When Greece’s leftist government first announced its intention to appoint a new president and prosecutor of the Supreme Court, notwithstanding the fact that Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras had just called a snap election, very few observers actually expected that things would get to the point they are at today.
The SYRIZA government unfortunately turned a deaf ear to the political turmoil, the refusal of the conservative opposition to give its consent to the appointments and, most importantly, to the strict warnings from respected constitutional experts who said that replacing the judges now would be tantamount to violating the Constitution.
In the end, the cabinet went ahead with plans to replace the top judges although the tenure of the current administration formally expires on June 30. However, according to various sources, Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos is not going to sign the presidential decree required to authorize the government decision.
Pavlopoulos has previously shown unwillingness to make any concessions when it comes to constitutional principles. Back in 2016, when SYRIZA was ruling with Independent Greeks (ANEL), Pavlopoulos refused to sign the necessary presidential decree after the government had acted prematurely in appointing Xeni Dimitriou as Supreme Court prosecutor before the tenure of Efterpi Koutzamani had come to an end. Pavlopoulos signed the decree only after Koutzamani’s tenure had expired on July 1. In announcing their plans, the incumbent leftists were effectively passing the buck on to the president. At the same time, they threw the justice system and senior judicial officials into the turmoil of political confrontation while also exposing them to disparaging criticism of having been selected on the grounds of political expediency rather than merit.
And there is one more key question: Can these selections be undone? The answer is no. The president is the only one who can refuse to sign off the presidential decree after July 1, when the term of the current leadership of the Supreme Court ends, on the grounds that we are in a pre-election period.
The president of Greece is traditionally in favor of maintaining constitutional order. Pavlopoulos can be expected to assume a similar stance.
Meanwhile, arguments put forward by the opposition that the next government could challenge the selections at the Council of State are politically and legally groundless.