Why the Greferendum IS NOT a Problem under Greek Constitutional Law

Amongst mounting controversies surrounding the Greek bailout program and the referendum called by the Greek government, questions about the constitutionality of the initiative have been raised. The matter is of great importance, since the Council of the State will rule on the constitutionality of the bill this Friday. Given what is at stake, this might seem to be a totally peripheral question. That said, we will attempt a response, so as to clarify certain legal questions and also to point at the uses and abuses of constitutional arguments.

To begin with, it is essential to point out that referenda do not form part of Greek political culture. It is indicative that the last one was held in 1974 to decide on the abolition of the monarchy. In the absence of relevant practice, we can only rely on the text of the Greek Constitution and on scholarly opinions on the topic. The relevant Article is 44 para 2 and it reads as follows:

The President of the Republic shall by decree proclaim a referendum on crucial national matters following a resolution voted by an absolute majority of the total number of Members of Parliament, taken upon proposal of the Cabinet. A referendum on Bills passed by Parliament regulating important social matters, with the exception of the fiscal ones shall be proclaimed by decree by the President of the Republic, if this is decided by three-fifths of the total number of its members, following a proposal of two-fifths of the total number of its members, and as the Standing Orders and the law for the application of the present paragraph provide. No more than two proposals to hold a referendum on a Bill can be introduced in the same parliamentary term.

What becomes clear from the above excerpt is that the Constitution distinguishes between two types of referenda. First, it is possible to call for a referendum on a serious national issues with a simple majority of the MPs ...

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