Greek Competition Chief – SYRIZA’s Pick – Gets New Democracy Boot

Vassiliki Thanou. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris, FILE)

ATHENS – New Hellenic Competition Commission (HCC) chief’s Vassiliki Thanou’s tenure was ended Aug. 13, little more than a month after she was appointed by the former ruling Radical Left SYRIZA, ousted under a law okayed by the new New Democracy government.

It wasn’t reported whether she would try to defy it and refuse to step down as she had vowed but officially her appointment ended with the signing of a series of ministerial decisions that also pushed out the vice-president and two board members, said the business newspaper Naftemporiki.

Development & Investments Minister Adonis Georgiadis, a frequent SYRIZA target, put his signature on the order ending the brief term of Thanou, a former head of the Supreme Court who had become Tsipras’ legal advisor and was accused by critics of trying to meddle in the judiciary and an alleged scandal in which the former Premier accused 10 political rivals of taking bribes from the Swiss pharmaceutical company Novartis, without evidence.

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis vowed he would take out Thanou, a thorn in the side of New Democracy, and used a law barring ex-prime ministers, cabinet ministers, senior civil servants and government advisers from regulatory positions for five years after leaving office to get her out.

She was named head of the competition commission in the waning days of SYRZA’s rule just before Tsipras was ousted by Mitsotakis and New Democracy in July 7 snap elections.

She is the only one among 22 heads of Greek regulatory bodies to face dismissal said The Financial Times in a report on Mitsotakis’ first real test in office, the government claiming that she’s not qualified for the position as what it said was a pure political favor.

Before the order was signed, Mitsotakis said that Thanou should leave office immediately, which she refused to do. During the election campaign Mitsotakis promised that his government would “depoliticize” the public administration by ending a tradition of awarding senior administrative jobs to party loyalists on political criteria although SYRIZA noted he named a relative as Chief of Staff.

There was a fierce debate in Parliament where the now major opposition SYRIZA said it was questionable whether the new government had the power to make the law retroactive and apply solely to her.

Thanou also served briefly as Greece’s first woman prime minister in 2015, heading a caretaker government ahead of a national election. She was appointed to run the competition authority in January and gave up her position as Tsipras’ lawyer to serve a five-year term.

THE TECHNOCRAT ARGUMENT

Before she was effectively fired, Thanou, 68, told a Greek TV interviewer she would not leave her post. “I’m a technocrat and I have never been a member of a political party,” she said. “I consider this process illegal . . . I have been personally targeted.”

“My resignation would be tantamount to assenting to the unlawful implementation of a provision. I will therefore not resign,” Thanou told Antenna. “I stand above parties. I have never belonged to any one party,” Thanou said, without explaining why she served Tsipras and as she accused the Conservatives of trying to interfere with her agency.

A New Democracy official who wasn’t named told the Financial Times that the law that leads to her removal was warranted because under European Union law her appointment was “problematic” because of her links to SYRIZA although critics said Mitsotakis was out to get her because of her ties to his rival.

It was acceptable to apply the legislation retroactively because there was an overriding public policy objective involved, the official added of the Hellenic Competition Commission (HCC) whose mission is to allow free competition in the market.

At the time she was appointed Mitsotakis protested, saying in a letter to EU Competition Commissioner Magrethe Vestager, that it was “absolutely incompatible with the role and mission of an independent authority” to have a political appointee in the position.

Mitsotakis said that would conflict with the job of running an independent authority although Tsipras replaced the head of Parliament’s supposed independent budget office with a party loyalist as well.

Mitsotakis also said the government was “attempting to turn the Competition Commission into a de facto instrument” serving its partisan interests and trying to eliminate independent bodies.

He discussed the plan with  Vestager, said Kathimerini after speaking in Parliament where he said that Thanou “will be removed by her post, no matter what she says,” adding that he would explain the reasons to the EU competition chief and accusing SYRIZA of “brutally violating its pledge to de-politicize the HCC.”

Investigators at the competition authority complained earlier this year that Thanou was already interfering in their work and in a letter to the development ministry, a group of 40 officials wrote the “relationship of trust between executives and case investigators” was being undermined.