Independent MPs

The parliamentary committee’s rejection of a bill banning deputies from undertaking other professional activities during their spell in Parliament raises a series of political issues. First, the parliamentary setback tarnished the image of the ruling Socialist party. Opposition parties did not miss out on the opportunity presented to them by the no vote by Evangelos Yiannopoulos and the «presence» of Stelios Papathemelis. One could well point to an element of opportunism in the opposition’s stance given that the constitutional provision had been voted on without much resistance. Opportunism, however, is a common phenomenon in politics and, in any case, the heart of the problem is more important than the impressions created by political confrontation or the concessions made in the name of the political ends that this confrontation involves. The dice, no doubt, was cast when Parliament passed the constitutional provision banning deputies from holding another job. Interior Minister Costas Skandalidis rightly argued that passing parts of the bill would be at odds with the Constitution. The leaders of the two major parties then backed the so-called «rule of incompatibility,» seeing it as a cost-free way to make a show of determination in the area of transparency, while also bolstering Parliament’s image. Deputies now realize the consequences of that decision. Most of them were shaken by sensing the impact of the legislation on their private lives. The main problem, however, concerns the measure’s immediate repercussions on the vital area of deputies’ independence. Professional deputies tend to be less independent and more vulnerable to the sirens of corruption. Setting their re-election as top priority puts them in a state of double dependence: On one hand, they depend on their party leader, who has the power to affect their future political career, and, on the other, they are more vulnerable to bribes and pressure from media barons. Banning deputies – even temporarily – from holding their jobs reduces their ability to safeguard their free and independent consciences. Political independence has become a rarity, and the incompatibility rule strangles those who wish to maintain it. On the other hand, allowing MPs to undertake parallel professional careers creates the conditions for preferential treatment and unfair competition. This problem, however, can only be tackled by special measures and not with an indiscriminate ban like the one that was frivolously proposed.

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