Impunity rules banana republic of Greece

The greatest problem facing Greece is not lack of money but a clientelist system that is accountable to no-one, writes a Greek journalist.

Published on 20 February 2012 at 16:14

You are possibly fed up with the Greek crisis, and so are Europe’s leading politicians. Doubtlessly you think that Greece’s problems are of a financial nature: lack of competitiveness, gargantuan debts and deficits, and a counterproductive public sector. You are right, but these are just the tip of the iceberg.

The heart of the problem lies firstly in its anarchic and poorly functioning legal system, and secondarily on the existence of a clientelist system based on political favours, services rendered, corruption and a monstrous bureaucratic machine that only serves its own interests, that crushes entrepreneurship and ravages the Greek population. It is this which holds back progress in the financial domain.

From the very start of the crisis it was clear that the Greek political class would fight to retain this clientelist system, whose beneficiaries form part of the public sector, the unions and the above all the private sector that is state-financed. In Greece, the social contract that has been in place for 35 years (or more) assumes that the citizen votes for a certain party in return for a public sector job (for the small fry) or an overpriced government contract (for the big fish).

Lawlessness rules in Greece

In the system which reigns in Greece, polticians have never been accountable and the legal system has been powerless. The Greek constitution (shamelessly, even eagerly, embraced by the two largest political parties) considerably limits the possibility of instituting legal proceedings against politicians. The result is that no Greek politician has ever been prosecuted, not even in sensational cases such as the Siemens and Vatopaidi affairs.

Receive the best of European journalism straight to your inbox every Thursday

Theodoros Tsoukatos, a close associate of ex-premier Kostas Simitis in the nineteen nineties, admitted in September 2010 to the Greek parliament that in 1999 he received from a German company a bribe of 1 million German marks that he passed on to PASOK, his party. According to Tsoukatos, all major Greek political parties accept bribes from private companies. The 1 million marks was never traced and the accounts of the party were never investigated. A number of Siemens' managers were prosecuted in Germany, but not in Greece.

In 2008, the Vatopaidi affair erupted. The affair concerned the exchange of high-value public land for less valuable land that was the property of a monastery. The agreement cost the state an estimated 100 million euros. In 2010, the Greek parliament decided that the five former ministers should stand trial, but the alleged offences had already been dropped in 2009.

The affairs confirmed the already widely held belief that lawlessness rules in Greece. Even for normal lawsuits you have to wait up to five years for the first trial, then another three years for the appeal and an additional three years for the case to be finally heard by the Supreme Court. This is not justice, but the denial of justice. And that is the reason why Greece does not function as a democratic country but as a banana republic from the Balkans.

Three distinct competing parties

After the first Greek rescue package in 2010, I hoped that the economic adjustment programme and the strict supervision of the European Commission and our eurozone partners would put an end to the clientelist system and the bureaucratic machine.

In Greece at the moment there are three distinct competing parties. Firstly, there are the politicians and their allies in the public and private sectors who are threatened by the collapse of the system and who therefore refuse to effectively implement the required structural reforms. Secondly, there are the people who are fed up with the situation and who want to see change, but who have no political representation. And finally, there are our European partners, who up to now have not taken sides, but who, by not doing so, are giving support to the most powerful.

The European Commission correctly emphasises that the reform programme is the responsibility of the Greek authorities. Moreover, there is the question of how far Europe can go in limiting national sovereignty, a crucial question in the extension of economic governance in the eurozone.

Only now, after two years of inertia, are our European partners starting to insist on true reform and on a substantial reduction in state expenditure. However, in the meantime, half a million people (all in the private sector) have lost their jobs, while the public sector is still precisely as large and obstructive as it was. With respect to an effective judicial system, it is up to us, the Greeks, to demand it.

Was this article useful? If so we are delighted! It is freely available because we believe that the right to free and independent information is essential for democracy. But this right is not guaranteed forever, and independence comes at a cost. We need your support in order to continue publishing independent, multilingual news for all Europeans. Discover our membership offers and their exclusive benefits and become a member of our community now!

Are you a news organisation, a business, an association or a foundation? Check out our bespoke editorial and translation services.

Support independent European journalism

European democracy needs independent media. Join our community!

On the same topic