Greece's debt crisis and the question of guilt


The European Court of Human Rights has condemned Greece over the ongoing dispute with its former chief statistician Andreas Georgiou. Late satisfaction for an honest civil servant.

< p>Andreas Georgiou, former President of the Hellenic Statistical Agency, now lives in the USA

The Greek debt crisis is over, but the debate is still on: Who is to take responsibility for Greece's economic misery in recent years? Many believe that the socialist party PASOK bears the primary responsibility. After all, party founder and long-time head of government Andreas Papandreou wrested more money from the EU than anyone else – and spent a large part of it on election gifts.

Others blame the former conservative hopeful Kostas Karamanlis. He ruled Greece from 2004 to 2009, during which time he almost doubled the national deficit to please his own constituency.

And then there are those who don't blame the person who caused the bad news, but the one who brings it. For them, the blame lies with the man who revealed the truth and reported it to Brussels.

An honest public servant

This man's name is Andreas Georgiou. He learned his trade at the International Monetary Fund (IMF), among others. As head of the Greek statistical authority ELSTAT in the period 2010-2015, Georgiou corrected the deficit figures significantly upwards. In doing so, he broke with the tradition of the “Greek statistics,” the embellished household figures. As a result, he was repeatedly insulted as a “nest polluter”. The economist had to leave his homeland for fear of legal prosecution and now lives in the USA.

Andreas Georgiou reported the actual level of the Greek government deficit to Brussels (recording from 2010)

The process came anyway. At least Georgiou was acquitted of the accusation of false statements about the deficit. But in the summer of 2017, in another court case, he received a two-year suspended prison sentence for breach of duty in office. Since then, Georgiou has been fighting for his reputation.

Stage win in Strasbourg

Now the former chief statistician has achieved a stage win. The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), which is attached to the Council of Europe, ruled that Greece violated the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) in the Georgiou case. To be more precise: in the Athens criminal trial against Georgiou, the defendant's right to a fair trial was violated (Art. 6 ECHR).

The Strasbourg judges complain in particular that the Supreme Court in Athens does not have a preliminary ruling procedure before the European Court of Justice (ECJ), the highest court in the EU, wanted to initiate, although Georgiou had expressly requested this. This made Greece guilty of denial of justice.

The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg

The preliminary ruling procedure is the most common type of procedure at the ECJ. It aims to clarify the question of whether national law is compatible with EU law or is to be interpreted in accordance with it. The national court submits the disputed issue to the ECJ. The drafting of the final decision is also the responsibility of the national court. The interpretation of the Luxembourg judges is binding.

Before the European Court of Human Rights, the Athens government declared that a preliminary ruling would only be considered if the national court had doubts about the EU-compliant interpretation of a national legal provision. Apparently that is not the case here, so the referral to the ECJ is not necessary. The Strasbourg judges did not follow this argument.

The chief statistician as a scapegoat

Already in 2017, the EU parliamentarian Giorgos Kyrtsos had criticized the criminal proceedings against Georgiou. “The decision to place Greece under EU supervision was made long before Georgiou was allowed to take over the executive chair at ELSTAT,” he told DW at the time. For this reason alone the accusation that Georgiou exaggerated the deficit figures and only thereby plunged Greece into the crisis is unfounded.

< p>Greek MEP Giorgos Kyrtsos in the EU Parliament in Strasbourg

Today Kyrtsos feels confirmed in his criticism. Georgiou had to be used as a scapegoat because, under the guidance of the relevant EU authorities, he tried to get the household data in order, he told DW. The conservative politician is keen to point out that he has done everything he can to support Georgiou since 2014 as a member of the Economic Affairs Committee of the European Parliament.

At the moment, however, Kyrtsos cannot do much either. After a public dispute with Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, he was forced to leave Nea Dimokratia, Greece's conservative party and even the Group of the European People's Party (EPP). Today, Kyrtsos is working on his comeback as a member of the liberal group Renew Europe.

A “slap in the face” for conspiracy theorists

The socialist ex-minister Evangelos Venizelos was the first high-ranking politician to comment on the Strasbourg verdict: The constitutional lawyer warns that it is a “slap in the face” and not least a “lesson” for conspiracy theorists in Greece who are still speculating about allegedly secret reasons for the debt crisis.

“Satisfaction for Georgiou in Europe ” sees the highest-circulation Athens newspaper Ta Nea. The renowned newspaper Kathimerini reports that the Greek legal system has been “slapped in the face”. Otherwise, the judgment from Strasbourg has received little attention so far – especially since the Greek journalists went on strike on Wednesday.