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18 January, 2001
Prime Minister Costas Simitis on Wednesday signaled the end of the "post dictatorship era" and called for the end of the "paternalistic state of the past", delivering the opening address to Parliament's session for the discussion of the proposed amendments to the constitution.
"The end of the post-dictatorship era calls us to organize a new political system free from the weights of the past. That is exactly what we are aiming for with the amendments to the constitution," Simitis said, adding that the new constitution "will prove to be a great weapon against those who insist in refusing progress, to those that feel accommodated in the ruins of the old state powers".
"It is an important weapon against those who continue to think that rights and democracy can be objects of negotiations ... a main weapon against intolerance, flag-waving, racism, xenophobia," the premier noted.
The second focal point of Simitis' speech centered on individual rights, which he called an essential component for the development of citizens' personality, saying, "it is a radically different attitude in relation to the state paternalism of the past".
He said that the amendments "would shield the independence and development of every citizen and person who lives in Greece. It will become the springboard for the freeing of the creative forces of our society to follow on the way of its radical modernization".
"The amendments to the Constitution are the pinnacle of efforts (to provide freedoms and democratic rights for citizens). It is a mark that consolidates the gains of the past few years in constitutional form and heralds a new period of important initiatives for the reinvigoration of our democracy," Simitis said.
"The amendments are focused on two targets: the strengthening of the rights of citizens and the rule of law, and the consolidation of the credibility of democracy," he said, adding "the new rights for the participation in the information era, for the protection of private personal information, for the protection in light of the developments of bio-medicine, express in the best possible way the strengthening of the individual rights the new constitution wants to safeguard".
The premier also said that the amendments were designed to provide for transparency in the dealings of citizens with the state with the Constitutional establishment of independent "authorities" charged with the protection of citizens' rights, saying that efforts to date aimed at "consolidating the belief that our political system does not operate with the use of personal relationships, favoritism towards party members and non-transparent processes".
He called the proposed amendments to the Constitution one of the most important initiatives of the PASOK government since its election victory in 1993, and closed his address noting that he and his government were fully conscious of their historic responsibility to apply the principles of the new constitution in every day life.
ND leader says his party will seek climate of consensus in constitution amendment debate:
Addressing Parliament on Wednesday, on the first day of the debate on proposed constitutional amendments, main opposition New Democracy party leader Costas Karamanlis said his party will seek a climate of consensus during the debate and pointed out that "there is no question of party discipline on our part."
Karamanlis said a "ruthless attempt to manipulate political life is taking place, crucial political decisions are dictated and imposed on the government by elements lying outside institutions and the exercising of power is slipping from institutional centers to parameters lying outside institutions".
"An extremely dangerous situation is being shaped of interdependence between politics, economic power and those who shape public opinion which conflicts with legality and the public interest and deals a blow at the development process and the interests of the taxpayers, consumers and businessmen at the cost of democracy and falsifies popular sovereignty," he said.
Karamanlis also placed emphasis on the issue of consolidating transparency, regarding both the finances of political parties and candidates, as well as the structure and operation of the mass media.
He further called for the shielding of the democratic form of government with institutions and apparatuses which are necessary for the protection of democracy's essence and quality and "for the country's riddance from the morbid and decadent phenomena of the recent past".
"It is necessary for us to act with courage and unselfishness, to ignore whatever political cost, to look at tomorrow and forge ahead," he said, adding that "we are undertaking our responsibilities directly. It is time for the government and the majority supporting it to undertake their own great responsibilities."
Other Party Leaders:
Outlining her party's policy during the debate, Communist Party of Greece (KKE) Secretary General Aleka Papariga said "the new constitution is being amended on a more reactionary basis and the lesser evil for us would be for it to stay as it is."
Referring to article 28 on rules concerning international law and international treaties, she said it "legalizes the prevalence of international barbarism in all its forms."
Papariga said on the enactment of a Foreign Policy Council that "the more consensually it functions the more its results will be dangerous" since the country's foreign policy "is being crystallized in the logic of the new doctrine of NATO and the EU."
She also warned that individual rights and data cannot be protected at a time when the country is participating in the Schengen Treaty.
Coalition of the Left and Progress leader Nikos Constantopoulos said on his part that "the amendment is attempting to manage legally the aspects of certain problems. It lacks radical directions and does not bring changes."
Constantopoulos said consensus among parties cannot be requested by PASOK and ND on the widening of the private sector at the expense of the public one or on the limitation of the independence of justice, while accusing the two mainstream parties of lacking ideological characteristics in the amendment process.
The debate on revising the Constitution began in Parliament on Wednesday before a full house, with a presentation by PASOK house sponsor Evangelos Venizelos, also Culture minister.
In statements regarding the contents of the revision proposed by PASOK, Venizelos said it focused on protecting the individual in the information and biotechnology society, on promoting participation by citizens, the principle of consensus and the principle of transparency.
PASOK's sponsor also complained that aspects of the constitutional revision which he considered important had been largely ignored by the mass media because they had not excited controversy and did not make good news fodder.
Among the important issues that this revision addressed, according to Venizelos, were those of regulating party finances and so-called political money, the electoral system and how this is altered and the legal and social position of women.
The debate which began on Wednesday is expected to be completed in about three months time, after which the proposed revisions will go to a vote. Revision of the Greek Constitution cannot be carried out by every Parliament but by Parliaments that have been mandated to amend specific clauses in the Constitution by the Parliament that precedes them.
The present Parliament has to decide on proposed amendments to 115 articles of the constitution. Of these, 108 were approved by the previous Parliament with a majority of more than 180 votes, which means that a simple majority of 150 votes is needed for them to be passed. The remaining seven did not get 180 votes in the previous Parliament and therefore require at least 180 yea votes to be passed.
The seven articles in question are art. 4 that constitutionally establishes alternative national service, art. 28 and 36 on the ratification of international agreements signed by Greece, art. 100 on the control of the constitutionality of laws by supreme court plenary, art. 93 on making public the views of the minority in court decisions, art. 80 on recording salaries in the budget and finally art. 32 on the process of electing a President of the Republic.
Restrictions to media ownership and financial dealings with state to apply for those with minimum percentage:
PASOK's house sponsor for the revising the Constitution, Culture minister Evangelos Venizelos, said on Wednesday that restrictions to being a public-sector contractor or supplier and an owner of mass media enterprises would only apply to people that had some minimum percentage of shares that gave them some realistic relation to the company in question.
Venizelos was reacting to newspaper reports regarding amendments to article 14 of the Constitution, which will forbid simultaneous media ownership and financial dealings with the state.
"As I have repeatedly said...the wording of article 14 as regards the constitutional status of the mass media is that which was decided on at PASOK's initiative by the Revision Committee, with all the restrictive clauses concerning related persons - such as relatives, investment firms and others - and possible infringements etc."
The only issue that has to be specified is the minimum number of shares that a person must have in order for the restrictions to apply. It is obvious that, according to the thinking of the Revision Committee, it is not enough for someone to have one or two shares but some measurable percentage. In other words, some relation with the controlled company. This is PASOK's clear and given position," he said.
Source: Athens News Agency