Rights and responsibilities

The Greek Constitution gives the prime minister the power to appoint and dismiss ministers. As a result, the government leader carries full responsibility for the selection, performance and general political demeanor of his ministers. This makes a minister totally dependent on the premier. In effect, the resignation on principle submitted by Defense Minister Spilios Spiliotopoulos – which was not accepted by the premier – after the helicopter crash is meaningless. Should Costas Karamanlis have deemed that there is political responsibility for the accident, he would ask for Spiliotopoulos’s resignation or sack him himself. Still, resigning on principle is a clearly personal matter. From the moment that Spiliotopoulos thought he had to step down due to the embarrassing confusion that struck his area of responsibility, no one should obstruct him – not even the prime minister. Spiliotopoulos should have insisted upon his resignation. His position vis-a-vis the government head automatically renders his decision irrevocable and final. Resigning is the only way a minister can safeguard his status as a politician and as a private individual against the premier’s power to appoint or sack him. For the same reasons, to say that a minister «offered his resignation» to the premier is devoid of content. It is not a sign of responsibility but the lack of it. In some cases, the act not only denotes shifting the minister’s responsibility to the premier – who is accountable anyway for his ministers’ actions – but the resignation (usually an attempt to minimize political cost) often aims at ensuring prime-ministerial cover for ministerial errors or, worse, to evoke sympathy for the resigning minister and influence the public mood. We do not want to wrong Spiliotopoulos. Indeed, what has been said does not necessarily apply in his case. We are criticizing a political practice that is out of sync with the government’s promises for moral governance.

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