NEWS

An inconclusive debate

Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis and opposition leader George Papandreou yesterday agreed on the need to allow non-state universities to operate, although Papandreou avoided committing himself on whether his party, the Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK) would actually vote to repeal Article 16 of the Constitution when the revision comes up for a vote early next year. Yesterday’s extraordinary parliamentary debate on education reform was less an attempt to arrive at a consensus than an attempt by the leaders of the two major parties to buy time. Karamanlis focused the debate on the repeal of Article 16, which allows only state universities to operate, in order to highlight the divisions in PASOK and avoid placing the spotlight on his own apparent decision to postpone other badly needed reforms in state universities, including greater financial accountability and the placement of time limits on students’ registration. Papandreou, meanwhile, supported the constitutional change, but also offered a concession to opponents of the measure within his party by calling for a referendum on education reform. Karamanlis was quick to seize upon this. «Back us on the revision of Article 16 and, if you ever get into government, we will back you on the referendum,» he said. Earlier, Karamanlis had said that agitation against reform had only served to highlight the problems afflicting Greek universities, including perennial students, the existence of a single course book per lesson, as well as the fact that Greece is among the countries with the highest per capita number of students abroad. «We must break the vicious circle of stagnation,» he said, without, however, specifying when he will submit a reform bill to Parliament or even whether he would do so before the next national election, due by April 2008, at the latest. Parliament will vote on constitutional reform either in February or March 2007. For the Constitution to be amended, it will require a further vote in the next elected parliament. Some PASOK MPs have proposed withholding support in this parliament in order for the amendments to pass by a simple majority and require a three-fifths majority in the next.