A draft law tabled by a New Democracy European MP at the EU Parliament that would force Greece to recognize degrees issued by private educational institutes as the equivalent of university diplomas stirred up a political storm in Athens yesterday. Government spokesman Christos Protopapas accused the main opposition party of keeping a double agenda, and described the proposal tabled last week by Costas Hadzidakis as «an illicit trade in hope» and «an attempt to devalue the degrees and work rights of millions of (Greek state) university graduates.» The conservatives backed Hadzidakis, accusing ruling PASOK of indulging in «gross propaganda.» Education is always a sensitive issue in Greece, where intense competition keeps many high school leavers out of the university departments of their choice. As a result, those who fail through the state system either study abroad or enroll at Greek private institutes that offer «university-level» degrees in cooperation with foreign – mainly British or US – universities at an annual cost of 4,500-5,000 euros. Under the Constitution, only the state can offer university education – which is free. Education Minister Petros Efthymiou charged that ND was trying to legalize certificates issued by «companies operating under franchising deals [with foreign universities].» And Protopapas said that if ND did not renounce Hadzidakis «then we directly accuse [ND] of deceiving children studying at [private institutes] by giving them false hopes.» Hadzidakis told Kathimerini that the problem was both social and legal. «The social part is that 25,000 Greeks have degrees and the government pretends not to know about them. The legal aspect is that Greece is in danger of being fined by the European Court» for not recognizing private institutes’ degrees.