Greek Parliament - credits: wikipedia.org
Greek Parliament - credits: wikipedia.org

Greece is known for its beauty and culture. Yes, the country’s beaches might have taken the first place as an attraction for the countless tourists that visit it every year, however, the heritage that Greece has inherited to the whole world cannot be overlooked. 

The country in itself is a vast museum of unique historical and cultural value, with the Parthenon on the Acropolis, the Archaeological Museum, and the Acropolis Museum, among others, gathering massive crowds of people. After all, it is known that the incomparable exhibits of ancient Greece decorate the halls of international museums, which only testifies to the importance of Greek culture on an international level.

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Ancient Greece and its cultural heritage significantly influenced not only modern Greek culture but also European and world culture. The ancient Athenian Republic is the basis of the Republic of modern societies.

For the first time in the history of mankind, in ancient Greece, a state was created with laws, for which the citizens participate in their formation. In a democracy, all adult citizens have the right to vote, and laws are for the common good, not just the benefit of the rich and powerful.

Delve into a summary of the Greek political system and parliament, and discover the basis of Greek culture and history!

Democracy in Ancient Greece

Ancient Greek democracy - credits: en.wikipedia.org

The Athenian democracy reached its peak in the middle of the 5th century and its prosperity lasted for about thirty years, a period that went down in history as the ‘golden age of Pericles’. But the state with its separate institutions already existed forty years before Pericles and would survive until the time of the Macedonians, two hundred years later. In other words, it lived for almost three centuries, more than any other modern or ancient democracy. The great endurance in the time of the Athenian democracy is attributed by the scholars not only to the right institutions but also to their great adaptability and evolution. Institutions were born from the needs of life and therefore easily adapted to changing conditions. There were no brain creations of a wise head, even if it belonged to Solon.

The adaptability of the institutions is shown by the evolution of the institution of the king. In full democracy, in the time of Pericles, the archon king was drawn every year, a distant echo of the Mycenaean conquests, the last of which was Kodros. The institution was not abolished. It had evolved into a painless office for democracy with religious ritual responsibilities.

Cleisthenes may be considered the founder of the Athenian Republic, but he relied on the legislation enacted by Solon, who is without a doubt the father of democracy. When Solon drafted his laws, he did not have any illusions about their effectiveness. "The law," he said, "is like a spider's web: the small and the weak cling to it, while the strong tear it apart." Another example of straightforwardness and parsimony, which characterized the ancient Greek spirit.

Today’s Greece's Parliamentary System

Greece's Parliamentary System - credits: euractiv.com

The government of our country is called a Presiding Parliamentary Democracy.

1 Presiding, because the head of state is the President of the Republic. His power is limited in relation to that of the government, otherwise, our Republic would be called Presidential, as it is, for example, in Cyprus and the USA.

2 Parliamentary, because it relies on the Parliament of 300 deputies. The latter are elected by the people and vote, on the government, the President of the Republic, and various laws, on their behalf.

3 Democracy, because it operates on the principle of ‘popular sovereignty’. The people elect their representatives by free elections and they undertake to support the interests and views of the electorate. In this way, the citizens participate indirectly in the governance of the state.

In a democracy, everyone is considered free and equal to each other, they have the same rights and obligations, while they must work together for common progress and coexist harmoniously. It is worth noting, however, that freedom is the right of every human being to act as they wish, as long as they do not harm others and respect the laws of the state.

The current state of Greece was established in 1974. Then there was a change of government and our country passed from the military dictatorship from 1967 until 1974 to the Third Hellenic Republic which has been in practice since 1974.

The President of the Hellenic Republic

The interior of the Greek Parliament - credits: greece-is.com

The President of the Republic is the head of our state, although their role is more symbolic and ceremonial. Their power is limited, but it includes some top responsibilities, such as the appointment of the Prime Minister after elections, the mandate to form a government, and the representation of the country abroad with official visits.

The President is elected by the Greek Parliament for 5 years and their term can be extended only once, ie for another five years. The only exception to that rule was the first interim President in 1974.    

The Prime Minister of Greece

Kyriakos Mitsotakis, the current Prime Minister of Greece - credits: politico.eu

The Prime Minister of Greece ensures the unity of the Government and directs its actions, as well as the public services, for the implementation of the government policy within the framework of the Constitution and the laws. As heads of government, they exercise executive power, precisely defining government policy in the context of the decisions of the Council of Ministers and coordinating its implementation.

Responsibilities

The Prime Minister leads the Government and chairs the Council of Ministers as well as specialized collective government bodies, such as the Government Council on Foreign Policy and Defense.

The Prime Minister proposes the appointment and dismissal of the members of the Government and the Deputy Ministers, jointly with whom he exercises the foreign, defense, economic, social, and domestic policy of the country. By its decision, it assigns the exercise of responsibilities to the Ministers without portfolio and to the Deputy Ministers. By joint decision with the relevant Minister, it assigns the exercise of responsibilities to the Deputy Ministers. In addition, they oversee and evaluate the work of members of the Government and supervise the implementation of laws by public sector services and their operation in the interest of the state and citizens.

The Prime Minister may propose the passage of draft laws in the Greek Parliament and request the provision of a vote of confidence.

Moreover, the Prime Minister represents the Government abroad, in contacts with leaders and diplomats of other countries, in international organizations, as well as in the European Council, the summit of the leaders of the member states of the European Union.

The Prime Minister’s Appointment

The Prime Minister is appointed by the President of the Republic as the leader of the party that gathers the absolute majority of seats or they are appointed by an alliance of parliamentary parties with a formed majority in the Greek Parliament.

If no party obtains an absolute majority, then the President of the Republic gives an investigative mandate to form a government to the leader of the party that holds the relevant majority. If they fail to gather the required absolute majority in the parliament, the President of the Republic gives an investigative mandate to the leader of the second party in a parliamentary force, and if they do not succeed-, then to the leader of the third party. Each order is valid for three days.

If the investigative orders do not work, then all the leaders of the parliamentary parties are called by the President of the Republic in order to exhaust any possibility of forming an ecumenical government.

Although this process does not ensure the formation of a government, the President of the Republic seeks the formation of an electoral government from all parties in Parliament and in case of failure entrusts the formation of an electoral government, as widely accepted as possible, to one of the Presidents of the Supreme Courts, with a mission to lead the country to hold new parliamentary elections.

The Building

A royal palace before the Greek parliament

The Greek Parliament - credits: news.gtp.gr

The building that now houses the Parliament was originally built as the palace of the first king of Greece, Otto. On February 5, 1836, the construction of the palace in a carefully selected area began. The designs were made by the famous architect Frederick Geertner, designer, among others, of the Royal Palaces of Munich and the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg.

Connoisseur and admirer of ancient Greek architecture, Gairtner, tried to respect the ancient monuments of Athens by giving an imposing Doric style to the exterior of the Palace building with majestic gables and imposing colonnades. For interior decoration, he preferred the light architecture of the Ionian style.

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Two hundred selected craftsmen came from Naxos, Syros, and Tinos and built the Palace with the best building materials covering an area of ​​7,000 square meters. meters. The interior decoration was something unique for that time. Large halls of the Palaces were crafted with great care. The most famous were the thrones, the trophies, and the three ballrooms, which were decorated with magnificent frescoes and fine marbles.

After six years, the new building was handed over to the royal family of Otto, who lived in it for twenty years, then was inhabited by the kings of the new dynasty of Glücksburg.

In July 1884 a fire destroyed the northern part of the Palaces causing enormous damage. A second fire on December 24, 1909, burned the entire central part of the Palace. The then royal family was transferred to the country house of Dhekelia (Tatoiou) and never returned, while the heir to the throne had already settled in separate palaces erected on Herodou Street of Attica.

The Palace of the Old Palaces remained uninhabited until the Asia Minor catastrophe. In 1922, thousands of refugees took refuge in the dilapidated building and its enclosure, completing the irreparable damage done to the murals and decorations since the 1909 fire.

The Modern Parliament

The modern Parliament - credits: yerolymbos.com

The old Palaces of Syntagma Square were later used for a different purpose. In 1929 the Government decided to move the Parliament to them from the old Bouleuterion on Stadiou Street.

Significant changes were made with the designs of the architect Andreas Kriezis. In the summer of 1930, work began on converting the building to meet new needs. The entire central part that had been destroyed by the fire of 1909 was demolished. In its place were built the large meeting room and the Senate room, covered with glass to provide natural light. The rest of the building was maintained as it was built. Only the floors were removed and replaced with reinforced concrete slabs, without demolishing the walls. An additional entrance was also opened on the north side of the building.

The Senate was the first to settle in the renovated building of the Old Palaces on August 2, 1934. The Parliament was moved there a year later, on July 1, 1935, where the Fifth National Assembly began its work.

The Monument of the Unknown Soldier was added to the courtyard of the Old Palaces, which was designed with special care by the architect Lazaridis, in 1932, and has since been the focus of national celebrations.

Smaller changes were later made to the Parliament House to make it more functional for the MPs and the services it housed. The new MPs' lounge on the meridian side and the installation of air conditioning in the large halls are just a few examples.

Today, in addition to the three hundred representatives of the Nation, about seven hundred employees who coordinate its work move daily in the area of ​​the Palace of Parliament. The grandeur of the building, despite the misfortunes it has suffered, has not diminished. It stands in the center of Athens and is a preacher of the place's history.

The building currently houses only functions and services of the Parliament. In addition to the two large amphitheaters, the Parliament and the Senate, there is the Office of the Prime Minister and former Prime Ministers and Vice-Presidents, the offices of the President and former Speakers of Parliament, the Secretary-General, the parties, the Council of Ministers, part of the Library with a reading room -the rest of the Library has been moved to a new building on Lenorman Street-, rooms for journalists and various other ancillary services.

The building of the Greek Parliament, the Old Palace, always stands in its place, in the historic center of the capital, a simple and strict symbol of state authority and power. As long as this remains standing, with the monument of the Unknown Soldier at its base, it will embody for the Greek citizen the idea of ​​democracy.

An exhibition space

The exhibition space of the Greek Parliament - credits: greekcitytimes.com

In contrast to other exhibitions organized by various public bodies the exhibitions of the Greek Parliament have been organized and based on the principles of modern museology and use modern technology, such as audiovisual material.

The place where the exhibition space is located is of the highest commercial and tourist visibility. The space is also easily accessible to all social groups since it is located next to the Syntagma metro, making it convenient even for those who are not familiar with the city.

The texts that accompany the exhibitions are written in both Greek and English, so the foreign visitor can enjoy each exhibition to the fullest! It is worth noting that the Parliamentary Foundation can be visited by schools since there are educational programs adapted to children.

The Eleftherios Venizelos Hall

The Greek Parliament - credits: traveltoathens.eu

This room is one of the most historic but also the most beautiful rooms of the Parliament. It consists of the "Trophy Hall" and the "Supporters' room" and was renamed to "Eleftherios Venizelos" room in 1989.

In 1836, Louis I instructed the sculptor Ludwig Michel von Schwandler to make drawings for the frieze of the Hall of Trophies inspired by the Greek Liberation Struggle, and the work was completed in 1843 by the German painters Klauder Klauder. , Thomas Guggenberger, Franz Josef Wurm and Josef Serer, in collaboration with brothers Filippou and Georgios Margaritis.

In the same room, on July 9, 1961, the agreement for the association of Greece with the then European Economic Community (EEC) was signed, while on June 9, 1975, a few months after the fall of the Dictatorship, in a solemn session, the Constitution of the country was signed. the interim President of the Republic, Michael Stasinopoulos, the Prime Minister, Konstantinos Karamanlis, and the Speaker of Parliament, Konstantinos Papakonstantinou.

Finally, it is noted that in the Eleftherios Venizelos Hall was placed the golden wreath of wild olives offered by the municipal rulers of the country to Eleftherios Venizelos on September 15, 1920, as a sign of gratitude for the success of the signing of the Treaty of Sevres. The wreath that was "lost" after Venizelos's self-exile in 1935, was found and bought by Parliament on October 9, 1986, at an auction at Sotheby's in London.

The historic hall has been used since 1994 for periodic Exhibitions organized by the Library of Parliament and has hosted over twenty exhibitions to date.

The frieze of the Greek Revolution

The Greek Parliament - credits: tripadvsior.com

The frescoes of the ‘Tropaion Hall’ extend in the form of a frieze on all four walls, facing north to west, in a 120 cm strip, with a total length of 59 meters.

The frieze performances were designed in 1836, in pencil and ink, by the Bavarian sculptor Ludwig Michael von Schwanthaler (1802-1848), a court artist in Munich of Louis XIV; performed by a group of Bavarian artists, several probably around 1842-43, ie during the final phase of the construction of the palaces in Athens, for the young King Otto.

There are war episodes and political-diplomatic developments that defined the Struggle for Independence, from its proclamation until the arrival of Otto (1821-1833), while symbolic figures are also inserted.

What happens in the Parliament

The Greek Parliament at night - credits: greece.com

The Parliament is the leading democratic institution, through which the people are represented by the deputies.

The Plenary Session of the Parliament consists of all the Members of Parliament, who are elected in the parliamentary elections. Elections are held every four years, unless Parliament is dissolved earlier. The period between two electoral contests is a "Parliamentary Period". Parliamentary Periods have been numbered continuously since 1974 and are numbered in Greek.

During the Parliamentary Period, the Parliament convenes in regular Sessions. The Constitution also provides for the convening of the Parliament in extraordinary and special Sessions.

The Plenary Session of the Parliament meets in regular session on the first Monday of October each year. The duration of the regular Session may not be less than five months. The Plenary Session of the Parliament is convened in a regular Session within thirty days from the holding of the parliamentary elections.

The Plenary Session of the Parliament exercises primarily the responsibilities of the legislative work and the parliamentary control.

During the interruption of the work of the Parliament, ie during the period between two Sessions, part of the Legislative Work but also of the Parliamentary Control is exercised by the compositions of the Interruption Department of the Work of the Parliament.

There are three consecutive compositions of the Interruption Department each year during the summer holidays and each consists of 1/3 of the total number of Deputies.

One-third of the total number of Deputies participates in the Interruption Department of the Parliament. Its composition is changed periodically, in a way that ensures the equal, as much as possible, participation of all Members.

The Plenary Session of the Parliament decides with the absolute majority of its present members, which cannot be less than 1/4 of the total number of the Deputies (75 deputies). The cases that require a qualified majority are mentioned in the Constitution and the Rules of Procedure of the Parliament.

The legislative function, ie the passing of bills and bill proposals and the parliamentary control over the Government, are the core of the parliamentary work.

The legislative initiative is taken either by the Government, ie one or more of its Ministers, or by the Members of Parliament, individually or collectively. The Ministers submits to the Parliament the bills, or draft laws, amendments, and additions. Respectively, the Members of Parliament submit to the Parliament proposals of laws, amendments, and additions, under the conditions set by the Constitution for their submission.

Bills and bills are accompanied by an explanatory memorandum, which explains in detail the objectives of the bills and bills. Bills or draft laws that entail a burden on the state budget are accompanied by a report from the General Accounting Office of the State, which identifies the expenditures resulting from the implementation of the proposed provisions. In case of a bill that entails expenditure or reduction of revenues, as a mandatory accompanying document is additionally submitted the special report of the Minister of Finance and the competent Minister, which states the way of covering the expenditure. They must also be accompanied by a report assessing the consequences of the regulation and a report on the public consultation that preceded their submission. In addition, the report of the Scientific Service of the Parliament is submitted, which elaborates the proposed provisions.

Law in the making

The interior of the Greek Parliament - credits: france24.com

The bills and the proposals of laws are submitted to the Directorate of Legislative Work of the Parliament until Thursday at 20.00, while the addition of additions or amendments on Friday is done no later than 13.00. Subsequently, the bills and the draft laws are announced to the House, ie before the Members of Parliament, and are referred either for elaboration and examination or for discussion and voting to the competent Standing Committee of the Parliament.

The elaboration and examination of the bill or the draft law is done in two stages, between which there is a period of at least seven full days. In the first stage, there is a discussion on the principle and on the articles and in the second stage there is a second reading, discussion, and voting on each article.

During the elaboration of a bill or a draft law by the competent parliamentary committee and until the second reading of the articles, each special standing committee may express an opinion on a matter of particular importance of the relevant bill or proposal, which falls within its competence.

After their elaboration or their discussion and voting by the competent Standing Committee, the bills and the proposals of laws are included in the Agenda of the Legislative Work of the Parliament for discussion and voting by the Plenary Session of the Parliament material. In the Interruption Department of the Parliament, all the bills are discussed, except those that belong to the competence of the Plenary Session.

The President of the Republic issues and publishes the laws that have been passed by the Parliament, after being previously signed by the competent Ministers.

 The Parliament exercises other responsibilities, such as:

  • The Revision of the Constitution
  • The election of the President of the Republic
  • The voting of the Rules of Procedure of the Parliament
  • The voting of the budget, the report, and the general balance sheet of the State as well as the voting of the budget and the report of the Parliament
  • The approval of economic and social development programs
  • The decision to hold a referendum
  • The lifting of the immunity of the Members of Parliament
  • The invitation of Heads of State, Prime Ministers, and personalities of international prestige to address the Parliament.
  • The Parliament controls
  • The Government is subject to the control of the Parliament, as provided in the Constitution and the Rules of Procedure of the Parliament.

The Government must have the confidence of the Parliament. Thus, every time a new Government is formed after parliamentary elections or after the resignation of the previous one, it must appear before the Parliament and ask for a vote of confidence. The Government has the possibility and whenever it wants during the parliamentary term to request a vote of confidence from the Parliament. Respectively, a motion of censure may be submitted by the Parliament itself, ie the Parliament's confidence in the Government may be questioned. The motion of censure must be signed by at least 50 Members - or one-sixth of the total- and clearly state the issues to be debated. 

In order for the motion of censure to be accepted, that is, to prove that the Government no longer has the confidence of the Parliament, it must be voted in favor by an absolute majority of the entire number of Deputies, ie by 151 Deputies. A motion of censure can only be submitted six months after Parliament has rejected a motion of censure. Exceptionally, a motion of censure may be submitted before the end of the semester, if it is signed by a majority of the total number of Members.

Modern Greek culture is extremely rich and reflects both the geographical location of the country, which is located at a crossroads between West and East, and the great and turbulent Greek history that is lost in the depths of the centuries.

The fundamental principles and values of justice and democracy, which were firstborn in the Greek mind, still support the European Union today and contribute to maintaining a stable and peaceful atmosphere in the Balkans and the whole world. Just a simple visit to Greece will prove that; are you up for the challenge?