The 1975 constitution, which describes Greece as a "presidential parliamentary republic," includes extensive specific guarantees of civil liberties and vests the powers of the head of state in a president elected by parliament and advised by the Council of the Republic. The Greek governmental structure is similar to that found in many Western democracies, and has been described as a compromise between the French and German models. The prime minister and cabinet play the central role in the political process, while the president performs some governmental functions in addition to ceremonial duties.
The president is elected by parliament to a five-year term and can be reelected once. The president has the power to declare war and to conclude agreements of peace, alliance, and participate in international organizations; upon the request of the government a three-fifths parliamentary majority is required to ratify such actions, agreements, or treaties. The president also can exercise certain emergency powers, which must be countersigned by the appropriate cabinet minister. Changes to the constitution in 1986 limited the president's political powers. As a result, the president may not dissolve parliament, dismiss the government, suspend certain articles of the constitution, or declare a state of siege. To call a referendum, he must obtain approval from parliament.
Parliamentary deputies are elected by secret ballot for a maximum of four years, but elections can be called earlier. Greece uses a complex reinforced proportional representation electoral system which discourages splinter parties and makes a parliamentary majority possible even if the leading party falls short of a majority of the popular vote. A party must receive 3% of the total national vote to qualify for parliamentary seats.
Greece is divided into 51 prefectures, each headed by a prefect (nomarch), who is elected by direct popular vote. There are also thirteen regional administrative districts (peripheries), each including a number of prefectures and headed by a regional governor (periferiarch), appointed by the Minister of the Interior. In northern Greece and in greater Athens, three areas have an additional administrative position between the nomarch and periferiarch. This official, known as the president of the prefectural local authorities or "super nomarch," is elected by direct popular vote. Although municipalities and villages have elected officials, they do not have an adequate independent tax base and must depend on the central government for a large part of their financial needs. Consequently they are subject to numerous central government controls. This also leads to extremely low municipal taxes (usually around 0.2% or less).
The Government and education, religion, and the media
Under the Greek constitution, education is the responsibility of the state. Most Greeks attend public primary and secondary schools. There are a few private schools, which must meet the standard curriculum of and be supervised by the Ministry of Education. The Ministry of Education oversees and directs every aspect of the public education process at all levels, including hiring all teachers and professors and producing all required textbooks.
The Greek Orthodox Church is under the protection of the State, which pays the clergy's salaries, and Orthodox Christianity is the "prevailing" religion of Greece according to the Constitution. The Greek Orthodox Church is self-governing but under the spiritual guidance of the Ecumenical Patriarch in Constantinople. 98% of Greek citizens consider themselves members of the Orthodox Church.
The Muslim minority, concentrated in Thrace, was given legal status by provisions of the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923 and is Greece's only officially recognized religious minority. There are roughly 110,000 Greek Muslims concentrated in Rhodope prefecture (60,000), Xanthi prefecture (40,000) and Evros (about 10,000).
Catholics in Greece number about 50,000. They are concentrated on some of the Cyclades, remnants of the long Venetian rule over the islands. The largest communities are Syros (8,000) and Tenos (3,000).
Protestants (evangelicals) are of various denominations (Greek Evangelical, Free Evangelical, Apostolic, Pentecostal). The largest and oldest denomination are the Greek Evangelicals numbering about 15,000 persons. Their largest community - about 1,500 souls - is in Katerini.
Jehovah's Witnesses are found in major cities.
The recent influx of (mostly illegal) immigrants from Eastern Europe and the Third World has an expectedly varied multi-religious profile (Catholic, Muslim, Hindu etc).
Under the 2000 constitutional amendment, complete separation of church and state is being attempted, which clashes with both the population and the clergy. For example, numerous protests have occurred for the removal of the Religious Denomination entry from the National ID card. However, outside the Orthodox majority, many believe that Greece had and still has a serious problem of religious freedom.
The Greek media, collectively, is a very influential institution — usually aggressive, sensationalist, and frequently irresponsible with regard to content. Most of the media are owned by businessmen with extensive commercial interests in other sectors of the economy. They use their newspapers, magazines, and radio and TV channels to promote their commercial enterprises as well as to seek political influence.
In 1994, the Ministry of Press and Information was established to deal with media and communication issues. ERT S.A., a public corporation supervised by the Minister of Press, operates three national television channels and five national radio channels. The Minister of Press also serves as the primary government spokesperson.
The Secretary General of Press and Information prepares the Athens News Agency (ANA) Bulletin. Along with AP and Reuters, this is a primary source of information for the Greek press. The Ministry of Press and Information also issues the Macedonian News Agency (MPE) Bulletin, which is distributed throughout the Balkan region. For international news, CNN is a particular influence in the Greek market; the major TV channels often use it as a source. State and private TV stations also use Eurovision and Visnews as sources. While few papers and stations have overseas correspondents, those few correspondents abroad can be very influential.
In 1988, a new law provided the legal framework for the establishment of private radio stations and, in 1989, private TV stations. According to the law, supervision of radio and television is exercised by the National Radio and Television Council. In practice, however, official licensing has been delayed for many years. Because of this, there has been a proliferation of private radio and TV stations, as well as European satellite channels, including Euronews. More than 1,000 radio stations were operating before March 2002, when the government implemented plans to reallocate TV frequencies and issue licenses as authorized by the 1993 Media Law, effectively reducing this number.