The Constitution of Greece was approved by the fifth Revisional Assembly and came into force on June 11, 1975, being twice amended subsequently (1986 and 2001). The Constitution forms the fundamental Charter of the Greek state, being the basic, superior law, which defines the form of the regime and regulates the basic rules of its function.
The political system of Greece, as defined by the new Constitution, is that of a parliamentary democracy. The Prime Minister and the cabinet are at the top of the executive power and the government presupposes the majority in the parliament.
On a structural level, the Greek political system proved to be quite capable as it went through and overcame political crises with satisfactory flexibility. This is due to the fact that it is based on an institutional setting that can guarantee stable government through rotation in power.
The fundamental principles of the regime include the sovereignty of the people through their representatives in the Parliament (democratic principle), the rule of law, the social state, equality, human dignity, liberty and the safeguarding of individual and social rights.
Moreover, the Constitution provides for the separation of powers as follows:
• The legislative power
The legislative power is exercised by the Parliament, which is the supreme legislative body of the state and enacts the laws, which are then issued and published by the President of the Republic. The present-day Parliament consists of 300 Members who are elected by means of a direct, universal, secret and compulsory ballot, which is cast by citizens with a legal right to vote. The Members of the Parliament are elected every 4 years and the country's electoral system and the electoral districts are established by law.
The Greek political scene is currently dominated, by and large, by the two big parties. More specifically, PASOK (Panhellenic Socialist Movement) which was founded in 1974 by Andreas Papandreou and won the last elections in April 2000 and New Democracy which was founded in 1974 by Constantinos Karamanlis and is the main party of the right. The other parties which are represented in the Greek Parliament are KKE (Communist Party of Greece) and Synaspismos (Coalition of the left).
• The executive power
The executive power is exercised by the President of the Republic and the Government. The President of the Republic is the co-ordinator of the three powers of the State and is elected every five years by the Parliament through a secret ballot in a special session. At this moment, Constantinos Stephanopoulos is the President of the Republic being re-elected by the Parliament in 2000 and thus serving a second term (he was first elected in 1995).
After the Constitutional revision of 1986, the powers of the President of the Republic were restricted and, consequently, he is excluded from direct and active involvement in policy-making.
The Government consists of the cabinet, which is made up of the prime minister and the ministers, alternate ministers, and deputy ministers. The cabinet, along with the General Secretaries, is collectively responsible for the general policy of the government, which, in turn, lays down the country's general policy in accordance with the terms of the Constitution and the law. Currently, there are 19 government departments corresponding to the respective ministries.
The Prime minister ensures the unity of the government and directs its actions, as well as those of the civil service in general, in the application of the government policy within the framework of the law. The Greek governmental system has placed the Greek prime minister in the centre of the political decision-making process. Presently, the post is held by Costas Simitis, a former University Professor who is the leader of PASOK. C. Simitis succeeded the late A. Papandreou as premier in January 1996, won the 1996 general elections and was re-elected in 2000.
• The judiciary power
The judiciary power is exercised by three categories of courts with civil, criminal and administrative jurisdiction. The civil and criminal courts include the Courts of Justice, the Courts of First Instance, the Courts of Appeal and, as the last resort of jurisdiction, the Areios Pagos (Supreme Court). Likewise, dealing with disputes between the State and the citizens due to illegal or improper exercise of the State powers, there are Courts of First Instance as well as Courts of Appeal, with the Symvoulion tis Epicrateias (Council of State) having the highest jurisdiction.
The administration of the state is organized on the basis of the principle of decentralization. According to this system, the central services (except for special functions) co-ordinate and supervise the regional organs, whereas the latter have effective control over matters that concern their respective regions, implementing domestic and European policies for the economic and social development within their geographical scope of competence.
Nowadays, there are 13 administrative regions throughout the country: 1) Attica, 2) West Macedonia, 3) East Macedonia and Thrace, 4) Central Macedonia, 5) Epiros, 6) Thessaly, 7) the Ionian Islands, 8) Sterea Hellas, 9) West Greece, 10) the Peloponnese, 11) North Aegean, 12) South Aegean, 13) Crete.
The government appoints a representative (periferiarchis) to run every region and ensure the implementation of its policies. He/she also supports the central state services and the government for the elaboration of regional development policies.
Furthermore, according to the Greek Constitution, the administration of local affairs is carried out by local government bodies. Therefore, a structure of first and second level local authorities and regional administration has been established.
The first level local authorities include the municipalities, which are responsible for the administration of local matters. These bodies, which incarnate the timeless Greek spirit of the ‘community’, are traditionally viewed upon as the cornerstone of democracy in the Greek political system, as they allow the participation of the citizens in the local and public affairs. Their competence includes the overall responsibility for the administration of local matters and the care for the promotion of social, financial, cultural and spiritual interests of their citizens. The mayors, as opposed to the aforementioned decentralized units, are elected by the people through a universal and secret ballot.
Pursuant to the so-called “Capodistrias” programme (introduced by the government in 1998 with the aim of modernising the Greek public administration and the local government) a unification of communities took place in order to overcome the extreme fragmentation of local government in Greece.
As a result of that programme for the reform of the primary level local government, the number of municipalities (and communities) was reduced from 5,318 to less than 1000 and the newly established municipalities have taken over the administration previously wielded by the old communities. Therefore, large local municipalities are created with broad internal decentralisation, achieving effectiveness combined with a representative, democratic structure that is close to the citizen.
As for the second level of local government, the Greek state is organized in 54 prefectures being headed by the prefectural councils and the prefects who are (since 1994) elected also directly by the people. The second level local authorities exercise responsibilities only to the extent that a particular subject does not fall within the responsibilities of a municipality or a community.