Constitution divides Greek coalition


Ahead of the upcoming review of Greece’s Constitution, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras will have to walk a tightrope as he seeks to strike a delicate balance between the views of his leftist SYRIZA party and those of the junior coalition partner, Independent Greeks (ANEL), on a string of issues. 

Topping the list of contentious issues is the separation of Church and state, which is not just a matter of disagreement with ANEL but also a source of division within SYRIZA itself. 

Former education minister Nikos Filis, a staunch supporter of the separation, has reportedly acknowledged in private that his view is losing traction within SYRIZA, as a majority of party officials now believe that it is not the time for a breach in relations with the Church. 

Nonetheless, Filis told Alpha TV on Thursday that his proposals to abolish the reference in the Constitution’s preamble to the Orthodox dogma of the Holy Trinity, as well as the phrase in Article 3 that speaks of a prevalent religion, should go without saying in a modern democratic constitution. 

Filis’s views have been backed by Tasia Christodoulopoulou, a deputy speaker of Parliament, and Costas Douzinas, an academic and party lawmaker. Moreover, his views are also supported by members of the Group of 53, a faction of purists within SYRIZA who insist that the separation of Church and state is part and parcel of leftist ideology. 

The issue could also empower centrifugal forces in the coalition, as ANEL – already on a collision course with Tsipras over the Macedonia name deal – is resolutely against the separation, due, among other reasons, to the strong ties binding its leader, Panos Kammenos, to large sections of Greece’s clergy – a constituency that could prove to be a valuable source of votes for the party which has struggled in opinion polls. 

ANEL is also on the opposite side of the aisle to Tsipras on the issue of the country’s president, whom the party says should have more powers and be elected directly by the people. 

The junior coalition partner is also on a different page with regard to higher education and is in favor of changing Article 16 of the Constitution, which prohibits private universities. 

New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis will present his party’s proposals on the constitutional review to the conservative parliamentary group on Tuesday.