having championed the auction for TV licenses as part of its intended crackdown on corruption and vested interests, the government was bracing for the court’s verdict.
Officials were preparing for all scenarios. But the government’s official stance distinctly shifted over the past few days as regards the eventuality of an undesired verdict.
Having originally indicated that the previous state of affairs would apply if the Pappas law is declared unconstitutional, government officials are now suggesting that a verdict questioning the legality of the auction would simply necessitate some “corrections” to the existing law.
With the debacle over the television licenses dealing something of a blow to the government’s credibility, and in a bid to boost leftist SYRIZA’s waning popularity, Tsipras has been planning a government reshuffle.
The overhaul is expected on Sunday or early next week.