Greek local government finances are said to favour large cities like Athens

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Local government in Greece
Greek local government reform
must be acceptable to citizens

By Sophie Ziogou, Greek Correspondent

15 June 2005: The institution of local administration in Greece still remains a matter of controversy for society and political parties alike. It is one of the most ‘troublesome’ of topics. To begin with, the institution is divided into three levels. The first includes the mayors, the next includes the so-called ‘nomarches’ (the title of the person in charge of a domain larger than a municipality but smaller than a periphery), and last, but not least, the general secretaries of the peripheries.

Municipalities - the corpus of local administration
The first level works just like the European model. The Mayor is elected every four years, with the councillors derived from his or her party, and those of the minorities. They comprise the municipal council. The councillors of the minorities are accounted for by the percentage of the votes that their party has obtained. They all work for the well being of their municipality and local society.

This, of course, does not always happen. This is because many mayors and councillors use their position - their ‘local power’ - to advance their personal positions. In Greece it is usual for the mayors to ‘use’ the mayoral authority  to run for parliament. What should also be mentioned is that before 1998, the municipalities were not as they are today. Then there were not only municipalities but villages, too, which had their own administrative parties. In the first the ‘leader’ was, as today, the mayor, but in the villages there was the ‘president of the community’. They both functioned in similar ways but the latter had fewer inhabitants and responsibilities than the former.

But in 1998 the governing party of PASOK established the so-called programme ‘Kapodistrias’. The programme was named after the well-known Greek Prime Minister of the early 1920s who helped Greece put the foundations in place to formulate its administration. The idea was to gather small and nearby communities under one authority and make them one municipality. In that way the institution of the ‘president of the community’ was abolished. This specific programme, however, failed to gain acceptance by the people – contrary to government expectation.

But in one way and another, the programme went on. Today there are some villages that  still refuse to participate in the programme, and they are the exceptions that justify the rule. The problem is that while this gave the villages the theoretical opportunity to fight for their rights in relation to better health treatment, education and financial matters in a clear and more organised way, it failed to offer the practical means of doing so. The result was a blurring of authority, with communities and their mayors not knowing how to act. Those villages not close enough to the capital of the mayoral periphery were put at the mercy of God. So the institution of local government, at its very first level, has resulted in administrative chaos.

Nomarches - a ‘painful’ aspect of the institution
The second level, the ‘nomarchy’, is one level up from the mayors and its ‘leader’ is responsible for the Mayors of a specific district. For example, the municipalities of Athens, Piraeus, Zografou, Korydallos, and so on, are all independent, but for others there is blurring. There are 54 nomarches in Greece, but the main problem is that the central government has not defined their responsibilities, creating many local administrative difficulties. Examples abound where Mayors and nomarches have not been able to resolve a particular situation because neither one knows which of them has the authority to act.

From these problems the idea arose of cancelling the institution of the nomarch. This idea was not put into effect, and according to the latest information the minister in charge has left open the prospect of the nomarches being able to be elected without any restriction. 

Peripheries - the ‘chosen’ ones
The third level is the seven peripheries. The paradox in that level is that while the mayors and nomarches are elected every four years, the general secretaries of the peripheries are placed in position by the government. So the Greek people do not choose them, but just accept them. Each time the governing party changes and the ‘power’ passes from one political party to the other, the general secretaries change with them. Consequently, the general secretaries of the peripheries always ‘derive’ from the government - a matter that creates questions about their objectivity as independent aspects of the institution of local governments. This is a great problem, putting obstacles in the way of the rightful functioning of society. The peripherals form the next step after the nomarches, and are a step before the minister of internal affairs - the leader of internal governing.

That is a general outline of the way local government works in Greece. The main problem for those working within local government – trying to put it into effect - is that there are no distinct and specific borders where the work of one organisation stops and the other begins.

Unions, the side-effects - partners 
Besides these three main factors there are in Greece other organisations that focus on rights and obligations. Unfortunately, they don't always function.  Instead, there are times when they make things even more blurred. The main organisation representing all the mayors is the Central Union of Municipalities and Cities. There is also a parallel action ‘party’ for the nomarches. The peripherals do not have a representative union since they ‘derive’ from the government itself. The two unions exist simply to perform the opposite aspect of the government, and to ask for more money and opportunities.

Problems and solutions
The two issues the government must consider that confront local government are these:
a) A new Code of Conduct for the municipalities and cities and
b) the fiscal management of the European and Greek programmes: the institutional and the economic ones.

However, it is well known in Greece that these issues will never be resolved - because no government has ever decided to tackle the problem. Local governance must be properly reorganised and funded accordingly. What has actually happened over all these past years has been the wasteful spending of money and a general financial maltreatment that has always favoured the large cities. Greece has a long way to go before it can boast a decent local administration.    

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