An eminent law professor from King’s College, London, says that the European Commission and European Central Bank (ECB) could be taken to the European Court of Human Rights for imposing austerity measures on Greece.
Professor Keith Ewing, a frequent visitor to Australia who holds visiting appointments at UWA, Melbourne, Monash and Sydney universities, has developed a case study of how the Troika have shown “a contempt for legality and an indifference to legal obligations” in the conditions set for offering Greece financial support.
Recognised as a leading scholar in public and labour law, Mr Ewing cites the destruction of “an entire collective bargaining system in Greece” – and the enforcement of public sector pay cuts and wage reductions – as contrary to a treaty signed by the EU in 2008 and Greece’s own constitutional rulings on managing labour relations.
Speaking to Neos Kosmos this week, the King’s College academic denied that holding what he sees as the main culprit, the Troika, to account was a fanciful exercise.
“Democratic governments and international institutions should be bound by the rule of law. It’s a fundamental principle”, said the Scottish professor.
“People are also entitled to expect that international institutions that have some kind of supervision over national governments will themselves comply with legal obligations. It’s a pretty fundamental expectation.”
At the heart of his argument is that the European Commission and the ECB – through its imposition of austerity on the Greek government – have ridden a coach and horses through the 2008 treaty signed by the EU.
“That treaty entrenched within it some fundamental values and rights, which is the glue that binds the EU together. What is happening now is that that glue is being dissolved. Promises that were made to all the people of Europe are now being broken.”
The professor describes labour laws in Greece as embedded in its constitution, prior to the Troika’s intervention as ‘a model system’.
“Whatever economic system you have in place there has to be a regulatory framework for regulating terms and conditions of employment.
“What the Greek constitution did, in effect, was to leave the social partners with the responsibility to determine what the minimum wage should be, by collective bargaining.”
Professor Ewing says a case in Turkey provides the basis for contesting the Troika’s actions at the highest level of Europe’s justice system.
In 2008 a Turkish court ruling which denied public service trade unions the right to make collective agreements was overturned by the European Court of Human Rights.
Ewing maintains that the case could be the model for a legal challenge against the Troika’s actions in Greece.
“My argument is that if it’s unlawlful in Turkey under the Convention to fail to give effect to a single collective agreement, then it must also apply to Greece, where there’s been a breach of the same convention and an entire collective bargaining system destroyed,” says the professor.
While he admits the chances of the Greek labour movement mounting a successful legal challenge might be slight, Professor Ewing is adamant that the lessons to be learned from the Troika’s dealings with Greece are vital.
“It is the legal responsibility of the Greek government and these institutions to comply with the laws that they themselves have created.”
Professor Ewing, who has been invited to Greece on a number of occasions by Greek labour movement organisations, says that his work on the Troika’s actions “puts the argument in the wider political arena, to be used as ammunition by those who wish to challenge the things being done”.
“The impact in Greece has been devastating, the consequences greater than on any other EU country and the impact on the national labour law system has been so dramatic that it requires some kind of legal response.
“Who has the right to determine the constitutional structures of a sovereign state? That’s what’s at issue in Greece.”
Professor Ewing will be talking about his study on European labour law, Greece and the Troika as a guest of the Greek Orthodox Community of Melbourne and Victoria on 2 May at the Ithacan Philanthropic Society, 329 Elizabeth Street, Melbourne at 7.00 pm.
Admission is free.