Greece’s parliamentary democracy features vigorous competition between political parties and a strong if imperfect record of upholding civil liberties. Ongoing concerns include corruption, discrimination against immigrants and minority groups, and poor conditions for irregular migrants and asylum seekers.
- Although Greece initially reported relatively few cases of COVID-19, the country experienced a much deadlier second wave of infections later in the year and reintroduced a full lockdown in November. By year’s end, nearly 138,000 cases and 4,800 deaths had been documented.
- In March, amid a surge in irregular border crossings from Turkey, the government suspended processing of asylum applications and allegedly began engaging in arbitrary pushbacks of people entering by land and sea.
- The overcrowded Moria reception center on the island of Lesbos was ravaged by fire in September, temporarily depriving more than 12,000 migrants and asylum seekers of shelter.
- In October, after a protracted trial, leaders of the far-right party Golden Dawn, including former members of parliament, were found guilty of operating a criminal organization. The convicted defendants appealed their prison sentences, which ranged up to 13 years.
|Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections?||4 / 4|
The largely ceremonial president is elected by a parliamentary supermajority for a five-year term. The prime minister is chosen by the president and is usually the leader of the largest party in the parliament. Kyriakos Mitsotakis, head of the center-right party New Democracy (ND), took office as prime minister after the July 2019 elections, replacing incumbent Alexis Tsipras of the Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA). Katerina Sakellaropoulou, a longtime judicial official who had been nominated by ND but was also supported by SYRIZA and the center-left Movement for Change (KINAL), was elected president in January 2020.
|Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections?||4 / 4|
The 300 members of the unicameral Hellenic Parliament are elected to serve four-year terms through a mixture of 8 single-member constituencies, 48 multimember constituencies, and a national constituency with 12 seats. Under the electoral law in effect for the 2019 elections, the party with the most votes received a 50-seat bonus, making it easier to form a governing majority.
In the 2019 elections, ND won a single-party majority of 158 seats. SYRIZA lost its leading position, falling to 86 seats, while KINAL won 22. Among smaller parties, the Communist Party of Greece (KKE) took 15, the right-wing Greek Solution took 10, and the left-wing European Realistic Disobedience Front (MeRA25) secured 9. The far-right Golden Dawn failed to win representation.
|Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies?||4 / 4|
The country has generally fair electoral laws, equal campaigning opportunities, and a weakly enforced system of compulsory voting. If passed with a two-thirds supermajority, changes to the electoral laws are implemented for the next elections. If passed with a simple majority, they go into effect in the following elections. An electoral law passed by the SYRIZA-led government with a simple majority in 2016 abolished the 50-seat bonus awarded to the winning party and was set to take effect during the elections after those in 2019. In January 2020, the ND government secured passage of legislation that would restore a bonus system, awarding between 20 and 50 bonus seats to the leading party depending on its share of the national vote. The new law also passed with a simple majority, meaning it would take effect only after the next elections.
|Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system free of undue obstacles to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings?||4 / 4|
The political system features vigorous competition among a variety of parties. Six parties were represented in the parliament as of 2020. Many other parties participated in the last elections but did not reach the 3 percent vote threshold to secure representation.
|Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections?||4 / 4|
Greece has established a strong pattern of democratic transfers of power between rival parties, with the Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK) and ND alternating in government for most of the past four decades. SYRIZA entered government for the first time in 2015, and ND succeeded it after the 2019 elections.
|Are the people’s political choices free from domination by forces that are external to the political sphere, or by political forces that employ extrapolitical means?||4 / 4|
No group or institution from outside the political system exerts undue influence over the choices of voters and candidates.
|Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, racial, religious, gender, LGBT+, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities?||3 / 4|
Greece’s largest recognized minority population, the Muslim community of Thrace, has full political rights, and three members of the community won seats in the 2019 parliamentary elections. The authorities have rejected some ethnic groups’ attempts to secure official recognition or to register associations with names referring to their ethnic identity, affecting their ability to organize and advocate for their political interests, though such associations are generally able to operate without legal recognition. Since 2010, documented immigrants have been allowed to vote in municipal elections.
There are no significant legal or practical barriers to women’s political participation, and women hold more than a fifth of the seats in the parliament. In January 2020, Katerina Sakellaropoulou became the first woman to be elected as president of Greece. Despite this symbolic development, sexism and patriarchal attitudes continue to dissuade many women from playing a more active role in politics.
|Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government?||4 / 4|
Greek elected officials generally set and implement government policies without undue interference, and the influence of international creditor institutions has receded over the past decade.
|Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective?||3 / 4|
Corruption remains a problem in Greece, and institutions tasked with combating it have inadequate resources. Tax officials in past years have been implicated in tax evasion schemes, which seriously complicate the government’s fiscal reform efforts. A new criminal code and a new code of criminal procedure that were adopted in 2019 allow prison time for the bribery of politicians and are more broadly aligned with relevant international conventions. However, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Working Group on Bribery expressed serious concerns that the main active bribery offense was converted from a felony to a misdemeanor.
Overall, there has been gradual improvement in enforcement of anticorruption laws. In mid-2020, authorities began investigating police officers who allegedly offered to overlook illegal activity in exchange for bribes. Cases implicating the police made up almost 45 percent of all corruption cases investigated in 2019.
|Does the government operate with openness and transparency?||3 / 4|
A number of laws and government programs are designed to ensure the transparency of official decisions and provide public access to information. Officials are required to make public declarations of their assets and income. The transparency of state procurement contracts remains a concern. Past years have featured prosecutions of former officials for contract-related bribery schemes, and in 2020, the government was accused of favoring politically connected companies in spending programs related to COVID-19. Many contracts were reportedly awarded directly using opaque, expedited procedures.
|Are there free and independent media?||3 / 4|
The constitution includes provisions guaranteeing freedom of the press, and these are generally upheld in practice, though the law imposes some limits related to defamation, hate speech, and other such content. While citizens continue to enjoy access to a broad array of print, broadcast, and online news outlets, ownership concentration and editorial interference from owners remain concerns, and the government has been accused of directing public funds toward friendly private media.
Journalists are sometimes subject to assaults or other mistreatment, particularly while attempting to cover protests or report on migration issues. Among other incidents during 2020, separate German media teams reporting on the migration crisis were temporarily detained by police on the islands of Lesbos and Samos, and an Italian crew was detained on Lesbos in December.
|Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private?||3 / 4|
The constitution guarantees freedom of religion, and this is generally respected in practice. However, the Orthodox Church of Greece—which has a special constitutional status as the “prevailing religion” of the country—receives government subsidies, and its clergy’s salaries and pensions are paid for by the state. The constitution prohibits proselytizing, but this restriction is rarely enforced. Members of some minority religions face discrimination and legal barriers, such as permit requirements to open houses of worship.
|Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination?||4 / 4|
There are no significant constraints on academic freedom in Greece, and the educational system is free of political indoctrination. Legislation adopted in 2019 eliminated an academic “asylum” rule that had prevented police from entering university campuses without permission, except under specified circumstances. While the political opposition denounced the change as antidemocratic, the government argued that the rule had led to impunity for criminal activity that disrupted academic life.
|Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution?||4 / 4|
The government does not engage in improper monitoring of personal expression. Individuals are generally free to discuss their views in practice.
|Is there freedom of assembly?||3 / 4|
Freedom of assembly is guaranteed by the constitution, and the government generally protects this right. However, some protests have become violent, and police at times have used excessive force to disperse demonstrators. In February 2020, for example, police on Lesbos reportedly used tear gas and flash grenades against protesting asylum seekers, including children. Similar confrontations occurred later in the year, particularly in the context of a devastating fire at the Moria camp in September.
Beginning in March 2020, large gatherings were prohibited as part of the response to the COVID-19 pandemic. A number of protests went forward despite the restrictions, which were periodically adjusted depending on the health situation. The government banned an annual demonstration in November marking a 1973 student uprising, citing health reasons; hundreds of people who assembled were dispersed using tear gas and a water cannon, and some were arrested. Similarly, dozens of people who gathered to commemorate a teenager’s 2008 killing by police in December were arrested for violating health restrictions.
In July, the government secured passage of a law requiring protest organizers to notify authorities of planned events and exposing them to liability for protest-related damage or injury if they fail to follow legal procedures. Authorities could ban planned demonstrations on public safety grounds with the approval of a judge, according to the law. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), labor unions, and opposition parties opposed the law, and thousands of demonstrators protested its introduction in central Athens, leading to violent clashes between civilians throwing firebombs and police officers using tear gas and flash grenades.
Score Change: The score declined from 4 to 3 because the parliament enacted new legal restrictions on protests, and because multiple demonstrations during the year resulted in violence, arrests, and excessive use of force by police.
|Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work?||4 / 4|
NGOs generally operate without interference from the authorities. However, during 2020 the government made a series of changes to the registration requirements for organizations working on asylum and migration issues, generally increasing the regulatory burden on the NGOs and giving government officials significant discretion to deny registrations. In September, police announced criminal charges against 33 foreign NGO workers and two other individuals for allegedly facilitating irregular crossings from Turkey.
|Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations?||4 / 4|
Most workers have the right to form and join unions, bargain collectively, and strike. The law provides protections against discrimination toward union members, and the government generally upholds union rights.
|Is there an independent judiciary?||3 / 4|
The judiciary is largely independent, though its autonomy is undermined somewhat by corruption. Judges are appointed by the president on the advice of the Supreme Judicial Council, which is mostly composed of other judges. They serve until retirement age and cannot be removed arbitrarily.
|Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters?||3 / 4|
The law provides safeguards against arbitrary arrest and detention, ensures access to defense counsel, and provides for fair trial conditions. Persistent problems include court backlogs that lead to prolonged pretrial detention as well as improper detention of asylum seekers.
|Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies?||3 / 4|
While overall rates of violent crime are low, there are occasional acts of politically motivated violence and vandalism by left- or right-wing extremist groups. For example, in recent years the anarchist group Rouvikonas has damaged the property or ransacked the premises of NGOs, corporations, universities, churches, government buildings, embassies, and consulates, among other targets.
Some prisons and detention centers suffer from substandard conditions, and law enforcement personnel have been accused of physical abuse, particularly against vulnerable groups such as migrants and asylum seekers.
|Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population?||2 / 4|
Women generally enjoy equality before the law, though they continue to face workplace discrimination in practice.
Violence targeting immigrants, refugees, and LGBT+ people remains a problem. Members of the Romany minority are also subject to discrimination despite legal protections. According to the Racist Violence Recording Network (RVRN) annual report for 2019, incidents of organized violence had decreased since 2013, but there were still “a significant number of attacks showing signs of structured organizations or committed by organized groups targeting refugees and migrants.” In October 2020, after a trial lasting five years, leaders and members of the far-right party Golden Dawn, including 18 former lawmakers, were convicted of operating a criminal organization. Some defendants were also found guilty of specific xenophobic attacks, including violent assaults on Egyptian fishermen. Those convicted received prison sentences of up to 13 years, though they reportedly filed appeals.
Since 2016, when the EU reached an agreement with Turkey to curb the westward flow of migrants and refugees, the number entering Greece has been significantly reduced. It fell sharply in 2020, partly due to the pandemic; there were a total of 15,696 new arrivals in the country during 2020, compared with 74,613 during 2019, according to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Many of the refugees and asylum seekers are housed in Reception and Identification Centers on the Aegean islands or in camps on the mainland. Some of these sites feature harsh living conditions, violence, harassment of women, and endangerment of children. A fire broke out in the overcrowded Moria center on Lesbos in September 2020, leaving some 13,000 people temporarily without shelter. Under pressure from NGOs, officials have attempted to close the worst facilities and increase the use of urban accommodation. Many of these relocation attempts are protested by local communities.
Greek authorities have been accused of forcibly returning migrants and asylum seekers who attempt to enter irregularly from Turkey by land and sea. Beginning in late February 2020, the Turkish government actively encouraged irregular crossings, and Greek forces were accused of using excessive violence to repel the thousands of people who responded. The Greek government also suspended processing of asylum applications, resuming the service only in May. The immediate crisis eased later in March as international borders were closed due to COVID-19, but Greek forces allegedly continued to push back people attempting to cross by sea from Turkey.
|Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education?||4 / 4|
Freedom of movement is generally unrestricted for most residents.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the government imposed tight movement restrictions in March 2020. The measures were initially successful in containing the virus, and the country was able to ease restrictions during the spring and summer months. Cases began rising again in August, and the government introduced new limits on movement and large gatherings. Curfews were reintroduced in October, and the country went into lockdown in November. Police were accused of using violent or abusive tactics while enforcing the social-distancing rules in some cases.
|Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors?||3 / 4|
The government and legal framework are generally supportive of property rights and entrepreneurship, but bureaucratic obstacles can inhibit business activity. Those who have political connections or are willing to pay bribes can sometimes expedite official procedures. In an effort to put pressure on tax-evading property owners who misrepresent the value of their assets, the Independent Authority for Public Revenue announced significant fines for this offense in 2019.
|Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance?||4 / 4|
There are no major constraints on personal social freedoms, though domestic violence remains a problem.
A 2018 law stipulated that civil courts have priority over Sharia (Islamic law) courts in adjudicating family law disputes among the Muslim population in Thrace, and that the Sharia bodies could only handle cases in which all parties have agreed to the arrangement. The system in place before the change had been criticized as discriminatory.
A 2017 law allowed unmarried transgender people over age 15 to change their legal gender on identity documents without undergoing gender confirmation surgery or other such procedures, subject to validation by a judge. In 2018, the parliament approved legislation that permitted same-sex couples to serve as foster parents.
|Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation?||3 / 4|
Most residents enjoy legal protections against exploitative working conditions, but labor laws are not always adequately enforced. Migrants and asylum seekers are especially vulnerable to trafficking for forced labor or sexual exploitation, and government efforts to combat the problem, while increasing, remain insufficient, according to the US State Department.