ATHENS – In another setback for government plans to slash costs, Greece’s highest administrative court has ruled that cuts to the pensions of the armed forces, the police, university professors and National Health System executive medical staff are unconstitutional and must be restored.
The State Audit Council decision followed another that had ruled the government must restore the slashed pay as well of uniformed officers, police and emergency services personnel that had been cut as part of austerity measures imposed on orders of international lenders, the Troika of the European Union-International Monetary Fund-European Central Bank (EU-IMF-ECB) that put up 240 billion euros ($306 billion) in two bailouts.
Prime Minister and New Democracy Conservative leader Antonis Samaras ignored that order without consequence and it wasn’t clear if he would also refuse to abide by the new directive or be held accountable. The government has also ignored court orders to restore slashed lump sums for pensioners, arguing there isn’t enough money.
Other public worker sectors are also moving to get their pay and pensions, slashed 30 percent and more with lump sums reduced 38 percent, also brought back to pre-austerity levels, which the government said could unravel 4 1/2 years of cutbacks and undermine a looming recovery.
According to early Finance Ministry estimates, covering the cost of paying the difference to former members of the police and armed forces alone concerning the period from June 2012 to date will amount to some 250 million euros, while the permanent cost that should be added to the state budget from 2015 onward is estimated at almost 100 million a year.
Ministry officials said that court decisions have to be respected and applied according to the budget’s capacity, which effectively means if there isn’t money to pay the pensions then the court will be ignored again.
They added that the ministry has not yet received the official decision of the council’s plenary, and that the ministry will need to examine the details of the verdict before any measures are taken. They did however stress that army pensioners have already had their claims settled through recent legislation but not paid.
Technically, the decision must be obeyed immediately as the state does not have the right to appeal unless another Supreme Court issues a verdict to the contrary but there was no immediate indication that the government would do so as Premiers have previously refused to go along with decisions they didn’t like.
The court convened behind closed doors last week and with three almost unequivocal decisions annulled the government’s decision for the retroactive reduction of army pensioners implemented in August 2012 as unconstitutional, illegal and in contravention of the European Convention on Human Rights, Kathimerini said.
By a vote of 27-2 the court decided that the government’s act to reduce the pensions of military personnel “is legally unfounded and without an object.” It also argued that the move was in violation of the European human rights charter as the state failed to establish that the cut to pensions was dictated by reasons of general public or social interest.
A majority of 21 to eight decided that the cuts to pensions of National Health System medical directors and university professors contravene constitutional provisions for equality, proportionality, meritocracy and ownership.
The courts have also said the government can’t cut the pay and benefits of judges along with the police, military, professors and medical staff but everyone else is out of luck for now and will bear the brunt of the cuts while the other sectors are exempted, along with Parliament workers who threatened to strike if their pay and benefits were cut further.
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