Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis survived a no-confidence vote over a wiretapping scandal that shocked the nation and sparked growing concern within the EU.
After three days of heated debate, the motion of censure was rejected on Friday by 156 votes against 143 in the Chamber of Deputies, which has 300 seats. With passions fueled by leaks of wiretaps placed on politicians, senior military officers and journalists, the debate continued into the wee hours before the vote.
«You can’t pretend to be ignorant,» said opposition leader Alexis Tsipras, who described Mitsotakis as the mastermind of a «criminal network» that deliberately listened to friends and foes. “You knew everything and for six months you lied. You knew about the surveillance because you ordered it.
Parliamentary arithmetic had determined the outcome of the vote, but the result would be a «Pyrrhic victory», Tsipras told the chamber. «This will not prevent your electoral defeat», he cursed.
With polls expected in the spring, the spy scandal shows little sign of abating. Mitsotakis had publicly welcomed the motion, seeing it as an opportunity to compare and contrast the record of his center-right government with that of Tsipras’ Syriza party, in power between 2015 and 2019.
But revelations come at a cost. For a politician more accustomed to being seen as a rare achievement by the European right – celebrated for what is widely seen as Greece’s dramatic turnaround after a protracted economic crisis – the allegations have not been good.
Until the scandal broke six months ago, Mitsotakis’ New Democracy party had a double-digit lead over Syriza. This week, a survey by polling firm MRB put it down to 5.9 points, lower than at any other time.
Allegations of state surveillance have snowballed since Nikos Androulakis, who leads the country’s third party Pasok, revealed he was bugged by the national intelligence service, EYP. Subsequent checks showed that Androulakis, an MEP, had also been targeted by the Israeli-made Predator spyware.
From the start, the opposition had sought to label the scandal “Greece’s Watergate,” pointing to Mitsotakis’ early decision to place the EYP under the control of his office.
Mitsotakis, however, acknowledged that Greek intelligence services were monitoring Androulakis ahead of the Pasok leadership race in 2021. In an address to the nation in early August, he called the wiretapping bad, although he did not explain why his political opponent was being watched.
On Friday, the prime minister again said the surveillance was «not politically acceptable», even though it was legitimate under Greek law. Earlier this month he called the case the «biggest mistake» of his four-year term in office.
But the perceived heavy-handedness with which the government has reacted to the scandal – culminating in the alleged obstruction of ADAE, the communications watchdog charged with investigating the allegations – has invigorated critics. Tabling the no-confidence motion on Wednesday, Tsipras told MPs that the independent body had confirmed that six public figures, including the labor minister and the head of the armed forces, had been spied on by the EYP.
“How patriotic is it for you to have the leadership of the armed forces under surveillance? the Syriza leader asked on Friday.
Androulakis repeatedly alluded to the “dark practices” deployed during the military regime of 1967-1974. Constitutional law experts also intervened.
«Greece must comply with European principles on surveillance,» said Nikos Alivizatos, professor emeritus of constitutional law at the University of Athens. «It worries me that in all of Mitsotakis’ speeches, he prioritizes the issue of national security and says almost nothing about the right to privacy, as if security is the rule and the rights of the man the exception.»
Greece is among the countries that have been investigated by the European Parliament’s Pega Committee, set up to investigate the illegal use of malicious spyware by EU member states. The committee’s findings paint a maddening picture of a nation which, along with Hungary, Poland, Spain and Cyprus, is among the continent’s five worst offenders.
«What we found in Greece is alarming,» Sophie in ‘t Veld, the commission’s rapporteur, told The Guardian. «If we were to think of it as a puzzle of 1,000 pieces, then 990 of those pieces indicate that Mitsotakis or his entourage are responsible for spyware abuse.»
The Dutch politician complained that since the start of the investigation, the commission had been constantly thwarted in its efforts. “There are simply too many people in important positions who block all attempts at transparency and access to the truth,” she said, adding that Christos Rammos, the judge who heads the ADAE, had been «bullied and harassed».
«If you look at the list of confirmed targets, spyware is not used for ‘national security reasons’ but for political purposes,» she said.