Greece | Freedom House

Countries at the Crossroads



Countries at the Crossroads 2011

2011 Scores

Accountability and Public Voice
(0 = WORST, 7 = BEST)


Civil Liberties
(0 = WORST, 7 = BEST)


Rule of Law
(0 = WORST, 7 = BEST)


Anti-Corruption and Transparency
(0 = WORST, 7 = BEST)


Greece became front page news in 2010 after an economic crisis erupted when the country proved unable to raise sufficient funds to refinance its mounting debts. Greece has never been rich in natural resources nor able to develop heavy industry, but its economy has benefited from political stability since the 1974 transition to democracy as well as economic growth in the late 1990s and the first half of the 2000s. A relatively old member state of the European Union (EU), which it joined in 1981, Greece did not engage in much-needed structural economic reforms and public sector reforms in order to sustain economic prosperity on a par with other EU member states.

Greece also caught attention in 2010 because of the extent of social mobilization against government austerity measures. In a May 2010 demonstration in downtown Athens, three bank employees were killed after a petrol bomb was thrown inside their bank office, which caught fire. In December 2010, demonstrators physically attacked a former minister of the previous center-right government (2007–2009). Other similar, if not as violent, reactions and recurring general strikes indicate that at least part of the Greek public is extremely distrustful of political and economic institutions. 

The Greek economy is based on agriculture, construction, tourism, banking, and other services, which have contributed to rising living standards since the early 1980s. Greece is a member of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and is among the 30 richest countries in the world. However, long-term structural problems, the lack of access to or interest in innovation and new technologies, a disconnect between education and employment, and the bloated state sector have made Greece a laggard in terms of economic competitiveness.

Greece’s recent history includes short-lived dictatorships (1925–1926, 1936–1940, and 1967–1974) and a civil war between royalists/conservatives and communists (1946–1949) followed by a democratic but strongly anticommunist parliamentary regime that restricted the political freedoms of left-wing voters (1949–1967). In 1967, a group of right-wing colonels installed a military dictatorship, which fell in 1974 after the colonels staged a short-lived coup d’état against the democratically-elected government of the Republic of Cyprus. In the midst of a security crisis with Turkey, which had invaded the island, the junta transferred power to a civilian government under Constantine Karamanlis. He founded a center-right party (New Democracy, ND), won the November 1974 elections, and ruled until 1981.

Andreas Papandreou, the populist/socialist leader of the Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK) and de facto leader of growing anti-right opposition, won the 1981 elections and governed until 1989 and again in 1993–1996, after a brief, center-right government interlude. The socialists remained in power from 1996 to 2004 under the leadership of Costas Simitis, a pro-European social democrat.

The ND came back to power in 2004–2009, this time led by Costas Karamanlis, nephew of the founder of the postauthoritarian Greek democracy. While the Karamanlis governments pursued some necessary reforms, for example concerning property rights and university education, they proved unable to reform the economy. Moreover, in 2007–2009 ND lost control of the fiscal management of the state and let unemployment rise and the negative balance of payments worsen. Karamanlis lost the October 2009 election to George Papandreou, the leader of PASOK and son of the party’s founder.

Greece has been in grave economic crisis since the end of 2009. Greece’s deficit soared to well over 12 percent of its gross domestic product and more than four times the official Eurozone limit. The government’s efforts to address the crisis, including freezing public sector salaries and bonuses and increasing taxes, have spurred massive national antigovernment and anti-austerity strikes and protests.

In addition to the constraints of the economic crisis, Greece’s political landscape is characterized by enduring patterns of patronage, polarization between the center-right and the center-left parties, and a correspondingly polarized political culture. 

Until 2010, when the new PASOK government drastically cut recruitment to public sector jobs because of the crisis, the top echelons of state bureaucracy, including management positions in state-owned enterprises, were heavily politicized and were affected by every government turnover. Civic associations have low mobilizing capacities, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) find difficulties raising funds and attracting members, and political parties strongly influence labor, farmers’, and students’ unions. All this has led to a weak state apparatus, unable to implement laws and collect taxes; a weak civil society, unable to press the state and parties to proceed with reforms; and a frail economy, which is not reliably steered by the state.

Accountability and Public Voice: 

Greece is a parliamentary democracy with a strong executive comprised of the prime minister and government. Parliamentary elections take place regularly and are free and fair, with universal and equal suffrage. Electoral laws are effectively implemented and ballots are honestly tabulated without fraud or intimidation. Candidates occasionally raise minor electoral complaints or call for recounts. For example, in the European Parliament elections of June 2009 two small parties, the Greens and the ultra-nationalist Golden Dawn, complained that their ballots were not distributed to voters in some polling stations. Generally, however, the results of elections are not disputed.

Campaigning opportunities are formally equal for all competing parties, but the cost of campaigning, particularly through TV advertisements, is prohibitive for small parties. Parties are obliged to publish their balance sheets annually, candidates are prohibited from passing a certain threshold of campaign spending, and a parliamentary committee is entitled to review campaign costs and sanction individual trespassers. In practice, however, this committee has never sanctioned anyone, even though it is commonly assumed that private businesses fund selected ND and PASOK candidates in excess of the limit. Until 2009 it was common for the party in government to use state money to hire temporary government employees and advertise policy successes in order to attract votes.

The Greek government was highly centralized until 1994, when the first prefectural elections took place. Local government and prefectural authorities used to be largely dependent on the central government for funds and personnel. EU funding to the subnational level has contributed to the emancipation of subnational authorities from the Athens-based central services.

Legislation enacted in 2010 empowered the country’s regional authorities and the first-ever regional elections were held in November 2010, coinciding with local government elections. The government itself and parties of the opposition considered these elections a referendum on the ruling socialist party’s policies. Relatively low voter turnout notwithstanding, government-supported candidates prevailed in 8 of the 13 regions. In large cities, government-nominated or -affiliated mayoral candidates, such as those in Athens, Thessaloniki, Volos, and Herakleion, also won.

Parliament elects the President of the Republic, who has weak powers. The 300-seat unicameral parliament is controlled by the government. Since the 1974 transition to democracy the Greek party system and electoral legislation have favored the formation of single-party majority governments. The electoral system is only nominally based on proportional representation. Specifically, only 260 of the 300 seats are allocated to parties based on their nationwide performance; the system allocates to the front-running party the remaining 40 seats to secure a solid majority government. Any party that reaches the threshold of 3 percent of the national vote is represented in parliament.

In 1974–2010, with the exception of a brief 10-month interlude of coalition cabinets in 1989–1990, all governments were either ND or PASOK party governments. As a result, for almost four decades (1974–2010), governments have been able to pass legislation but also to politicize the public administration and handle domestic and foreign affairs, almost unopposed. The two main parties represent competing policy perspectives, but have converged ideologically on some policy issues, including foreign policy and privatization.

In the 2007 elections, ND won 152 of the 300 seats. PASOK controlled 92, the Communist Party 22, the nationalist/populist LAOS 14, and the Coalition of the Left 10. In the 2009 elections, PASOK won 160 of the 300 seats. ND won 91 seats, the Communist Party 21, LAOS 15, and the Coalition of the Left 13.

The parliament is not an effective check on executive power because of the weakness of the opposition and of parliamentary committees. There is a tradition of very strong party discipline, resulting in the expulsion of dissidents. Moreover, members of parliament lack adequate resources and staff to meaningfully participate in the legislative process. The government initiates legislation and draft bills are rarely rejected by Parliament, as governments rely on solid parliamentary majorities. The Higher Council for Administrative Personnel Selection (ASEP) administers civil service entrance examinations, and employment in ministries and other public bodies is supposed to be on the basis of open competition and merit. The civil service is not regarded as competent by the general population or informed observers, however; its notoriously bloated and politicized nature has played a prominent role in coverage of the recent financial crisis. Civil servants cannot be dismissed by an incoming government, but the selection and promotion of civil servants is in practice almost always permeated by party patronage. The party in power can heavily influence the composition of service councils responsible for promotions in the civil service hierarchy. In 2010 there were 768,000 civil servants (about 17 percent of the labor force)[1] and about 300,000 state-owned enterprise employees. The longstanding practice of appointing political supporters to fixed-term or project-based jobs as a form of patronage ended in 2009, when PASOK eliminated such openings because of the economic crisis.

Civil society operates freely without legal impediments, harassment, or onerous registration requirements and domestic and foreign donors are not subject to state pressures with regard to their contributions. However, civic associations do not attract adequate members or funds, and the state does not consider civic associations to be its natural interlocutors in the policymaking process. Citizens understand that the only organizations shaping policy are political parties, and divisions within civil society—e.g., within the labor or the student movement—mirror national-level divisions between political parties. Legal provisions require policy consultation with civic groups, for instance on environmental issues and consumer protection, but such provisions are rarely implemented and relevant groups rarely consulted.

Since the 1974 transition to democracy, the Greek media have operated in an environment in which basic freedom of expression is well respected. The state does not pressure privately owned media but can potentially influence views presented because it subsidizes the cost of paper for printed media and allocates state-paid advertisements. However, even subsidized media are free to express opposition to government policies, as they did during the recent period of austerity measures taken by the government.

Despite a generally free media environment, the first journalist to be killed in 20 years was murdered in July 2010. Sokratis Giolias, a maverick blogger who had recently contributed to an anonymous website covering political corruption and scandals, was shot dead outside of his Athens home by four assassins disguised as security guards. The website often carried undocumented stories in a ‘yellow press’ style of reporting. The blogger’s identity was revealed after his death, when other bloggers claimed that he was to publish a report on political corruption.  No one had been apprehended for his murder at the end of 2010.

There are 20 daily newspapers with nationwide circulation. Political views in the daily press range from the communist left to the far right. There are three state-owned and seven private TV channels. The government appoints the management and board of directors of the state-owned TV channels; until the mid-1990s this meant that the government enjoyed favorable coverage, but since the 2000s the coverage of political opinions by state TV channels has been balanced, and state funding of these channels does not limit access by opposition parties and civic critics.

Journalists and commentators who scrutinize government officials and policies rarely face libel or other legal harassment. Government intimidation and attacks are uncommon, although police were reportedly hostile to journalists covering the recent antigovernment demonstrations. According to some newspapers, such harassment included the use of physical violence and forcing journalists to delete pictures of the protests. The government does not censor print, broadcast, or web-based media, and internet access is generally unrestricted, although Greek officials blocked Google Maps’ “street view” function in May 2009.[2]  

Civil Liberties: 

Individual and collective rights are protected in Greece. However, protection from physical abuse by officers of the state is uneven for irregular immigrants, asylum seekers, and Roma.[3] Police have also used excessive measures, such as very large quantities of tear gas, against citizen demonstrations. When police abuses occur, perpetrators are rarely punished, not so much due to a cover up by the bureaucracy as because of the dysfunctional justice system (for example, long delays in the distribution of justice, corruption, and a plethora of regulations that, if adroitly exploited by the defense, can lead to acquittal). An extreme case of police brutality was the murder of 15-year-old Alexandros Grigoropoulos, who in early December 2008 was shot dead by a policeman with whom the victim and his friends had exchanged insults. The incident provoked outrage among students, unions, human rights groups, and anarchists. The ensuing weeks of violent demonstrations and street blockages in Athens and Thessaloniki lasted until Christmas and shook the country.[4] In 2010, the policeman involved in the case was sentenced to life imprisonment.

Prisons suffer from overcrowding (in a few cases the number of inmates exceeds capacity by 50 percent). In 2003–2010 the number of prison inmates rose by 26 percent and the number of prison detainees by 41 percent (excluding detainees who are irregular immigrants and kept in detention centers).[5] International organizations, such as the Council of Europe, have publicly criticized the Greek government for tolerating unacceptable living conditions in prisons and for the degrading treatment of prisoners.[6] Even before the economic crisis that erupted in 2009 the Greek state did not possess adequate resources to manage this problem. In November 2008, 7,000 prison inmates went on an 18-day hunger strike; 9,000 inmates participated in another in December 2010. The state lacks the resources to upgrade prisons and in December 2008 decriminalized select acts in order to release some prisoners.

The state refrains from attacking activists and from arbitrary arrests. According to the constitution, detention without trial can last up to 18 months, and it is not uncommon for pre-trial detention to reach that time limit, after which detainees are released. This is not the case, however, for foreigners who have unlawfully entered the country; immigrants are detained between 10 days and 6 months. Immigrants from Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Georgia may even be held longer in an effort to convince Turkey (the borders of which they cross to enter Greece) to take them back.

The increase in the numbers of people detained and imprisoned is associated not only with the influx of irregular immigrants, which dates back to the fall of communism in Eastern Europe in 1989, but also to a rise in crime in 2000–2008. The number of serious crimes reported to the police jumped from 45 per 100,000 people in 2000 to 67 in 2008. However, violent crimes did not increase as dramatically: in the same time span there was only an 11 percent increase in instances of bodily harm and a 7 percent increase in the number of murders.[7] Greek officials have also attempted to suppress this increase in crime with police officer deployments and motorbike patrols.

Greece is one of the major human trafficking channels from South Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa, and Eastern Europe towards Western Europe, particularly for women and children. A 2010 U.S. State Department report ranked Greece among the countries least able to meet the minimum standards to eliminate trafficking. Greece has made some progress, however, particularly with regard to prosecuting labor and sex trafficking offenses and child crime prevention.[8]

Over the last 30 years the state was unable to protect the highest ranks of the Greek elite from violent attacks. Until the early 2000s, small domestic anticapitalist terrorist organizations, such as the Revolutionary Organization 17th November and the Revolutionary Popular Struggle, targeted high-profile politicians, businesspeople, and Western diplomats. Gradually, since the early 2000s, security forces have succeeded in arresting the members of these organizations, most of whom are now imprisoned. A similar organization under the name of Conspiracy of Fire Nuclei was active in 2009–2010, alongside the Sect of Revolutionaries. In June 2010 a high-ranking police officer, who served as chief of staff of the Greek minister of public order, was killed when a parcel bomb exploded in his hands.

In April 2010, the police arrested the leader and almost all members of the terrorist organization Revolutionary Popular Struggle. In winter 2010 the Greek police caught several of the Conspiracy group’s members, who were in the process of mailing parcel bombs to top politicians in other European countries.[9] From January to June 2010 there were 10 bomb attacks, usually late at night. Terrorists used makeshift bombs intended to cause damage to government buildings, police centers, and private bank branches. Further bomb attacks took place in fall 2010, including one that blasted the facade of an Athens court on December 30, 2010. Terrorists always call in advance in order to have the affected buildings evacuated by the police. Parties of the left and the right vehemently reject such forms of political violence, but there is a rising political culture of violent challenges posed to the state from below.

When their rights are violated Greek citizens can resort to the courts or other legal institutions, including various services or ministry hotlines. The ombudsman is an independent public agency that intervenes between citizens and the public administration. The ombudsman can make recommendations to the administration and alert the prosecutor’s office of criminal law violations, but has no prosecutorial powers.

For at least 20 years, large numbers of people have tried to enter the EU through countries at the European periphery, including Greece. The actual number of persons who have sought to enter Greece illegally is unknown, but the total numbers apprehended at the country’s borders by police and coast guard forces are telling: in 2009, 126,000 people were apprehended, while in the first nine months of 2010, the corresponding number was 96,000.[10] In a country with a population of 11 million, there are presently more than 1 million immigrants, among whom about 350,000 to 450,000 are estimated to be without legal papers.[11] Immigrants who enter Greece irregularly normally try to continue their journey, aiming to reach other EU member states. The EU assigned some resources and staff in the fall of 2010 to help Greek authorities monitor the country’s land and sea borders, but both Greece and the EU lack the administrative capacity and political resolve to adequately undertake this task.

There are frequent instances of mistreatment of and discrimination against minorities, including the Roma, immigrants, and asylum seekers. Immigrants in particular are vulnerable to mistreatment by authorities and to violent attacks by far-right extremists. Mistreatment of immigrants takes several forms, including physical abuse and abnormally long detention periods. In June 2007, a video was leaked showing police officers hitting two detained immigrants and forcing them to hit each other. The government opened a judicial inquiry against the involved officers and dismissed the station’s chief officer from his post. In October 2009, a Pakistani immigrant died in his home after being released from police custody; his relatives claimed that the police tortured him and that he succumbed to internal wounds. Detention centers often have appalling living conditions and lack sufficient medical and social services, particularly for unaccompanied minors.[12]

Greece has been criticized by international organizations and NGOs for its unusually stringent asylum policy. For example, in 2008, no Afghans seeking asylum received it, despite the ongoing conflict there.[13] Moreover, there is a huge backlog of asylum petitions on appeal: about 45,000 such cases were pending at the end of 2010.

The state generally protects the civil and political rights of women equally well with those of men, but it has proven unable to address the problem of domestic violence effectively. There are state, municipal, and NGO services available to women who have fallen victim of such violence.[14] The General Secretariat for Gender Equality, an independent government agency, has trained police to work with victims of domestic violence and provides victims with counseling and assistance.

In 2000, the EU adopted directives for eliminating gender discrimination in the workplace, and there have since been improvements in adapting domestic legislation to EU standards of nondiscrimination, law enforcement, and education. The General Secretariat of Gender Equality has been pivotal in this work. Women earn an average of 80 percent of men’s earnings, and women’s unemployment is much higher (16.1 percent for women as compared to 9.7 percent for men in the third trimester of 2010).[15] In Western Thrace, Muslim women face official discrimination, as among that minority Sharia law is implemented by muftis in matters of family and inheritance law. Their decisions are sanctioned by Greek courts, which rarely dispute the muftis’ judgments. 

Estimates about the size of the Roma community in Greece range between 110,000 and 500,000 people.[16] The central government has made efforts to integrate Roma communities into broader society, primarily through educational and healthcare programs, but efforts have been inconsistent. For instance, according to the NGO Greek Helsinki Monitor and the Greek chapter of Amnesty International, from June 2007 to January 2008 a group of about 100 Romany families, living in shacks made of cardboard, plastic, and tin, were forcibly evicted four times from different neighborhoods of western Athens.[17]

Acquiring Greek citizenship, which is based on having parents who are citizens rather than on place of birth, remains extremely difficult. However, in March 2010, the socialist government passed a law allowing permanent residents of Greece to vote in municipal elections and granting immigrant children born in Greece the opportunity to acquire citizenship. In the November 2010 municipal elections, about 13,000 immigrants voted. Despite some cumbersome processes, this policy shift is a step forward.

The state does not recognize special status for ethnic and linguistic minorities, such as the Turkish- and Pomak-speaking groups residing in northeastern Greece close to the border with Turkey. Greece does not recognize a collective but only an individual right to self-identification, and Greek courts have rejected the claims of associations of Greeks who wish to collectively identify themselves as Turkish or Macedonian. On the other hand, the rights of the Muslim minority of Thrace are protected under the clauses of the Treaty of Lausanne, signed between Greece and Turkey in 1923 after the end of the war between the two countries. Greek authorities face criticism for the practice of appointing the religious leaders (muftis) of the Muslim minority.

People with disabilities face discrimination in the form of inaccessibility, despite the existence of comprehensive accessibility legislation since 2000. They can rarely use public buses and are mostly unemployed. State-run schools often neglect the special needs of disabled children.[18] Such children face social exclusion, have difficulties accessing school buildings, cannot count on specialized social care, and may be forced to leave school altogether owing to the lack of trained personnel able to work with them in school classrooms.

Freedom of religion is well protected, even though the constitution grants the Greek Orthodox Church preeminent status. The vast majority of Greeks (97 percent) are Christian Orthodox. There are small but historically important minorities of Protestants and Catholics, the latter mostly residing on a few islands of the Aegean. The Greek Orthodox Church’s personnel are on the state payroll and the sees of Christian Orthodox metropolitan bishops enjoy the legal status of a public body, equivalent to that of state hospitals or state universities.

In the past, metropolitan bishops were asked to give their consent before a building license was given by town planning authorities for a new house of worship of a religion or dogma other than Christian Orthodox. Under the socialist government that came to power in 2009, this requirement was abolished; bishops are now consulted on the matter without enjoying decision-making powers. However, bureaucratic hurdles remain and have a negative impact on the religious life of Muslim migrants who live outside Thrace. 

While in Thrace there are approximately 300 mosques, serving about 100,000 Muslims, there is still no official mosque for the approximately 200,000 to 300,000 Muslim residents of Athens and Thessaloniki. As result, Muslims in these areas worship in converted apartments or warehouses. The Greek Orthodox Church, the populist-nationalist party LAOS, and the nationalist media have reacted strongly to the prospect of an official mosque in Athens for which the PASOK government allocated space in 2011 in a converted naval base in Athens.  

Freedoms of association and assembly are guaranteed and protected. The right to collective protest is freely exercised, including sit-ins in university buildings and the headquarters of state-owned enterprises and blocking of major thoroughfares. For example, a citizens’ movement by the name of “Can’t pay, won’t pay” has periodically used force to close down toll booths on national highways protesting the rise of tolls. Also, in the 12-month period between when Greece resorted to the financial rescue mechanism (May 2010) and April 2011, the center of Athens was closed to traffic at least one to two days per week because of protests against wage cuts, transfers, or dismissals, mostly by public sector employees. Often such protests were hijacked by more violent elements among the demonstrators or by left-wing groups that attacked shops or banks. Police rarely intervened on such occasions, unless social protest escalated to violence that put people at risk.

Trade unions have ample institutional space to mobilize and influence decision making. Public sector labor unions have an organizational density of 70 or 80 percent, although private sector unions have an average density of only 15 percent. Negotiations with business representatives on compensation and labor relations take place every two years, under the monitoring of the central government. Certain unions of state-owned enterprises have been strong enough to block recurrent attempts at pension reform (eventually voted by PASOK in 2010) and keep average annual salaries for their members above the salary levels of civil servants and private sector employees. The average salary in the public sector can be higher than the corresponding one in the private sector by a margin as high as 40 percent. The Greek system of interest representation resembles a corporatist one, with a nationwide association for private sector workers and employees and a second nationwide peak association for civil servants. These associations mostly represent permanent workers. Weaker unions, such as those of fixed-term and temporary workers, enjoy much less protection. A dramatic example of this is the case of Constantina Kouneva, a Bulgaria immigrant worker and union activist of an association of cleaners, who had acid poured on her in December 2008 by people allegedly in the service of the cleaning company owner. Kouneva survived the attack but is still ailing, and the offenders were never apprehended.

Rule of Law: 

The Greek justice system is independent and courts are managed autonomously by the magistrates themselves. According to the Constitution, the government appoints the presidents and vice presidents of all three higher-level courts (the Supreme Court, named Areios Pagos; the highest administrative law court, named the Council of State; and the state’s Audit Office). However, in 2010 PASOK passed legislation granting a high-profile parliamentary body the power to nominate the justices of the three courts. This body, which selects justices by reinforced majority rule, is composed of the president and the vice presidents of the parliament, meaning that no political party can handpick the justices it favors. As a result, the upper echelons of the justice system are much less politicized than before, and the leverage the government previously had in the appointment of justices and the outcomes of politically-sensitive trials has diminished.

Judges obtain training in the National School of Judges. Access to the school is based on competitive entrance examinations. After they graduate from that school, judges are appointed in a fair and transparent manner.

Executive and other government authorities do not always comply with judicial decisions. From time to time, for example, municipal authorities delay implementing court decisions on property disputes and ministries do the same with regard to disputes about promotions and employee compensation. The sporadic refusal of municipal and ministerial authorities to comply with court decisions can be accounted for by the lack of mechanisms overseeing the functioning of central and local government authorities and a tradition of diminished expectations about the pace at which the Greek bureaucracy reacts to any external stimulus. Moreover, mayors sometimes claim political credit by showing their local voters that they are independent from the central administration or even the courts. These issues are resolved through initiation of further court procedures on the same case. In very extreme cases (e.g. criminal law violations), mayors are removed from their post.

Anyone charged with a criminal offence is presumed innocent, and due process is followed by independent tribunals. Prosecutors are free from political pressure, except in cases of domestic terrorist organizations, such as the 17th of November and Revolutionary Popular Struggle groups; in these cases, prosecutors have worked closely with the minister of public order. Citizens have access to independent counsel, and lawyers represent citizens without fear of repercussion. The state provides competent counsel to indigent defendants through the appointment of lawyers from among members of the Athens Bar Association or the corresponding associations in other cities.

All branches of justice (civil, criminal, and administrative) share a series of common problems, namely a plethora of regulations, particularly as far as labor, social security, and tax legislation are concerned, leaving room for courts to pass contradictory decisions; the concomitant propensity of the state to allow courts to decide on numerous labor and tax-related disputes, thus turning courts into policymaking agencies; the serious understaffing of courts that, combined with the high number of cases, leads to long delays in distributing justice depending on the district in question (for instance, in Athens civil law cases may take between one and three years and administrative law cases can take between three and five years to be introduced to first-instance courts); the high fees citizens pay when seeking judicial protection; the fact that judges may lack the necessary skills to decide on complicated issues of economic transactions and economic crimes; and the fragmentation and overlap of competences, particularly of administrative courts, which provokes insecurity among those seeking judicial protection.

A wide range of law breakers, from those committing large-scale tax evasion to civil servants who abuse their power for personal gain to policemen abusing immigrants, benefit from the dysfunctions of the justice system. Often it is not so much the inefficiency of the system but the lack of political will that amounts to very few among those prosecuted being eventually sanctioned. Such a lax attitude toward trespassing of rules reigns not only in state-citizen relations but also within the boundaries of public administration. For example, successive ministers of interior, who are in charge of civil service personnel, have discovered that civil servants brought in front of disciplinary councils for violations of the civil service code are seldom sanctioned within reasonable time.

There is full civilianDescription: Close control over security forces and the military, which never interfere with the political process. Still, the lack of adequate mechanisms to control corruption throughout the state apparatus has a negative impact on security and military forces. It is difficult to estimate the extent of corruption involved in the interaction between police officers, on the one hand, and owners of night clubs, drug dealers, and ringleaders of human trafficking networks, on the other. Apprehended officers charged with corruption offences or violation of human rights are subjected to disciplinary measures that damage their careers, but trials in criminal courts may take a long time to complete.

Problems with implementing the rule of law have an impact on the country’s business environment. The 2011 World Bank Doing Business report rated Greece 109 of 183 countries overall, and 88 of 183 countries for contract enforcement.[19] Greece’s overall ranking marks a 12-position drop from the previous year. Although the same report acknowledges that doing business in Greece has become easier since 2006, Greece is ranked in the bottom sixth of all 183 countries in terms of the ease of starting a business, registering property, and protecting investors.

Property rights are guaranteed by law, but it is telling that the process to create a nationwide land registry began only four years ago and is still not complete. The state protects citizens from unfair confiscation of property, however it is not uncommon for privately owned empty plots of land in downtown areas to be claimed by municipal authorities as land earmarked for erecting municipal buildings. Long legal disputes follow such decisions, as landowners fight for fair compensation.

Anti-Corruption and Transparency: 

Greeks, regardless of social status, associate their encounters with the central public administration and local government with loss of time and low quality of service. As Eurobarometer attitudinal surveys indicate, in Greece there is very high distrust of political and administrative institutions, comparable to that in postcommunist European societies.[20] Resorting to petty corruption by bribing a lower-ranking civil servant or pressing a member of the political elite to intervene in one’s favor can reduce the time wasted because of bureaucratic red tape. In a 2008 survey, 13 percent of Greeks admitted to paying bribes in order to pay less in doctors’ fees, permits, tax payments, and other expenses. The total of such payments was reportedly equal to $950 million in 2008.[21]

Higher-level corruption also has structural causes, including the overconcentration of power in the hands of a few scores of politicians and heads of state-owned enterprises; the sprawling nature of the Greek public sector, which dominates major sectors of the economy, including electrical power and land transport; and a lack of transparency in relations between the state and private actors. Allegations of corruption against politicians of both major parties include the swapping in 2007 of high-priced state-owned property in downtown Athens with agricultural lands belonging to the Vatopedi monastery in Northern Greece, and ongoing shadow deals between higher officials of the Greek Ministry of Defense and a German company for the purchase of submarines at very high cost in 2000 and 2002; upon delivery, the first of these submarines proved defective. Neither of these cases has been cleared, and it remains to be seen whether allegations will be substantiated by facts.

In October 2010, Transparency International ranked Greece 78 among 178 countries. Greece’s Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) score (3.5 on the scale from 0.0 to 10.0) was far lower than other EU member states, including Bulgaria and Romania. In the past, Greece fared better; in 2001, it was ranked 42 among 91 countries, with a score of 4.2; and in 2005 it was ranked 47 among 158 countries, with a score of 4.3.[22] While this is just an indication of perceptions of corruption, it is probably true that corruption has increased in specific quarters of the administration. On the other hand, the CPI does not reflect recent efforts to increase transparency. The legal right to information has been expanded, the budget-making process is subject to close legislative review, and expenditure accounting is required and enforced, even though ailing public companies may take more than reasonable time to publish their accounts.

In his latest report (2009), the General Inspector of Public Administration—an independent public authority founded in 2002—has noted that corruption is extensive in local government, town planning, transport, public works, public health services, and education.[23] In all these sectors, corruption takes two forms: petty and higher-level corruption. In the first case, individuals, such as small entrepreneurs, may offer bribes to officials for a small favor (e.g. paying a small rather than a large fine for illegalities in their records); in the second case, organizations, such as large businesses, may make under-the-table arrangements with the top officials of a taxation authority to avoid heavy fines for tax evasion.

With regard to education, even though university entrance examinations are very well monitored by national authorities, there is a high probability of corruption related to the distribution of overpriced academic textbooks to students of state universities. Students are entitled to one such textbook per academic course for free, and the state pays the inflated cost to publishers.

Various anticorruption agencies are responsible for channeling corruption cases to the justice system. In addition to the General Inspector mentioned above, the Financial and Economic Crime Unit (SDOE) of the Ministry of Finance fights money-laundering, fraud, and large-scale tax and customs evasion. In addition, the Office of the Ombudsman, which can also unearth cases of corruption by investigating complaints of individual citizens against the central public administration and local government, was founded in 1997. Whistleblowers, anticorruption activists, and investigators are protected by law, but the dysfunctions of the justice system do not help them or the prosecutors working on cases of corruption to quickly arrive at tangible results. This includes the prosecution of officials implicated in corruption. After assuming office in 2009, Prime Minister George Papandreou acknowledged the systemic corruption and red tape in the state and set out an anticorruption plan. In 2009 the staff of the General Inspector examined 4,440 cases of allegedly illegal conduct of civil servants; in 20 percent of these cases they concluded that there were indications of violation of criminal law.[24] The relevant evidence was passed on to the prosecutors of the Areios Pagos court in order to press charges against civil servants involved.

After a slow start in the mid-1990s, privatization and deregulation have spread in the banking sector and in public utilities. Today, most banks and large formerly state-owned enterprises, such as the National Telecommunications Organization, are in private hands. However, in 2007–2009 there was little progress in that field, with the exception of state-owned Olympic Airways, which was finally privatized after sustaining heavy losses for many years. The state remains the sole owner in sectors such as electrical power, mail service, waterways, and railways. Resistance to privatization is the result of a lack of political will and adequate planning on the part of successive governments. There is also opposition by strong public sector unions, and considerations of social justice: after privatization takes place, there is the prospect of the creation of oligopolies and a rise in consumer prices. This prospect may not be the result of regulatory capture but of the fact that wherever large private businesses dominate a sector (for example, dairy products, sea transport lines linking major ports to the Greek islands, and domestic airlines), the Greek state authorities have been incapable of monitoring the quality of products and services and protecting consumers from unpredictable changes in the price policies of the one or two companies that completely control the market.

Corruption in Greece is related not so much to the process of privatization, as the processes have been reasonably competently managed, but to the entanglement of the public and private sectors in the process of public tenders (for example, the construction of national highways) and the financing of electoral campaigns of political parties. Greek laws for government contracting have periodically been amended in order to improve transparency; the tendency to inflate the cost of projects, which hides side payments made to politicians and high-ranking officials; and the forging of bonds among businesspeople, decision makers, and the mass media. A 2010 law that requires all ministerial decisions to be publicized on the official websites of the relevant ministries is a step forward. However, further progress toward transparent public contracting may be halted by the lack of relevant managerial skills among civil service personnel, the slowness of ministerial planning, and the clientelist reflexes of political elites always ready to resort to sole-source rather than competitive processes.

The lack of public access to executive branch information has contributed to low transparency. Past legislation on freedom of information (FOI), dating back to 1986 and 1999, has been underutilized either because citizens and organizations were not interested in asking for information or because the law allows for wide-ranging exceptions. While this is a common issue with FOI laws, the relevant Greek laws include among the exceptions any cases of conflict with privacy rights of individuals, the minutes of sessions of the Greek cabinet, as well as any instances in which judicial, administrative, police, and military authorities judge that disclosing information may endanger official research on any violation of criminal or public administrative law. Responses to formal requests for information by the central government are often slow, as public organizations are unable or unwilling to provide the required data because they have not kept proper statistical records.

  • Specific measures should be implemented so that public employees acquire the necessary training to facilitate the provision of services to immigrants, starting from basic information regarding their human rights.
  • With regard to the treatment of Roma and immigrants, civil servants should be trained to understand discrimination and how it affects members of these groups; which Greek and international laws protect them; and what can be done to ameliorate the discriminatory treatment minority members receive from state authorities.
  • The electoral system should be changed: multiple-seat districts, where too many candidates compete to be elected, should be divided up into smaller districts. The preference vote system should be changed to a party list so that candidates will not have to compete against members of their own party.
  • With regard to public procurement, a separate branch of the justice system should be created from among the currently-serving magistrates and entrusted with swiftly processing all cases related to tenders that are pending in the courts for any reason.
  • Anticorruption measures should be strengthened. Specific anticorruption units should be organized within each ministry, which will function as the local antennae of the General Inspector of Public Administration.

[1] “Got the Message,” Inside Greece (blog), August 9, 2010,

[2] “Greece puts brakes on Street View,” BBC News, May 12, 2009,

[3 Human Rights Watch, “Greece,” World Report 2011,

[4] “Students Clash with Greek Police,” Sky News, December 8, 2008,

[5] Our own elaboration of statistical data of the Greek Ministry of Justice available (in Greek) at, accessed May 24, 2011.

[6] European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (Council of Europe), “Public statement concerning Greece,” March 15, 2011,

[8] U.S. Department of State—Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, Trafficking in Persons Report 2010 (U.S. Department of State, June 2010),

[9] Rachel Donadio, “Greece-Italy Anarchist Link Seen in Letter Bombs,” New York Times, December 28, 2010,

[10] Data of the Ministry of Citizen’s Protection, November 2010.

[11] Interview with Dr. Thanos Maroukis, expert on migration studies, ELIAMEP Foundation, Athens, May 11, 2011.

[12] “Report on undocumented imigrants” (in Greek), Doctors Without Borders, June 2010,

[13] “Criminalisation of Migration in Europe: Human Rights Implications,” Council of Europe—Commissioner for Human Rights, February 4, 2010,

[14] Figures cited in the Athenian newspaper To Vima (in Greek), December 9, 2010,, accessed May 11, 2011.

[15] Unemployment rate data of the Hellenic Statistical Authority (in Greek),, accessed December 26, 2010.

[16] See (in Greek), accessed May 11, 2011.

[17] “Greece: forced to move from place to place,” Amnesty International, September 30, 2010,

[18] “2009 Human Rights Report: Greece,” U.S. Department of State-Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, March 11, 2010,

[19 “Ease of Doing Business in Greece,” World Bank and International Finance Corporation,, accessed December 27, 2010.

[20] See “Standard Eurobarometer” surveys 61 (Spring 2004, with data also from Autumn 2003), 62 (Autumn 2004), 68 (Autumn 2007), and 72 (Autumn 2009), European Commission,, accessed December 30, 2010.

[21] “Survey says Greek bribery up,” February 2009,, accessed May 27, 2011.

[22] “Corruption Perception Index” for 2001, 2005 and 2010, Transparency International,, accessed December 23, 2010.

[23] “Annual Report of the General Inspector of Public Administration for 2009” (in Greek), July 2010,, accessed on December 24, 2010.

[24] “Data of the General Inspector of Public Administration” (in Greek),, accessed May 15, 2011.