Parliament and independent authorities

Parliament and independent authorities

The misunderstanding starts with the elections. All Greeks think they are voting for a prime minister, when in fact they are electing lawmakers, who in turn elect as prime minister – as a rule – the leader of the first party. Hence the protests in 2012, when the “unelected” Lucas Papademos took over as caretaker prime minister for six months to complete the private sector involvement (PSI) – which entailed a bond swap with the private sector that reduced Greece’s debts by more than 100 million euros – and provide the bankrupt country with some fiscal space.

One misunderstanding leads to thousands more. These start with the role of the Parliament, which many believe exists only to ratify government bills; rightly so, because that is all it actually does, plus some special favors for the MPs’ constituencies. Hence the accusations of “treason” if someone or some lawmakers of the government majority vote against a government bill. This degradation of the Parliament’s work was further reinforced when an administrative agency, the EYP intelligence service, invoked “confidentiality” to avoid being held accountable to the people’s representative body during a discussion in a parliamentary committee about the wiretapping scandal. By the way, after all this fuss, we still haven’t found out to whom EYP is accountable. God maybe?

A second misunderstanding has to do with the role of the independent authorities. The members are elected by a supermajority at the House speakers’ conference, so that they are not controlled by any single party and for this reason they have increased power over the powerful executive branch. In contrast to EYP, these authorities are accountable to Parliament, unless the House speaker wants to cover up the “sins” of the executive branch and invents humorous theories about the head of an independent authority “inviting himself” to present his findings, as he did with the head of privacy watchdog ADAE, Christos Rammos.

Of course, there is also the theory of New Democracy deputy Dimitris Markopoulos, who described ADAE, which is investigating the wiretapping scandal, as the “Fifth Column of [main opposition] SYRIZA” in a speech in Parliament on January 25. But when you have other conservative colleagues of Markopoulos who claim they did not know they were not allowed to do business with the state while they are deputies, how could we expect him to understand the complex issue of independent authorities?

The separation of powers into executive, legislature and judiciary is not for fun, nor was it done for reasons of sharing the workload. It is necessary so that these powers check each other and that none of them can threaten the rights of a single citizen. The independent authorities are not a supplement to the respective government, but mechanisms to keep it in check. They were created and operate properly in countries where the separation of powers is more distinct than in Greece, where the respective prime minister controls the parliamentary group and the respective government appoints the leadership of the judiciary. It is a supplement to democracy and not some kind of toy.

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