‘Deeply wrong’: EPP conservatives pull out of spyware mission to Greece

‘Deeply wrong’: EPP conservatives pull out of spyware mission to Greece
Credit: The Brussels Times / Ugo Realfonzo

The largest political group in the European Parliament, the right-wing conservative European People’s Party (EPP), announced on Monday morning it was pulling out of a parliament fact-finding mission on the erosion of the rule of law in Greece, citing last week's tragic train accident as its reason.

The EPP, of which Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis' party New Democracy is a member, is claiming it is doing so out of respect for the victims of the train accident – which killed 57 people last week – yet it is the only political party to have pulled out of the trip. The delegation of MEPs arrived in Athens on Monday afternoon.

"Following the horrible train accident in Greece, the EPP Group has decided not to participate in the mission of Parliament's Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE), that starts there today. It is inappropriate and insensitive," said EPP leader MEP Manfred Weber and MEP Jeroen Lenaers, spokesperson for the Group in the committee.

The EPP group said that it had requested to postpone the trip following the Greek authorities’ appeal to reconsider the mission. “It is extremely disappointing that the Left Groups are so blinded by their dislike of certain governments that they lose sight of the most basic level of respect and humanity,” Lenaers added.

According to the European Parliament, the mission has been scheduled for months, and last week a vote was rejected in the Parliament’s bureau to postpone the trip.

Manfred Weber MEP (Germany), Leader of the EPP Group in the European Parliament (on the right), and Greek PM and New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis in 2019. Credit: EPP

During the fact-finding mission between 6 and 8 March 2023, MEPs will meet Greek leaders, MPs, journalists and NGOs, while seeking to assess the situation on the rule of law, the fight against corruption and the erosion of media freedom under the New Democracy government.

According to reports, the Greek Government is also refusing to meet the European Parliament delegation, with senior figures claiming the trip amounted to EU “interference” in the domestic affairs of a Member State.

EU law expert Alberto Alemanno called the response of both the EPP and the Greek Government “deeply wrong,” adding that the visit by the European Parliament’s LIBE Committee to Greece is “part of the Union’s democratic functioning.”

European Parliament Vice-President Dimitrios Papadimoulis, and member of the left-wing Greek opposition party Syriza, tweeted that the Mitsotakis government had tried to postpone the trip last week. “They failed to thwart the mission and are hiding, refusing to talk.”

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Mitsotakis is facing intense pressure at home following the train accident tragedy, including violent protests over the weekend organised to denounce the state of the country’s trains, which were privatised in 2017.

One of the key focus areas of the European Parliament delegation is the Mitsotakis government’s role in the spyware scandal; last year, it was discovered that opposition MPs, MEPs, journalists and business leaders had their mobile phones infected with the Predator spyware, which was traced back to the Greek intelligence services. One of the very first laws Mitsotakis passed in 2019 was to bring the Greek intelligence agency under his control.

The government has insisted that the surveillance of opposition politicians, journalists, business leaders and its own ministers was legal and undertaken for national security purposes. Following the scandal, Greek authorities have not shared official records and documents with European Parliament MEPs investigating the use of spyware in the EU.

Given the alleged breaches of civil liberties and fundamental rights, the scandal was brought under the scrutiny of the European Parliament’s human rights committee LIBE, which planned a fact-finding mission to Athens last month. MEPs will report their findings at the end of their trip on 8 March.

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