Fast-track marathon

The government has taken a rarely used step to move Olympic preparations onto the fast track, deciding to employ a legislative measure that will make it far more difficult for court decisions to hold up projects connected with Athens 2004. The move, which is normally made in cases of great emergency involving war, natural disasters, civil disturbances, and so on, indicates the urgency with which the government wants to move certain construction projects ahead without allowing them to be held up by protests. The decision was made in connection with the need to expropriate a total of 216,986 square meters of property and to make changes to the environment along the route of the traditional Marathon course, from the site of the ancient battlefield that gave the race its name, through the area of Pallini and into Athens. It is still likely to provoke protests. The «legislative act,» as it is called, was sent to the government printer’s office only yesterday, after President Costis Stephanopoulos kept it for more than 10 days without signing it, in what was seen as a protest at the extreme nature of the action. Stephanopoulos had even expressed his dissatisfaction with the decision to take such a measure when he spoke with Prime Minister Costas Simitis during the swearing-in of Health Minister Costas Stefanis last week. The constitution allows the Cabinet to present the president with «legislative acts» to sign in times of emergency. These acts are then sent to Parliament within 40 days for ratification, or within 40 days of the opening of Parliament if it had been in recess. If they are not ratified within three months they will be void. The Council of State, the country’s highest administrative court, can now only overrule such a decision if it finds that the act violates the constitution by causing damage to the environment or when the legislative act is aimed intentionally at curbing the Council of State’s constitutional role. As the Council of State usually overrules government decisions when it finds them illegal in relation to another law, this means that it will be highly unlikely for it to overrule decisions enacted by legislative act. Simitis and officials involved in Olympic preparations yesterday discussed the refurbishing and covering of the Olympic Stadium as well as projects at the old airport at Hellenikon and at Goudi. An IOC inspection team is due here on Wednesday.