Greece eyes constitution overhaul, more space between Orthodox Church and state

July 26, 2016
Volcanic islets are seen behind a Greek Orthodox church build on the edge of the caldera at the volcanic island of Santorini March 15, 2012. Initial data shows pre-bookings for the high summer season from Germany, which accounts for about 14 percent of Greece's total number of visitors, are down 20-30 percent. The drop in pre-bookings from Britain, Italy and the United States is expected to be smaller but still in the double-digit range. Greece's economy is in recession for a fifth consecutive year and is seen contracting by 4.3 percent this year as the government imposes austerity measures in exchange for financial aid from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund. REUTERS/Yannis Behrakis (GREECE - Tags: TRAVEL BUSINESS) - RTR2ZE76

(Volcanic islets are seen behind a Greek Orthodox church build on the edge of the caldera at the volcanic island of Santorini March 15, 2012. REUTERS/Yannis Behrakis)

Greece on Monday unveiled plans to revise its constitution, formally proposing a clearer distinction between the state and the powerful Orthodox Church, changes in how the president is elected and limiting terms of lawmakers in parliament.

Left-wing Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said the proposals were aimed at transforming a system full of “pathogens”, and public feedback would be sought from September before the plans are put to parliament for further consultation.

“We aspire to see a process of active participation of citizens, and not something which is restricted within four walls of parliament,” Tsipras told state officials during a presentation.

Tsipras, who, along with many in his cabinet, eschewed the tradition of taking a religious oath when he was sworn in, said the role of the Church in Greece was an “exceptionally sensitive issue”.

Greek Orthodoxy is considered the country’s official religion.

“I think establishing religious neutrality of the state is a mature demand, maintaining for historical and practical reasons the role of Orthodoxy as the prevailing religion, Tsipras said.

Under the proposals, the president – now a ceremonial role – would be elected in a national vote if there were a lack of consensus among members of parliament, who currently pick the head of state.

There could also be a “moderate” increase in the powers of the country’s president on issues such as having the right to refer legislation to experts for legal ruling, Tsipras said.

Lawmakers would be restricted to two consecutive terms or eight years in office, a new court would be formed to rule on the legality of legislation, and there would be the conditional abolition of parliamentary immunity.

 

Constitutional reforms have been a rallying cry of Tsipras’s government since his left-wing Syriza party swept to power in early 2015 on a tide of anti-austerity sentiment by a public clobbered by years of economic reforms and financial bailouts.

But Tsipras was forced to cave in and accept a third international bailout within months last year as the country teetered on the brink of a fiscal cliff and threat of getting thrown out of the

Other initiatives would be to allow referendums related to “national issues” or in pursuing items of legislation.

It could not apply to fiscal matters, Tsipras said.

Source: Greece eyes constitution overhaul limiting MPs terms, defining role of Church | Reuters

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