ATHENS – Having the votes, Greece’s ruling New Democracy on Feb. 10 is expected to override objections to an education reform bill that will see security forces put on violence-plagued university grounds.
The major opposition and former ruling SYRIZA and other rival parties to the Conservatives said they didn’t want tougher standards for getting into – and staying in – universities, which will also be brought.
The vote is set to coincide with a protest staged by teachers’ associations, parents and teachers in violation of COVID-19 health measures banning public gatherings and a new law prohibiting protests during restrictions.
The biggest opposition is to a kind of campus police force that many educators wanted because of attacks even on school officials but which others didn’t, fearing reprisals from students they fear.
The campus police forces will be under the jurisdiction of the Hellenic Police who, under New Democracy, also were given access to university grounds after an asylum law was reversed.
Other changes include requiring students to pass college entrance exams, limit how many years they can stay in universities without graduating and evaluation of teachers who don’t want their performance measured.
SYRIZA lawmaker and former minister Panos Skourletis said the bill should be withdrawn to prevent protests which the Leftists didn’t do when in power for 4 ½ years and saw frequent demonstrations.
“We cannot debate for two or three days a bill that is certain to draw protests and clashes because of … the government’s obsessions. This (debate) must be frozen. There is no need to test society’s limits,” Skourletis said.
All left-wing opposition parties said police forces on university grounds are unconstitutional, an argument the government rejected, but opponents said they would carry out street demonstrations despite lockdown rules.
“Those anti-educational laws and measures will only stay on paper. We cannot and we will not back down,” declared elementary school teachers’ union DOE.
Meanwhile, There was tension between police and protestors on Wednesday afternoon in front of the Greek parliament at Syntagma, when students clashed with riot police in an attempt to break through a police cordon. Police repelled the protestors by using tear gas.
The situation was reported to have calmed down for the time being but the protestors remained gathered at Syntagma Square.
Education minister rejects proposal to put off debate
Education Minister Niki Kerameus roundly rejected a proposal that she stop the debate and vote of her ministry's draft bill in parliament, made by main opposition SYRIZA-Progressive Alliance leader Alexis Tsipras, saying that this concealed an attempt by Tsipras to "take back" his own controversial statement on television that he "accepted" the epidemiological risk for those participating in planned protest rallies opposing her legislation.
"We state unequivocally on the part of the government: the debate in parliament will not stop so that there is a stop to the discussion of this unprecedented statement by the main opposition leader," she said, accusing SYRIZA of "protesting without observing minimum distances in the morning and turning up to denounce the rise in cases in the afternoon."
She also denied trying to pass the bill without adequate consultation and pointed out that the parliamentary debate was given the maximum time allowed, with 150 MPs scheduled to speak.
"The main opposition's proposal is clear: we should lock up parliament as long as the pandemic lasts, not legislate, not take the country forward, just wait. It is the same logic that calls for the locking up of schools from the first day of the pandemic until the last," Kerameus added.
She also refuted that university rectors opposed the draft law, saying that they while they might not all agree on the proposed solution, they did agree with a minimum pass mark for admission and a smaller number of choices in the applications form, as well as with controlled access to universities, while all admitted that there was a serious problem with lawlessness on campuses. She also claimed that opposition to the bill was mainly restricted to the SYRIZA party, while support among the party's voters was much higher, even for the proposed campus police.
Finally, Kerameus questioned the main opposition leader's estimate that there would be 24,000 fewer students admitted to universities as a result of the changes, noting that this would depend not only on their results but also on the minimum pass marks set by the universities themselves.
Tsipras: Gov't starting to completely lose control of the pandemic
The government has started to "completely lose control of both the pandemic and political control and is being led to anti-democratic manipulations" said main opposition SYRIZA-Progressive Alliance leader Alexis Tsipras in parliament on Wednesday, during the debate on the draft education bill.
Addressing Education Minister Niki Kerameus, he said: "You are bringing the bill without carrying out a dialogue with the educational community bodies and while parliament is functioning under a special regime…You bring a bill that provokes reactions, despite the fact that [university] rectors, students, even police officers and members of your party oppose it. You insist, even if though you are opposed by the overwhelming majority of parents and pupils, who cannot express themselves and are doing classes online. You bring a bill that will result in 24,000 fewer university admissions and, at the same time, you are changing the university admission system in the midst of a pandemic. All this at a time when our minds and thoughts are fully occupied by the pandemic and how we can avoid catching the coronavirus."