Dangerous fallout


Up until a few days ago it seemed that Greece’s SYRIZA-led government saw no reason to resort to an early election. In fact, ruling officials seemed as if they would go togreat lengths to maintain their grip on power.

At SYRIZA’s recent congress, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras indirectly raised the issue by linking the second review of the country’s third bailout agreement with the prospect of debt relief. Now, after the turmoil caused by the government’s moves as regards the judiciary, nothing looks certain anymore. It has again been proved that political developments are triggered by specific events. A government cannot always set the agenda.

The coalition government has no doubt been pushed into a corner as the confrontation over the TV licenses has grown into a major political issue that, to a large extent, also concerns the way the country’s institutions operate. This is perhaps the first time in the post-dictatorship period that politics has become so intertwined with the operation of the judiciary.

No one can really predict the outcome of this crisis. There are too many dogs in this fight and, judging by the language on all sides, the confrontation will intensify.

The government appears to be sticking to its decisions and is putting on a determined face – but it can’t disguise its concern. That is reflected in the constant threats uttered by State Minister Nikos Pappas, the initiatives undertaken by Parliament Speaker Nikos Voutsis to see a new board at the National Council for Radio and Television (ESR), and Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’s decision to avoid speaking on the controversial issue in Parliament. The government is clearly awaiting the decision of the Council of State before it decides on its next steps.

Should the country’s highest administrative court issue a decision that favors the government, the latter will see this as a major victory and move ahead with efforts to impose its own status quo. If, however, it’s an unfavorable one for Tsipras’s administration, then the government will be in big trouble. Some commentators say that the administration will simply disregard the decision and implement its law, but it won’t be that simple.

This is not just any decision. It is not just the publicity but also the strong-worded joint statement by judges’ unions. The statement was clearly critical of the government’s behavior and handling of the matter. However, it also indicated the distance between judicial officials and the top judges at Greece’s highest courts. As a result the government will not find it easy to ignore a Council of State decision that does not meet its desires – also given the strong reaction from the conservative opposition.

The judiciary will not easily find its footing following the turmoil and the damaged ties with the executive power. And that is true regardless of any Council of State ruling. The court’s intentional or unintentional entanglement with the political system has damaged the calm environment in which it ought to operate, created tension among judges, and strengthened skepticism toward their decisions. And that’s bad for the operation of our democratic system.