Greece - Government
Greece is a parliamentary republic and last amended its constitution in May 2008. To amend Greece's constitution a super-majority of 180 (out of 300 total seats) is required. The Karamanlis government's ambitious plans for constitutional revision came to a lackluster close on 27 May 2008 when only 3 relatively minor (out of 38 proposed) constitutional amendments were adopted by parliament. With major opposition party PASOK removing itself from the constitutional revision process early on, PM Karamanlis was hard pressed to find sufficient votes for any constitutional amendments, such as the most significant [not approved] were provisions to allow the legal establishment of non-state universities and allow recognition of degrees from private, non-profit universities in Greece, and to create a new constitutional court. Smaller opposition parties agreed to a few minor amendments as a tactic to forestall any further constitutional change until 2013; under Greek law, a period of at least five years must elapse between parliamentary consideration of any constitutional revisions.
There are three branches of government. The executive includes the president, who is head of state, and the prime minister, who is head of government. There is a 300-seat unicameral "Vouli" (legislature). The judicial branch includes a Supreme Court. Administrative subdivisions include 13 peripheries (regional districts) and 51 nomi (prefectures). Suffrage is universal at 18.
The head of the State is the President, who is elected for a five year period by the Parliament. The president is the principal link among the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of the government. He or she is insulated from direct political pressures by virtue of being elected by open ballot (since 1986) of the legislative Assembly (the Vouli). The presidential term is five years, and the maximum number of terms is two.
A candidate for the presidency must have a Greek father, have been a Greek citizen for at least five years, be at least forty years of age, and be entitled to vote in parliamentary elections. To be elected, an individual must receive a two-thirds majority in parliament (200 votes) on the first and second ballots, or, if no such majority is reached, a three-fifths majority (180 votes) on a third ballot. Failure to elect a president on the third round results in the dissolution of the Assembly within ten days and the holding of new elections within forty days. The new Assembly must begin immediately the process of electing a president. In this election, a three-fifths majority is required on the first ballot, an absolute majority (151 votes) on the second, and a simple majority on the third. Should the presidency be vacated at any time, the Assembly must meet within ten days to elect a successor for a full term. If the president is incapacitated, presidential duties are temporarily assumed by the speaker of the Assembly.
In 1985, as Karamanlis's first presidential term was ending and a presidential election approached, the rival PASOK government argued for expansion of the powers of the Assembly at the expense of the president, who was characterized as having excessive prerogatives under the 1975 constitution. The amendments passed in 1986 actually did not change the prescribed functions of the Assembly; instead, they simply shifted powers from the president to the office of the prime minister, leaving the former with largely ceremonial duties.
The presidency still retains numerous ceremonial functions. The president represents Greece in international relations and, with the concurrence of the Assembly, declares war and concludes agreements of peace, alliance, and participation in international organizations. The president also is the head of the armed forces, but actual command is exercised by the government. Much of the president's power in relation to the Assembly is limited by the constitutional provision that most presidential acts must be countersigned by the appropriate cabinet ministers. The president may be impeached if charges against him or her are signed by at least one-third of the members of the Assembly and subsequently approved by at least two-thirds of the total membership. A special ad hoc court, presided over by the chief justice of the Supreme Court, would then try the president.
The executive branch, the Government, comprises the Prime Minister, who is normally the leader of the political party with the majority of Parliamentary seats, and the cabinet members who function as heads of the various Ministries. Ministers, who need not be members of the Assembly, are chosen by the prime minister and their names submitted to the president for formal appointment. Together with the prime minister, ministers are collectively responsible to the Assembly for the formulation and implementation of the general policy of the government; each minister is also individually responsible for all acts undertaken by his office as an agency of government. Cabinet members are free to attend sessions of the Assembly, and they must be heard when they request the floor. The Assembly also may request ministers to appear before it to explain policies or to answer questions.
The cabinet must receive and maintain the confidence of the Assembly; a confidence vote must be held within fifteen days from the date a new cabinet is announced. This vote focuses on what is officially called "the government program"--a broad outline of the government's proposed policies and programs. The Assembly may withdraw its confidence by passing a censure motion, which must be signed by a minimum of one-sixth of that body's membership and be adopted by an absolute majority. Only one such motion may be introduced every six months. Ministers and their deputies who are members of the Assembly may vote on confidence and censure motions. When a government resigns after a no-confidence motion is passed, it is customary for a temporary, nonpartisan caretaker government to be formed to administer the new elections. Unsuccessful censure votes were taken in 1988 and in 1993.
The 1986 constitutional amendments enlarged the legislative capacity of the prime minister and the cabinet. Combined with the absence of internal party controls in both major political parties, this development has rendered executive actions largely unaccountable.
The Assembly is a unicameral body of 300 deputies. In the Parliament (Vouli ton Ellinon), 288 members are elected through an open-list proportional representation system to serve 4-year terms and 12 members are elected through a closed-list proportional representation system to serve 4-year terms. There is a national threshold of 3 percent. The party or apparentement winning a plurality of votes automatically is awarded 40 seats, and the remaining seats are allocated proportionally among all parties clearing the threshold. The 288 regular seats are divided among 56 constituencies: 48 multi-member and 8 single-member. In single-member districts, elections are effectively by plurality. The 12 State Deputy seats are allocated proportionally from closed lists in a nationwide district. Voters cast ballots only for the regular seats.
Reforming the electoral law has been a stated objective of the ruling SYRIZA party – and a long-standing demand of the left side of the country’s political spectrum – ever since it was in opposition. On 21 July 2016 MPs approved the government’s proposed changes by a simple majority of 179 votes, meaning that 17-year-olds will be able to vote in the next general elections. The government failed to muster the 200 votes in Parliament it needed to immediately – rather than after the next election – scrap the existing enhanced proportional representation system, which gives the winning party a bonus of 50 seats in the 300-seat House.
Tsipras insisted on the need to introduce a system of simple proportional representation and described the opposition of parties of the center-left as “unjustifiable,” noting that such a system would give them greater political leverage. Tsipras said the time was right for the president to be elected by the people instead of Parliament. As regards a broader review of the Constitution, Tsipras said aspects of the proposed changes could be put to a referendum.
The term is four years except in time of war, when it is extended for the duration, or unless the dissolution of the Assembly necessitates an interim election. The Assembly convenes on the first Monday in October for an annual session of at least five months. It elects its own officers and a standing committee that determines the order of legislative work. At the beginning of each session, committees are formed to examine bills, with committee membership proportional to party representation in the chamber. In practice, only the law-making committees have performed as a regular part of this system however.
The Assembly generally conducts legislative business in plenary sessions, as required under the constitution when certain subjects are deliberated. The prescribed subjects include parliamentary standing orders and elections; church-state relations, religious freedom, and individual liberties; the operation of political parties; delegation of legislative authority to a cabinet minister; and authorization of the state budget. Plenary sessions may also be requested by the government to consider bills of particular importance for debate and passage.
When the Assembly is in recess, its legislative work (with the exception of subjects specifically reserved for consideration by full session) may be conducted by a legislative section. The Assembly usually divides into two sections, equal in size and proportionally representative of the strength of the political parties in the legislature. The jurisdiction of each section corresponds to the jurisdictions of roughly half the government ministries. A bill passed by a section has the same status as one adopted by the full Assembly.
Bills may be introduced by the government or by a member of the Assembly. In practice, however, the vast majority of laws passed originate with the government. To pass a bill in plenary session of the Assembly requires an absolute majority of those present, which must not be less than one-quarter of the total membership. Passage of a bill by a section requires approval by a majority of those present; the majority must be at least two-fifths of the total sectional membership. A bill rejected by either a section or by the plenum cannot be reintroduced in the same annual session.
For administrative purposes, Greece is divided into 13 regions (named “peripheries”) which are governed by persons appointed by the Government (named “peripheriarches”). Each region is divided into a number of districts (named “nomoi”) which are governed by local prefects (named “nomarches”) who are elected every four years.
The judicial branch is independent of the Parliament and the Government and is divided into civil, criminal and administrative divisions.
Greece is a member of a number of international bodies including the Council of Europe, the European Union, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the United Nations. Effective 1 January 1981, Greece became a full member of the European Economic Community (now The European Union) after being an associate member since 1962. The Treaty of Accession provided for transitional periods of various lengths all of which ended on 31 December 1987. Effective 1 January 2001, Greece became a full member of the European Monetary Union.
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