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Athens News Agency: News in English, 06-06-29

Athens News Agency: News in English Directory - Previous Article - Next Article

From: The Athens News Agency at <http://www.ana.gr/>


  • [01] PM presents proposals for revised Constitution allowing private universities
  • [02] Papandreou backs revision of article 16
  • [03] EU warns Ankara over Customs Union breach
  • [04] Prosecutor wants 14 charged in new trial-rigging case

  • [01] PM presents proposals for revised Constitution allowing private universities

    Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis on Thursday appeared firmly resolved to support the removal of Constitutional obstacles to founding private, non-profit universities in Greece - a banner issue for proponents of education reforms in the east Mediterranean nation - as he reiterated his government's proposals for Constitutional revision from Parliament's podium.

    Thursday's debate came in the wake of setting a deadline for the submission of a report by a Parliament committee assigned the task of listing proposals for constitutional revisions, which would have to be ratified by the next legislature elected through general elections.

    "It's time we prove, in practice, that we can discuss, work out, and find common ground. This is an obligation by all of us for a Greece that is changing; a Greece marching towards the future, with security and poise, with optimism and self-confidence," he noted.

    Besides the private universities issue, which bolted onto the national limelight over the past month with the tabling of a draft bill envisioning several reforms for universities and colleges and amid vociferous opposition by groups of students and the professors' union, Karamanlis again cited the need for a constitutional court assigned the task of ruling on the constitutionality of legislation and a stricter regulation of political parties' finances.

    Additionally, he again backed a partial lifting of a law prohibiting Parliament deputies from exercising their profession or working while in office, instead saying he favours a "conditional" prohibition. As per the issue of MPs' Parliamentary immunity from prosecution, the prime minister said Parliament should refuse to lift immunity only in cases where an alleged offense is linked with the exercise of a deputy's parliamentary duties or for political expediency.

    Furthermore, he said his ruling New Democracy party and main opposition PASOK could find "common ground" over a proposal to increase the number of MPs elected from a state deputies list, thereby foregoing the rigorous campaign process in individual election districts.

    In terms of the often contentious proposal to finally allow the operation of private, non-profit universities, Karamanlis reminded that PASOK's leadership has also publicly supported the idea of lifting the constitutional ban.

    "Our proposal is to delineate the concept of higher education; to clarify the margins for establishing and operating non-state, and of course, non-profit universities, within a framework that makes it absolutely clear that the provision of higher education by non-state entities can be performed only under specific conditions, with strict supervision by the state and with the stated stipulation that the qualifications of educators at private institutions will be correspondent to those of educators at state schools," the prime minister emphasised.

    Concerning campaign and parties' finances, Karamanlis proposed funding from the state's coffers as the "primary" mode of support towards parties as well as stricter restrictions on funding from private sources and review of politicians' income and property statements.

    He also said a specific mention of the state's obligation to guarantee social cohesion and the consolidation of social justice would essentially cover the social inclusion of different population groups in the country, "namely, it would thereby more than include the proposal for a specific mention of immigrants," Karamanlis said in reference to a demand by leftist parties that immigrants - legalised migrants, guest workers, refugees and non-EU foreign nationals -- be cited in the new constitution.

    Finally, he said the government would not propose a change in the way the president of the republic is elected.

    [02] Papandreou backs revision of article 16

    The government is trying to use the Constitution as an alibi for its failure, main opposition Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK) leader George Papandreou asserted during Thursday's debate in Parliament on a proposed revision of the Greek Constitution.

    At the same time, Papandreou indicated his party's support for revising article 16 of the Constitution, which only allows state universities to be established in Greece, on the grounds that "failure to regulate private units leads to private-sector lawlessness".

    Meanwhile, even as Papandreou dedicated PASOKās proposals for revising the Constitution to the younger generation, a student rally was underway outside Parliament to protest against government plans for education reform - including the lifting of Constitutional obstacles to private universities.

    In his speech, PASOK's leader reiterated positions supporting the assessment of universities and other higher education institutes on the basis of four-year agreements that they contract with the state and local communities.

    He stressed, however, that PASOK was only prepared to enter into dialogue with the government if ruling New Democracy fulfilled a pre-election pledge to devote 5 percent of GDP to education, as well as implementing PASOKās proposal to earmark 40 percent of 4th Community Support Framework funds for education and vocational training.

    The government has repeatedly stated after the elections that its pledge to increase funding for education will be fulfilled "within a four-year horizon" possibly right before the end of its four-year term.

    The main opposition leader also levelled criticism against a government proposal to revise article 24 of the Constitution on land use, saying that it made forests easy prey to illegal development, and proposed increases in the number of state deputies, who are not directly elected but chosen by party leaders.

    Papandreou reiterated his partyās proposals concerning the right to be elected to parliament at 21, a constitutional guarantee for a dignified standard of living, strengthening democracy through referendums, allowing legislative initiative by the people, a constitutionally guaranteed society of citizens and enhancing Parliamentās role as an "organ for debate and accountability".

    PASOK's leader closed with the observation that his party "can share the concerns of parties of the Left".

    [03] EU warns Ankara over Customs Union breach

    Complete suspension of accession talks with Turkey because of its refusal to implement Customs Union with Cyprus is a possible option for the European Union, EU Commissioner for enlargement Olli Rehn warned Ankara on Thursday in statements to the Finnish news agency STT.

    "There is that possibility. I hope we do not have to resort to this but there is no reason why we should not use it, if there is cause," Rehn said, noting that he had tried to warn Ankara that failure to fulfil obligations to Cyprus might be an obstacle to accession negotiations.

    Meanwhile, in a decision on Wednesday, the European Union's Committee of Permanent Representatives (COREPER) decided to open negotiations with candidate member Croatia on the "Customs Union chapter", but not with candidate Turkey, due to the Balkan country's failure to extend its Customs Union to Cyprus, in other words opening up the Turkish ports and airports to Cypriot ships and airplanes.

    More specifically, COREPER deemed that although in the case of Croatia the formal prerequisites had been fulfilled for "opening" this chapter (of negotiations), such was not the case for Turkey. In refusing to extend its customs union with the EU to Cyprus, Turkey has not fulfilled the necessary conditions that would have enabled the EU to move on from the stage of simple review of the situation in Turkish legislation regarding this item and proceed to the next step, which is the opening of official negotiations on the Customs Union chapter.

    Thus, for the first time since the simultaneous commencement of membership talks with Croatia and Turkey last October, Turkey has "lost ground" vis-a-vis Croatia.

    Conversely, the outgoing Austrian EU presidency announced, COREPER deemed that both candidate countries have fulfilled the prerequisites for commencement of negotiations on the free business competition chapter. To date, only one chapter has been opened and successfully closed with Turkey, that of "Research and Technology", which is considered the most 'painless' with respect to the EU acquis.

    In early October, the EU Council of Foreign Ministers adopted the negotiating framework for Turkey's accession negotiations with the European Union. The negotiating framework is divided into 35 sections or policy areas, known as chapters -- effective for all candidate countries -- which Turkey must harmonise with national law before it is considered ready for membership. Each of the chapters require unanimity from all 25 member states to be declared 'closed' (fulfilled), before a final vote on allowing Turkey membership in the Union, which must also be unanimous. The content (requirements) of the chapters is non-negotiable, and the negotiations are based on Article 49 of the Treaty on European Union.

    According to Article 6 of the EU-Turkey negotiations framework, "the advancement of the negotiations will be guided by Turkey's progress in preparing for accession, within a framework of economic and social convergence...". Under Article 6, this progess will be measured in particular against a series of requirements that are listed in the text of the negotiations framework, including: "The fulfilment of Turkey's obligations under the Association Agreement and its Additional Protocol extending the Association Agreement to all new EU Member States", including Cyprus, "in particular those pertaining to the EU-Turkey customs union, as well as the implementation of the Accession Partnership, as regularly revised."

    On July 29, 2005 Ankara had signed the Association Agreement Protocol, by virtue of which Turkey extended its Customs Union agreement with the EU to the 10 new member states, including Cyprus, but in tandem, Ankara also submitted a separate, unilateral declaration stating that it refused to recognise the Cyprus Republic and that the Turkish ports and airports would remain closed to Cypriot ships and planes. The COREPER later adopted a counter-declaration rejecting Turkey's unilateral declaration that it does not recognise the Republic of Cyprus. Also according to the counter-declaration, Turkey is clearly required to fully implement the extended Customs Union agreement with all 10 new EU member states, including Cyprus, warning that Turkey's failure to fulfill its obligations vis-a-vis the Customs Union agreement will negatively impact its accession talks with the European Union.

    [04] Prosecutor wants 14 charged in new trial-rigging case

    Supreme Court public prosecutor George Sanidas on Thursday instructed special examining magistrate Ioannis Sideris to press charges against 14 people, including nine members of the judiciary, that are suspected of involvement in a new trial-rigging case.

    The charges involve five appeals court judges, one appeals court public prosecutor, a first-instance court president, two first-instance court judges, three Athens lawyers, a former Athens Appeals Court secretary and one private individual. Two of the judicial officials facing charges were former heads of the Athens First-Instance Court and four of the nine judicial officials are women.

    The charges against them include repeated counts of criminal fraud, money-laundering, breach of duty, concealing reasons for their recusal from cases, and moral instigation to perjury. They are linked to major financial cases and decisions involving injunctions.

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