Commission expresses concerns over Greek justice’s independence

Feb 28, 2023

The European Commission has expressed its concern regarding the independence of Greece’s justice system after a EURACTIV report revealed that there was an attempt to block an audit of an independent authority as part of the ongoing wiretapping scandal investigation.

The so-called “Greek Watergate” scandal has been shaking the country for months and is still unknown who is behind it.

In December 2022, EURACTIV reported that the Hellenic Authority for Communication Security and Privacy (ADAE), Greece’s privacy watchdog, wanted to carry out an audit following requests submitted to the independent authority by Renew Europe MEP Giorgos Kyrtsos and investigative journalist Tasos Teloglou who tried to find out whether they were under surveillance by the secret services.

EURACTIV reported that Greece’s Prosecutor of the Supreme Court allegedly attempted to block the control saying it was illegal.

Right after the article’s publication, the top prosecutor said he was just expressing an “opinion”, while some weeks later, he stressed that ADAE was not eligible to conduct such audits triggering the strong reaction of several judges, political parties and the European Parliament.

Opposition parties have warned that the government is putting pressure on the justice to sweep the scandal under the carpet hence the delay in the investigation.

ADAE ignored his opinion and moved on with the investigation saying its role is not determined by judges but by the Constitution itself.

Stelios Kouloglou, an EU lawmaker from the leftist Syriza party, submitted a question to EU Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders asking him what plans the EU executive has to address this critical situation of the rule of law in Greece.

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“As regards the Prosecutor of the Supreme Court, the Commission reminds, as already pointed out in the 2022 Rule of Law Report, that the current system of appointments in the highest positions of the judiciary raises concerns as being subject to a potentially strong influence from the executive,” Reynders said in his written response.

He added that in this context, the Commission has recommended addressing the need for involvement of the judiciary in the appointment process, taking into account European standards.

“This is important to ensure the independence of the judiciary in general and of the Prosecutor of the Supreme Court in particular,” Reynders said.

As for ADAE, Reynders pointed out that General Data Protection Regulation requires that “the national data protection authorities are independent”.

ADAE’s chief at PEGA committee

Meanwhile, the head of ADAE, Christos Rammos, will speak on Tuesday at the European Parliament’s Committee of Inquiry to investigate the use of Pegasus and equivalent surveillance spyware (PEGA).

PEGA has been closely following the developments of the “Greek Watergate” and has urged justice authorities to shed light on the scandal “before the upcoming national elections”.

Rammos, an experienced judge, has said he will not bow to the pressure and will run his investigation to the end. The President of the Personal Data Protection Authority, Konstantinos Menoudakos, will also attend the hearing.

For its part, the Greek government has kept its distance from the scandal, saying it’s up to the Greek justice to find out what exactly happened.

The opposition puts the blame personally on Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, saying the first law he enacted when he took over the power was to take the secret services at his helm.

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(Sarantis Michalopoulos | EURACTIV.com)
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