Friday, 13 January 2006

The Real Public Order dangers

If the cabinet's retention record is a poor one, it is partly because Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis has stuck to his promise of maintaining a squeaky clean government - at least in terms of appearances. This ought to be appreciated after the experience of past Pasok administrations, whose abilityto carry ministers through indications of malfeasance gave the impression of institutionalised corruption


The conservative government suffered its fourth high-profile loss with the resignation last week of Christos Markoyannakis. An agriculture minister, deputy finance minister and member of parliament have already been shed. 

Pasok and the opposition press have sounded triumphant about this rate of attrition, suggesting incompetence or lack of political smarts.

It is also true that the conservatives, out of power for over two decades, have committed a series of blunders. Interior Minister Prokopis Pavlopoulos, for instance, revoked a law banning media owners from state contracts because Brussels said it obstructed free trade. Finance Minister George Alogoskoufis also invited criticism from the European Union when he revised socialist budget deficits - not once but twice. The prime minister himself damaged our most valuable foreign relationships - those with fellow Europeans and the US - when he distanced himself from a Greek commitment to try to reunify Cyprus before it acceded to the EU.

These are policy errors at the highest level, to which can be added an ineptitude in communication and image-building. They have rightly drawn severe criticism.

If the cabinet's retention record is a poor one, however, it is partly because Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis has stuck to his promise of maintaining a squeaky clean government - at least in terms of appearances. This ought to be appreciated after the experience of past Pasok administrations, whose ability to carry ministers through indications of malfeasance gave the impression of institutionalised corruption and made Greeks cynical about the ability of democracy to represent them. Karamanlis has made a stylistic choice that, if anything, errs on the side of virtue. For Pasok to gloat over a verbal indiscretion committed by an otherwise competent deputy minister is at the very least in bad taste.

What ought to attract our attention in the public order sphere is the reality, admitted to by Public Order Minister George Voulgarakis in parliament, that thousands of Pakistani immigrants are being reined in for questioning as part of an international counter-terrorism effort. Most of those interviews are probably done accordance with the law. Some, however, have allegedly been violent and abusive, a matter still under investigation. Allegations by a handful of Pakistanis that they were abducted from their homes and held against their will have given rise to fears that foreign intelligence services may be active on Greek soil, possibly with Greek consent. Greece has no known agreements with foreign powers governing what foreign intelligence agents may or may not do on Greek soil. Voulgarakis says no such secret agreement exists either. Their presence here would therefore be all the more unaccountable for.

Greece may legitimately carry out operations in collaboration with countries like the US, with which it has a mutual legal assistance treaty. Such operations are carried out by Greek police, under the direction of a prosecutor. Agents from the collaborating country's internal bureau, such as the FBI and Scotland Yard, may observe and submit questions for interviewees. Such an operation would yield judicially usable evidence. But an operation carried out by a spy service would not yield anything usable in court.
 
It is right that authorities should do everything legally sanctionable to ensure that Greece plays its part in a European-wide evidence-gathering machine. In an age of global terrorism, law-enforcement also needs supra-national tools; but the gathering of evidence must be done in accordance with national and international law and be ordered by a prosecutor, not police or secret services.

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