President signs legislative act on marathon course

The Greek president’s signing last week of a legislative act that borders on a breach of the Constitution has paved the way for construction of the 2004 marathon route, which has raised a storm of protest by residents and environmentalists from Marathon all the way to Pallini. The act, whose use is normally reserved for cases of emergency, as laid down in Article 44 of the Constitution, was regarded as an extreme solution by President Costis Stephanopoulos, who sat on it for 10 days before reluctantly appending his signature, especially since normal legislative channels – a bill before Parliament – could have been used. Only last week, Culture Minister Evangelos Venizelos asked Parliament to vote on the archaeology bill which could have incorporated the legislative act in the form of an amendment. But the Greek president eventually signed the act, which provides for the expropriation of 216,986 square meters of property and lays down the conditions of environmental protection, because he was unwilling to be responsible for a delay in a major Olympics work, and refusal to sign would have sparked a political crisis at a time when Prime Minister Costas Simitis was struggling with dissent in his party. The government is bypassing Parliament with procedures that have only a thin veneer of legality in order to avoid both harsh criticism by the opposition for delays in Olympics projects and the protests over the expropriations to MPs. But the government has also incorporated the legislative act into a number of administrative decisions in order to gain approval for the necessary funding for the projects, and to legalize, by the back door, deviations from legislation regulating public works. The act, which must be ratified by a plenary session of Parliament within 40 days, or within 40 days of the Parliament’s convocation, is regarded as legally unassailable. The Council of State can only challenge it if it finds that the act contravenes the Constitution on protection of the environment or that it aims at curbing the Council of State’s role. Most hearings related to the marathon route have been canceled because the administrative acts were rescinded. The legislative act has taken care to incorporate the recommendations of the Council of State on the maintenance of provisions for environmental protection. How the legislative act affects outstanding cases against the marathon course is a matter for debate, but legal experts consider that it virtually cannot be settled by law. Although legislative acts should, in theory, be confined to urgent cases, this is the exception rather than the rule. For instance, a legislative act was required to pass tax measures at the beginning of this year.