History of the Constitution of Greece
From the Revolution to the Establishment of the Crowned Democracy (1821-1864
The Constitutions of the Revolution (the First Hellenic Republic)
The beginning of the struggle for independence brought about the first local regimes (the Senate Organization of Western Greece, the Legal Order of Eastern Greece and the Peloponnesian Senate Organization). These texts were voted by local Assemblies and had as a goal the temporary governmental and military organization of the Nation, until the future establishment of the "Parliament of the Nation".
The Assembly included representatives from the Peloponnese, Eastern and Western Greece, and certain islands. The Constitution of 1822 consisted of 110 short paragraphs, broken down into "titles" and "sections", according to the French model. It was entitled "Temporary Constitution of Greece" because the authors were afraid of the reaction of the Holy Alliance. It included a few clauses guaranteeing the protection of human rights, while as far as the organization of the government was concerned, it allowed for the representative principle as well as for the principle of separation of powers. Hence, the "Administration" consisted of the "Parliamentary" and the "Executive" branches, both collective bodies serving yearly terms, which counterbalanced one another in the legislative process. The "Judiciary" was independent of the two other powers, albeit elected by them, whereas justice was dispensed by the "Criteria", i.e. the courts.
The Temporary Constitution of Epidaurus was revised a year later, on April 13th, 1823, by the Second National Assembly, which convened in Astros of Kynouria. The new Constitution, "The Epidaurus Law", as it was named, to stress its continuity with the one of 1822, was legally more articulate as compared to its predecessor, and it allowed a slight superiority to the Legislative power as opposed to the Executive, given the fact that the latter's veto power was circumcised from an absolute to a suspending one. The new Constitution also marked an improvements as far as the protection of human rights was concerned: property was protected, as was the honor and the security not only of Greeks but of all persons in the territory; it established the freedom of the press and abolished slavery. It also abolished local governments. However, the great disadvantage of the yearly term of the "Administrative" branches remained unaltered, a result of the ever-growing distrust between politicians and the military. The Assembly of Astros passed a new electoral law, according to which the right to vote was bestowed to "men" rather than to "seniors", while the voting age went down from 30 to 25 years.
The polyarchical nature of the two Constitutions initially favored the conflicts between the Parliamentary and the Administrative branches, which soon thereafter developed into a rift and, eventually, into a civil war. This gave the opportunity to foreign "protecting" powers to intervene systematically into Greek political life.
The Third National Assembly initially convened in Piada in 1825 and subsequently in Troizena in 1827, and after unanimously electing John Capodistrias as "Governor of Greece" for a seven-year term, it voted the "Political Constitution of Greece". The Assembly wanted to give the country a stable government, modeled on democratic and liberal ideas, and for this reason it declared for the first time the principle of popular sovereignty: "Sovereignty lies with the people; every power derives from the people and exists for the people". This key democratic principle was repeated in all the Greek Constitutions after 1864.
This Constitution consisted of 150 articles. It established a strict separation of powers, vesting the executive power to the Governor and assigning to the body of the representatives of the people, named Boule, the legislative power. The Governor only a suspending veto on the bills, while he lacked the right to dissolve the Parliament. He was "inviolable", while the "Secretaries of the State", in other words the Ministers, assumed the responsibility for his public actions (thus introducing into the text of the 1827 Constitution the first elements of the so called "parliamentary principle").
It is noteworthy that, among the constitutions of its time, the Constitution of Troizena has the most complete and closely formulated provisions for the protection of human rights.
The Constitution of Troizena attempted to combine the need for a powerful central authority with the existence of democratic structures, but it was suspended shortly after the arrival in Greece of John Capodistrias, in January of 1828.
The Period of Absolute Monarchy
In the midst of political unrest, Otto arrived in Nafplio in 1833, with the support of the "protecting" powers of Great Britain, France and Russia. He was proclaimed "God Given King of Greece" and the Greek state was proclaimed a monarchy, the independent "Kingdom of Greece". In the speech Otto gave when he assumed his responsibilities there was no allusion to the Constitution. Due to his young age, and until his coming of age, his powers were exercised by a Regency.
During the ten-year long period of the autocratic government by Otto, the first steps toward the country's administrative organization were taken, The judicial system was organized, certain fundamental pieces of legislation were introduced (such as the Commercial Law, the Criminal Law and the Laws for Civil and Criminal Procedure), the Government's Gazette was founded, and finally, in 1834, the capital of the Kingdom was moved from Nauplio to Athens.
However, the basic characteristics of that period were the lack of a Constitution, arbitrary government, the precarious economic situation and the autocratic legal system.
The Period of Constitutional Monarchy
The Constitution that ensued in March of 1844 from the workings of the "Third of September National Assembly of the Hellenes in Athens" was a Constitutional Pact, in other words a contract between the monarch and the Nation. This Constitution re-established the Constitutional Monarchy and was based on the French Constitution of 1830 and the Belgian Constitution of 1831.
Its main provisions were the following: It established the principle of monarchical sovereignty, as the monarch was the decisive power of the State; the legislative power was to be exercised by the King - who also had the right to ratify the laws - by the Parliament, and by the Senate. The members of the Parliament could be no less than 80 and they were elected for a three-year term by universal suffrage. The senators were appointed for life by the King and their number was set at 27, although that number could increase should the need arise and per the monarch's will, but it could not exceed half the number of the members of Parliament.
The ministers' responsibility for the King's actions is established, who also appoints and removes them. Justice stems from the King and is dispensed in his name by the judges he himself appoints.
Despite the fact that Otto accepted the establishment of a Constitutional regime, he was not inclined to enforce it and by breaking both the spirit and the letter of the Constitution he tried to gather as much power as he possibly could. On the night of October 10th, 1862, the rising wave of discontent led the people and the military to rebel and to decide Otto's deposition.
The First Period of Crowned Democracy (1864-1922)
The Constitution of 1864
The Second National Assembly of the Hellenes took place in Athens (1863-1864) and dealt both with the election of a new sovereign as well as with the drafting of a new Constitution, thereby implementing the transition from constitutional monarchy to Crowned Democracy.
Following the refusal of prince Alfred of Great Britain (who was elected by an overwhelming majority in the first referendum of the country in November 1862) to accept the crown of the Greek kingdom, the government offered the crown to the Danish prince George Christian Willem of the House of Holstein - Sonderburg - Glucksbourg, who was crowned constitutional King of Greece under the name "George I, King of the Hellenes".
The Constitution of 1864 was drafted following the models of the Constitutions of Belgium of 1831 and of Denmark of 1849, and established in clear terms the principle of popular sovereignty, since the only legislative body with reversionary powers was now the Parliament. Furthermore, article 31 reiterated that all the powers stemmed from the Nation and were to be exercised as provided by the Constitution, while article 44 established the principle of accountability, taking into consideration that the King only possessed the powers that were bestowed on him by the Constitution and by the laws applying the same.
The Assembly chose the system of a single chamber Parliament with a four-year term, and hence abolished the Senate, which many accused for being a tool in the hands of the monarchy. Direct, secret and universal elections was adopted as the manner to elect the MPs, while elections were to be held simultaneously throughout the entire nation.
In addition, article 71 introduced a conflict between being an MP and a salaried public employee or mayor at the same time, but not with serving as an army officer.
The Constitution reiterated various clauses found in the Constitution of 1844, such as that the King appoints and dismisses the ministers and that the latter are responsible for the person of the monarch, but it also allowed for the Parliament to establish "examination committees". Moreover, the King preserved the right to convoke the Parliament in ordinary as well as in extraordinary sessions, and to dissolve it at his discretion, provided, however, that the dissolution decree was also countersigned by the Cabinet.
The Introduction of the Parliamentary Principle
The Constitution repeated verbatim the clause of article 24 of the Constitution of 1844, according to which "The King appoints and removes his Ministers". This phrase insinuated that the ministers were practically subordinate to the monarch, and thereby answered not only to the Parliament but to him as well. Moreover, nowhere was it stated in the Constitution that the King was obliged to appoint the Cabinet in conformity with the will of the majority in Parliament. This was, however, the interpretation that the modernizing political forces of the land upheld, invoking the principle of popular sovereignty and the spirit of the Parliamentary regime. They finally succeeded in imposing it through the principle of "manifest confidence" of the Parliament, which was expressed in 1875 by Charilaos Trikoupis and which, that same year, in his Crown Speech, King George I expressly pledged to uphold: "I demand as a prerequisite, of all that I call beside me to assist me in governing the country, to possess the manifest confidence and trust of the majority of the Nation's representatives. Furthermore, I accept this approval to stem from the Parliament, as without it the harmonious functioning of the polity would be impossible".
The establishment of the principle of "manifest confidence" towards the end of the first decade of the crowned democracy, contributed towards the disappearance of a constitutional practice which, in many ways, reiterated the negative experiences of the period of the reign of King Otto. Indeed, from 1864 through 1875 numerous elections of dubious validity had taken place, while, additionally and most importantly, there was an active involvement of the Throne in political affairs through the appointment of governments enjoying a minority in Parliament, or through the forced resignation of majority governments, when their political views clashed with those of the crown.
The Innovations of the Constitution Of 1911
The Constitution of 1864 remained unaltered until 1911. However, the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th signaled significant sociopolitical changes and realignments. The rise of the middle class, the shift in the role of the military, the gradual disappearance or weakening of the old political parties and practices, and the new economic conditions exercised strong pressure on a political structure modeled to respond to different criteria. At a political, administrative, and social level the result of these changes was the "military coup" in Goudi (1909).
The outcome of this rebellion was the rise to power of Elefterios Venizelos - head of the Liberal Party - and the revision of the Constitution of 1864 by the Second Reversionary Parliament. The pivotal points of the 1911 revision (which, strictly speaking, was not a revision but the exercise of original constitutional authority) were the reinforcement of human rights ("the public law of the Hellenes" according to the terminology of the time), the reinforcement of the Rule of Law and the modernization of institutions.
The most noteworthy amendments to the Constitution of 1864 concerning the protection of human rights, were the more effective protection of personal security, equality in tax burdens, of the right to assemble and of the inviolability of the domicile. Furthermore, the Constitution facilitated expropriation to allocate property to landless farmers, while simultaneously judicially protecting property rights.
Other important changes included the institution of an Electoral Court for the settlement of election disputes stemming from the parliamentary elections, the addition of new conflicts for MPs, the re-establishment of the State Council as the highest administrative court (which, however, was constituted and operated only under the Constitution of 1927), the improvement of the protection of judicial independence and the establishment of the non-removability of public employees. Finally, for the first time, the Constitution provided for mandatory and free education for all, and declared a form of pure Greek language as the "official language of the Nation".
The Crisis Years
The considerable divergence of opinion that arose in 1915 between King Constantine and prime minister El. Venizelos as to the direction the nation should follow in its international relations lead the country into a deep crisis and culminated into a national rift, resulting in an unstable political life. On a constitutional level, the disputes concentrated on the extent to which the King should have the right to appoint the Cabinet, the right to terminate ministers, and the right to dissolve the Parliament. The period from 1915 to 1920 was one of major internal unrest (marked by the co-existence of two cabinets, the occupation of Greek territory by foreign powers, and political actions outside the realm of any constitutional legality) but was also an extremely important period, as the national territory augmented considerably.
In November of 1920 parliamentary elections took place during which the royalist powers prevailed. King Constantine returned to the throne by referendum, and the Third National Assembly in Athens was called upon to revise the Constitution, a project which, notwithstanding the extremely interesting and innovative proposals that had been set forth, was not carried through, due to the disaster in Asia Minor.
Following the defeat of the Greek armed forces in Asia Minor on September 11th, 1922, a military revolution took place lead by N. Plastiras which dissolved the Constitutional Assembly and forced King Constantine to abdicate once again.
The Second Hellenic Republic (1924-1935)
The Constitution of 1927
On January 2nd, 1924, the Fourth National Assembly convened and decided on the abrogation of the dynasty as well as on the abolition of the crowned democracy (a decision which was ratified by referendum on April 13th, 1924).
Whilst the Fourth Constitutional Assembly was working towards the completion of the new Constitution, the coup d'etat of General Th. Pangalos took place. After the fall of his dictatorship in 1926, the "Parliament of the First Term" was elected, which, finally, voted through the Constitution of 1927.
This Constitution was particularly interesting both for its provisions on social rights and for the new political institutions it introduced in its organizational section. In the chapter covering the "public law of the Hellenes", the Constitution of 1927 improved the protection of some individual rights (e.g. the freedom of the press) and established for the first time in Greece certain social rights (protection of work, protection of the family, etc.). However, the most significant characteristic of the new Constitution was that it provided for an elected head of state, chosen by the Parliament and the Senate for a five-year term. The President of the Republic was politically unaccountable, he did not possess legislative authority and he could dissolve the Parliament with the approval of the Senate.
Legislative power was exercised by the Parliament and the Senate. The Parliament was made up of 200-250 members elected for a four-year term by direct, secret and universal ballot. The Senate was composed of 120 members elected for a nine-year term, but its synthesis was renewed every three years by 1/3. At least 9/12 of the senators were elected by the people, 1/12 by the Parliament and the Senate in a common session at the onset of each Parliamentary term, whereas the remaining 2/12 were elected on the basis of a principle of representation of the professions.
In the event of disagreement between the two chambers in the voting of a law, the Constitution established the supremacy of the Parliament's vote.
Another significant element was the explicit institution of the parliamentary system. For the first time, the Greek Constitution included a clause stating that the Cabinet must "enjoy the confidence of the Parliament".
The Reinstatement of the Monarchy
The Second Hellenic Republic lasted until 1935. That year, as a result of a failed coup by the supporters of Venizelos, the Constitution of 1927 was abolished, the Constitution of 1911 was re-instated, and in the midst of extreme political instability King George came back to the throne by referendum. In August 1936 the parliamentary prime minister I. Metaxas declared a dictatorship, which lasted until the occupation of Greece by German forces in 1941.
The First Years of the Liberation
After the liberation of Greece in the fall of 1944, the Constitution of 1911 was again activated, albeit deformed due to the illiberal measures introduced via constitutional acts and resolutions of the turbulent period of the Liberation and the civil war. On January 1st, 1952, after a period of deliberations that lasted approximately 5 years, the new Constitution was finally voted.
The Second Period of Crowned Democracy (1952-1967)
The Constitution of 1952
Due to the unusual socio-political conditions in effect during its drafting, the Constitution of 1952 was conservative and remained to a great extent faithful to the constitutional texts of 1864/1911 and 1927.
Its basic innovation was the explicit introduction of the parliamentary system within a regime of Crowned Democracy.
The responsibilities of the King remained the same as described in the previous Constitution of 1911.
There were few innovations in the articles relating to the Parliament. The number of parliamentarians for each electoral district was to be determined according to their population, but the total number of parliamentarians could not be under 150 or over 300.
Through two interpretative clauses, under articles 66 and 70, it was provided that the exercise of the right to vote could be made mandatory by law and that the right to vote and be elected in Parliament could be extended to women by law.
According to article 35, paragraph 2 of the Constitution, through the duration of the parliamentary term, while the Parliament was absent or in recess, the King had the authority to issue legal decrees to regulate extremely urgent matters with the consent of a special committee of parliamentarians, which was appointed at the beginning of each session and remained competent until the beginning of the next session.
Political Life and the Military Dictatorship
On February 21st, 1963, a proposal for the revision of the Constitution was tabled, the so-called "deep incision". This revision never took place because the Cabinet lead by Constantine Karamanlis resigned in June of that same year, and a few months later the Parliament was dissolved.
The political crisis that manifested itself on July 15th, 1965 was one of the deepest of the post-war era. Once again, issues concerning the functioning of the parliamentary regime were up for discussion and brought about a confrontation between the prime minister at the time, George Papandreou - chief of the Coalition of the Center, which enjoyed the majority in Parliament, and KIng Constantine, and the Cabinets the latter was trying to impose.
The military dictatorship of April 21st, 1967, which lasted seven years, passed two Constitutional texts, in 1968 and 1973, the latter providing for a system of government without a King. These constitutional texts had certain undemocratic characteristics, they were of unusually conservative mentality, and were never entirely applied.
The Third Hellenic Republic (1974 - )
The Constitution of 1975
After the reinstatement of Democracy in the Country in July 1974, the National Unity government, led by C. Karamanlis, set forth as its first goal to strengthen democracy and to obliterate the traumatic experiences of the civil war. It reinstated the Constitution of 1952, with the exception of the clauses relating to the King. The first free parliamentary elections took place on November 17, 1974, and on December 8 of that same year a referendum was conducted to decide about the nature of the form of government. The electoral body, by a majority of 69.18%, expressed its will against crowned democracy, thus once and for settling the issue of the form of government in Greece.
The Constitution of 1975 was composed using as a basis those of 1952 and 1927, as well as the revision proposal of 1963. Numerous clauses were also based on the West German Constitution of 1949 and the French constitution of 1958. Despite the significant disagreements caused by the original constitutional draft (which had then been prepared by the Cabinet of C. Karamanlis) the final draft gradually secured the largest possible assent of the significant political powers in the country.
The Constitution of 1975 included an array of individual and social rights, tailored to the needs of that time. It introduced a presidential parliamentary republic form of government, wherein the head of the state maintained the right to interfere in political life. The Rule of Law was effectively protected, and there was a provision for the participation of the country in international organisations and - indirectly - to the European Economic Community.
The Revisions of 1986 and 2001
Despite the fact that the "increased" responsibilities of the President of the Republic were never exercised until 1986, by virtue of their mere existence they influenced the development of political affairs from 1980 to 1985, specifically during the first co-existence of C. Karamanlis as President of the Republic with the government of PASOK. The responsibilities of the President of the Republic were the target of the revisionary proceedings of 1985-1986.
On March 6, 1986, pursuant to article 110 of the Constitution, which stipulates that the provisions of the Constitution are subject to revision except for those which determine the form of government as a Parliamentary Republic as well as certain other provisions, eleven articles were amended and a vote was passed transposing the text of the Constitution into demotic Greek.
Through this revision the responsibilities of the President of the Republic were curtailed to a significant extent. Despite the political and the constitutional tensions of that period, the revised Constitution of 1975/1986, which introduced a pure parliamentary governmental system, was accepted by all political powers.
In the spring of 2001 a new, more extensive revision of the Constitution was voted in a consensual climate. It is noteworthy that, despite the fact that a total of seventy-nine articles of the Constitution were amended, in the majority of the cases the amendments was accepted by four fifths of all the parliamentarians, so the term "consensual revision" reflects the political reality.
The revised Constitution introduced new individual rights (such as the protection of genetic identity or the protection of personal data from electronic processing), it introduced new rules of transparency in political life (regarding e.g. the financing of political parties, electoral expenditures, the relations of media owners with the State, etc.), it reorganised the operation of the Parliament and it reinforced decentralisation. However, this revision did not touch upon any major issues concerning the operation of the form of government, and this differentiates it characteristically from the revision of 1986.
Today Greece possesses a Constitution which enjoys political and historical legitimacy, is modern, it is adapted to international developments and, despite possible reservations on particular issues, provides a satisfactory institutional framework for Greece in the 21st century.
- Source: The Hellenic Parliament