May 24. 2024. 5:29

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EU Parliament mission: Rule of law in Greece faces ‘very serious threats’

The rule of law situation in Greece is on the edge, given the poor media reporting, threats against journalists, and severe shortcomings in the justice sector, a mission of the European Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties (LIBE) concluded during a visit to Athens.

“Although Greece has a solid institutional and legal framework, vibrant civil society and independent media, the delegation notes that there are very serious threats to the rule of law and fundamental rights”, the mission’s chief, centrist MEP Sophie in ‘t Veld from centrist Renew Europe, told a press conference on Wednesday (8 March) in Athens.

The Dutch politician said the fact that a small number of oligarchs own most media in the country “negatively impacts media freedom and pluralism resulting in sometimes dramatic underreporting of certain topics”.

According to the World Press Freedom Index for 2022, Greece ranked the worst among the 27 EU member states.

The delegation also raised the use of illegal spyware against journalists, saying that this is a clear violation of their privacy and an obstacle to getting their job done properly.

Journalists’ safety not a government priority

In ‘t Veld also said many journalists had reported physical threats or verbal attacks and urged the authorities to tackle the issue immediately.

The European Parliament delegation also highlighted the cold-blooded assassination of journalist Giorgos Karaivaz in April 2021, warning that there has been no progress in the police investigation so far.

“Nearly two years after the murder of Giorgos Karaivaz, there is no visible progress in the police investigation. Not only is this unjust to his family but sends the message that safety of journalists is not a priority for the government,” in ‘t Veld said.

“The case must be investigated without further delay and the delegation asks the authorities to request the assistance of Europol,” the Dutch MEP added.

Slow justice

Moreover, the delegation expressed serious concerns about the situation of Greek justice.

“Scrutiny by dedicated justice is extremely slow and ineffective leading to a culture of impunity,” In ‘t Veld said.

She also emphasised that independent scrutiny authorities in Greece are “under huge pressure”, saying that this poses threats to democracy. She also referred to harassment of individuals representing scrutiny bodies.

It is not the first time that EU authorities put Greek justice in the spotlight.

Responding to a parliamentary question last week, EU Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders expressed his concerns about the process of appointing the Greek Supreme Court prosecutor.

“As regards the Prosecutor of the Supreme Court, the Commission reminds, as already pointed out in the 2022 Rule of Law Report, that the current system of appointments in the highest positions of the judiciary raises concerns as being subject to a potentially strong influence from the executive,” Reynders said.

In this context, he added, the Commission has recommended addressing the need to involve the judiciary in the appointment process, taking into account European standards.

“This is important to ensure the independence of the judiciary in general and of the Prosecutor of the Supreme Court in particular,” Reynders said.

In December 2022, EURACTIV reported that the Hellenic Authority for Communication Security and Privacy (ADAE), Greece’s privacy watchdog, wanted to carry out an audit following requests submitted to the independent authority by Renew Europe MEP Giorgos Kyrtsos and investigative journalist Tasos Teloglou.

The two had tried to find out whether they were under surveillance by the secret services.

EURACTIV reported that Greece’s Prosecutor of the Supreme Court allegedly attempted to block the control on the grounds that it was illegal.

Right after the article’s publication, the top prosecutor said he was just expressing an “opinion”, but he doubled down some weeks later, saying that ADAE was not eligible to conduct such audits, which triggered strong reactions by several judges, political parties, and the European Parliament.

Greek government’s sabotage

No government representative accepted the LIBE’s committee proposal for a meeting as part of the mission saying they were busy with dealing with the recent train tragedy in Greece, in which at least 57 people were killed and many more injured.

“I regret that the Greek prime minister, government ministers, and the Supreme Court Prosecutor were unavailable”, the Dutch MEP said, adding that those who agreed to meet them cancelled at the very last moment.

The opposition has accused the government of sabotaging the Parliament’s mission by hiding behind the train tragedy.

The mission’s initial press conference had to be rescheduled as the Greek government decided to hold another press conference about the train tragedy almost at the same time.

In Athens, critics suggested that by organising another press conference at the same time, the government tried to overshadow the LIBE’s press conference by giving the media something else to focus on.