Greece in institutional decline: Civil society tracks persisting rule of law backsliding

Executive Summary

Defending and strengthening the rule of law in remains a core priority for Greek civil society against the backdrop of ongoing institutional decline in the country.

Independent organisations Vouliwatch, Greek Council for Refugees (GCR), Refugee Support Aegean (RSA), HIAS Greece, Hellenic League for Human Rights (HLHR) and Reporters United document persisting deficiencies and emerging threats to the rule of law in Greece in their contribution to the European Commission’s annual monitoring of Member States’ systems through its Rule of Law Report.


We identify five cross-cutting issues permeating different pillars of the rule of law in Greece:

  • Surveillance by the National Intelligence Service (EYP) and use of Predator spyware against high-ranking state officials, journalists and other targets;
  • Government interference in the work of constitutionally protected independent authorities such as the Communication Security and Privacy Authority (ADAE), namely through unconstitutional changes to its composition, intimidation of its members and summons thereof as suspects in criminal proceedings;
  • Enforced disappearance of people seeking asylum in the country in the form of push backs, in continued direct contempt of European Court of Human Rights orders to provide assistance to people in distress and allow them access to asylum procedures;
  • Declining press freedom ranking last among EU countries for a second consecutive year, on account of threats and attacks, surveillance and SLAPPs against journalists;
  • Police violence and arbitrariness, especially against minorities, in combination with a general perception of impunity of law enforcement bodies and a lack of effective investigations.


Further breaches of rule of law principles and of international, EU and domestic legal obligations highlighted in our report include:

  • Flouting of constitutional and legislative standards on good law-making through a persisting record of inadequate public consultations, submission of ‘omnibus’ bills and last-minute unrelated amendments, and recurrent reform of freshly adopted legislation;
  • Deficient and non-transparent anti-corruption scrutiny, row-back on asset declaration standards, ‘dead letter’ standards on the lobbying register and on gifts to Cabinet Members and MPs;
  • Poor implementation of transparency and open data obligations, including consistent failure to respond to requests for information and access to documents across Government and Parliament;
  • Misuse of criminal law e.g. smuggling provisions against refugees and migrants, as well as against civil society organisations and human rights defenders carrying out lawful support activities.

Through our contribution, we aim to inform the rule of law monitoring process with reliable, up-to-date evidence and urge the European Commission to recommend concrete commitments from Greece to ensure effective compliance with EU foundational principles and legal obligations.

To that end, the Greek government should:

  1. Ensure a more efficient and accountable institution for legal aid in Greece, under the supervision of the Ministry of Justice addressing identified shortcomings and promoting a fair and effective provision of legal aid.
  2. Promptly and fully comply with interim measures indicated by the European Court of Human Rights under Rule 39 of the Rules of Court.
  3. Enhance transparency on the effectiveness of investigations of allegations of ill-treatment by law enforcement bodies, including through disclosure of the number of cases processed by the criminal justice system and by non-judicial monitoring mechanisms, and of the outcome of such investigations.
  4. Ensure that the asset declaration system, both in terms of legislation and implementation, is aligned with the principles of transparency and accountability and with GRECO recommendations.
  5. Increase transparency in the work of the Parliamentary Committees and especially CIDA.
  6. Adopt a robust legal framework regarding the protection of journalists and sources from illegal surveillance, as well as speed up the investigations regarding the surveillance of journalists and other persons, both in respect of wiretapping by the National Intelligence Service (EYP) and of illegal use of Predator spyware against targets.
  7. Adopt anti-SLAPP legislation to protect journalists and media from SLAPPs.
  8. Ensure the effective practical application of the right of access to information and open data provisions.
  9. Apply the rules set by the Constitution, the Standing Orders of the Hellenic Parliament (Section of Parliamentary Business), L 4622/2019 and the Manual of Legislative Methodology for the preparation, submission and enactment of legislation, in accordance with the principles of the rule of law and of good law-making.
  10. Ensure the independent and unimpeded operation of independent authorities and their members in the exercise of their functions.
  11. Revise rules on registration of civil society organisations to ensure alignment with EU standards, including the fundamental rights to freedom of association, privacy and data protection, and compliance with UN and Council of Europe recommendations.
  12. Adopt guidelines clarifying that advice and assistance to persons irregularly arriving in Greece with the intention to apply for international protection and communication to that end are not construed as criminal conduct.

We invite you to read the full report, share it and join us in our efforts to uphold the rule of law in our country and throughout the European Union.



© HLHR 2020

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