The head party of the Greek coalition government, New Democracy, took yesterday a sudden and in any manner authoritarian decision to shut down the public broadcaster ERT. The public-led company was occupying almost 2,700 employees being the largest news network of the country. Within the new legislative framework, it is expected that ERT will start running again next September having finalized the process of recruiting 1000 employees. What is the story behind?
The shut down of ERT was an unexpected decision by the head party of the coalition government, New Democracy. The spokesperson of the government stated yesterday night that the decision was reached as ERT was considered to be an anachronistic network, a non-abiding by the rules of modern journalism network, that has been all these years since the fall of junta in 1974 a place where political patronism was dominating. In other words, the official line of New Democracy was that ERT has to be modernized and be independent from any external influence and manipulation. Ceteris paribus, this is a statement that has serious grounds as rumours of corruption have been thriving over the last 40 years, as both PASOK and New Democracy had allegedly endeavored to manipulate ERT and turn it to be the official organ exerting their propaganda.
Nonetheless, there are many parts missing in the puzzle of ERT -and there are certainly not based on ethical reasons. The first thing is that under the suffocating pressure of the troika, that since last year it was eagerly demanding massive layoffs in the public sector, the government was lagging to proceed accordingly as it was always afraid of the political cost. Being actually in Athens, the troika set as absolute prerequisite for the new soaring of the Greek economy by its lenders the realization of these layoffs -and New Democracy precipitated to cater this demand lacking any negotiation tool. The party did not even suggest the other two coalition partners of the government -PASOK and Democratic Left- deciding to proceed alone. Here we have one political and one constitutional issue:
1. The political one is that as long as there is a coalition government, how come such a decision stems unilaterally from one party instead of all three altogether? New Democracy acting solely has completely surpassed the shared power of the other two parties, breaking the initial agreement and the declared support of the coalition government to act in unity. This decision roughly breaks down the coalition government and cripples the majority of government in the Parliament and in the Greek electorate.
2. The constitutional one is that such legislative frameworks and decisions that concern massive layoffs in the public sector, affecting the entire society, need to be discussed and passed by the Parliament in majority. The shut down of ERT will not be discussed in the Greek Parliament and neither the front opposition nor the opposition in general will be able to express its voice and vote for or against it. In other words, New Democracy acted as the absolute and authoritarian political power of the country, as fact that is not reflected in its parliamentary representation nor in the constitutional chart.
Alongside, there is a second missing part in the puzzle of ERT: Even though the other two parties of the coalition government were against the shut down of ERT, why they did not voice out clearly their declared opposition to support this decision? The press offices of both PASOK and Democratic Left were left outlining that this decision is not acceptable, but in practice they did nothing essential to support their standpoint. The response is simple: both parties, PASOK and Democratic Left, are dramatically shrinking in exit polls. None of them would risk to draw support from the government as in this scenario new elections would be proclaimed and both parties would be vanished from the Greek political map. It would therefore be a huge defeat for both.
The third and final missing part in the puzzle of ERT is that New Democracy is demonstrating its robustness to proceed to the so-called “reforming plan”, which is in other words the minimization of the public spending cost. By dismissing at once 2,700 employees and breaking down the entire information system, the government can then come back to the troika and deliver its achievement proudly. Therefore, it is expected by New Democracy that stable relations with the lenders will be maintained and the new loan will be dispatched efficiently, after the Eurogroup Summit on the 20th of June.
As democracy and constitutionalism in Greece is falling into arrears, there is one thing left: a growing grievance against the government that has to be expressed in some way. The strong public support over the dismissed employees of ERT and the revival of the ghosts of the dictatorship and censorship past of 1967-1974 have been resurrected. Even thought Greece has been deluged by immense strikes these three years with no immediate impact in the unity of the governments and the austerity politics, the way of dissolving ERT could be a hard strike for the fate of this coalition government and bring developments in the political landscape of Greece.