MEPs concerned by threats to EU values in Greece
A delegation of the Civil Liberties Committee was in Athens on 6-8 March 2023, to take stock of issues and allegations relating to the state of EU values in Greece.
The visit covered a wide range of topics, including media freedom and safety of journalists, migration policies, human rights and equal treatment, the use of spyware, the rule of law, and the fight against corruption. At the end of the visit, the Chair of the delegation Sophie IN ‘T VELD (RE, NL) issued the following statement on behalf of the delegation.
“The members of the delegation express their deep condolences to the families and loved ones of the victims of the tragedy at Tempi. We also wish to pay respect to the Greek people. The words “Pare me otan phtaseis” have become the expression of the immense pain and grief, of the disbelief of so many young lives lost. This tragedy affects the nation as a whole. As Europeans we stand with the Greeks.
The delegation is grateful for the rich and frank exchange with all interlocutors. It regrets that the Prime Minister, government ministers, police representatives, the Supreme Court Prosecutor and other officials were unavailable or refused to meet.
Although Greece has a solid institutional and legal framework, a vibrant civil society and independent media, the delegation notes that there are very serious threats to the rule of law and fundamental rights. Checks and balances, essential for a robust democracy, are under heavy pressure. Scrutiny by dedicated bodies and by free press is hollowed out, justice is extremely slow and ineffective, leading to a culture of impunity. Corruption is eroding public services and goods. Civil society organisations are under enormous pressure.
Nearly two years after the murder of Giorgos Karaivaz, there is no visible progress in the police investigation. Not only is no justice done to his family, but it sends a message that safety of journalists is no priority for the government. The case must be investigated without further delay, and the delegation urges the authorities to request assistance from Europol.
In addition, many journalists face physical threats, verbal attacks, including from high-ranking politicians and ministers, violation of their privacy with spyware, or SLAPPs. Media ownership by a small number of oligarchs negatively impacts media pluralism, resulting in dramatic under-reporting on certain topics. In the aftermath of the train accident, a common statement by Greek journalist associations also highlighted this problem.
Justice, checks and balances
We express our concern about the underfunding, understaffing, curtailing of the powers, opaque appointment procedures, and harassment and intimidation of officials of independent public bodies such as the Ombudsman, the Data Protection Authority, and the Authority for Communication Security and Privacy. We also note that the National Transparency Agency, which should play a vital role in scrutinising public authorities, does not seem to be effective and concerns have been raised about its independence. The ongoing harassment of anti-corruption prosecutor Eleni Touloupaki is also cause for grave concern.
The length of judicial proceedings, compounded with doubts over the integrity of parts of the police force, and conflicts of interest at the highest level, lead to a culture of impunity where corruption can thrive. These issues must be remedied as a matter of priority. Judgments of the European Court of Human Rights have to be implemented.
Equality, the rule of law, and respect for human rights
The treatment of migrants at the external borders and domestically, including reports about systematic pushbacks, violence, arbitrary detention and theft of their belongings, is highly unsettling. The restrictions imposed on NGOs and journalists reporting on migration should be lifted immediately. All initiatives contributing to more transparency, such as the pushback reporting mechanism by the Human Rights Commission, must be embraced and enhanced.
With regard to equal treatment, Greece has a solid legal framework and positive steps have been taken such as the creation of the new Human Rights Commission. However, the practice is very different for LGBTI people, Roma and other ethnic minorities and women. A majority of the delegation calls on all political forces to show leadership and promote societal change. Particular issues to be addressed are domestic violence, police violence and marriage equality.
Finally, the legislative process needs to be improved by introducing real and meaningful consultation and by abolishing the controversial practice of omnibus legislation.”
You can watch the press conference that took place at the end of the delegation’s visit here.
The MEPs of the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs who travelled to Athens were:
The delegation’s final programme included meetings with independent Greek authorities (National Transparency Authority, Data Protection Authority, Communication Security and Privacy, Ombudsman, National Commission for Human Rights, Asylum Service), as well as representatives of civil society, journalists, Frontex, the family of murder journalist Giorgos Karaivaz, and former prosecutor Eleni Touloupaki.
The fact-finding mission was organised under the remit of the Committee on Civil Liberties (LIBE) and in line with the DRFMG (working group on Democracy, Rule of Law and Fundamental Rights) mandate. The aim of the mission is to take stock of the new developments in the country, and to continue the DRFMG work dedicated to the situation in Greece, with special focus on the situation of the rule of law, fight against corruption and media freedom.
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