OPINION

Legal setbacks

It was Otto von Bismarck who once famously intoned, «Laws are like sausages, it is better not to see them being made.» However, this political rationale sounds anachronistic these days, especially regarding European Union members who must take into account the EU’s aquis communautaire – its accumulated body of legislation – when drafting their own national laws. The setbacks that hit the conservative government’s ongoing reform campaign showed that politicians often shun the necessary homework. First, it was the much-touted bill on the state tender law, banning media owners from bidding for state deals. This needed measure enjoyed the support of the majority of the public, but it eventually met with resistance from Brussels after certain aspects of the proposed legislation were found to be in breach of Community law. Then came the government’s plans to reform the Hellenic Telecommunications Organization (OTE). The European Commission is said to have warned the Greek government that its generous state subsidy to the TAP-OTE pension fund – intended to alleviate the strain of a voluntary retirement scheme – was in breach of regulations protecting healthy competition. The administration’s bill to solve the problems of banks’ unfunded pension liabilities was the final straw. The European Commission fumed over the government plans to finance pension funds, forcing Greek officials to withdraw the bill. One may have objections to the Commission’s free-market approach, which often imposes inconvenient limitations on member states’ policymakers. That said, the EU’s acquis communautaire is not an arbitrary web of laws that eurocrats in Brussels then impose on member states. Rather, it is the product of long and painstaking negotiations that also involved Greece’s participation. For sure, the national constitution overrides EU law on vital national sovereignty issues. But member states cannot retain jurisdiction over economic and social reforms. That would paralyze the bloc and smaller countries would be first to lose out. The government could have avoided some of this trouble had it conducted a thorough study of Community law and consulted the relevant EU bodies before tabling the controversial bills. The government’s decision to move ahead with structural reforms, the only way to restore the economy’s dynamism, further accentuated the need for a thorough examination of EU law. The administration would not like to see outside complications caused by incompatibility between national and EU legislation at a time when it should be bracing for the domestic resistance which is inevitably set off by similar reforms.