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Sunday 20 January 2013

Ruling by decree

On Monday 14 January, the Greek parliament ratified with 166 ayes, 123 nays and 1 abstention six of the acts of legislative content pushed through by the government since November 2012 as well as additional amendments to Greek laws, using the emergency voting procedure. Acts of legislative content are essentially decrees issued by government ministers which come in force immediately after being approved by the President of the Republic and must be ratified by parliament within some three and a half months in order to become permanent law. The procedure of acts of legislative content is intended, according to the constitution, to be used in cases of extreme emergency, but the current government has been issuing such acts to bypass parliament, for example to pass amendments to the latest bailout agreement merely days after it was voted on 7 November 2012.

The fact that Monday’s bill was pushed through parliament with the emergency voting procedure caused angry reactions from opposition parties, who called the government’s actions “a parliamentary coup” and emphasized that this violates the terms of the Greek constitution. The emergency voting procedure in parliament means essentially that relevant committees as well as the plenary assembly have very limited time to analyze and discuss a proposed bill before voting on it. For exapple, the Monday bill was brought to parliament last Friday while the new taxation bill was being voted, was discussed for a few hours in a committee on Saturday morning and was voted on Monday after just six hours of discussion.

On its side, the government and in particular officials from the Ministry of Finance argued that this emergency voting procedure was necessary as most items of the bill were among the pre-requisites for disbursement of the second tranche of bailout loans agreed in December 2012. It must be noted here that the IMF gave the green light for disbursement after the vote, while the Eurogroup is expected to do the same in the coming days.

Some specific provisions of the bill came under heavy criticism from all opposition parties and in particular from SYRIZA. These provisions specify that Greece renounces its right to claim national sovereignty in the case Greek public property is seized by foreign lenders, and that the loan agreements fall under British rather than Greek law. The law specifically states: “No exceptions are made for reasons of national sovereignty for the beneficiary member-state, the Bank of Greece or any other of its assets.”

The government parties did not deny that Greece is surrendering its sovereignty, but claimed that legal proceedings would be conducted under Greek law and that national assets would be protected by the Greek judiciary.

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