Following New Democracy’s victory in the 2019 elections, Dimitris Economou, a professor in the Department of Spatial Planning, Urban Planning and Regional Development at the University of Thessaly, was on July 9 appointed Deputy Minister of Environment and Energy, responsible for spatial planning and the urban environment (Presidential Decree 83/9.7.2019 | Government Gazette A ‘121/9.7.2019). He held this office until January 5, 2021, when he resigned in the context of government reorganization (Presidential Decree 1/4.1.2021 | Government Gazette A ‘1 / 5.1.2021).
The appointment of Mr. Economou as Deputy Minister proved controversial as he was, up until his appointment, an advisor to Lamda Development, the construction company that has undertaken a significant investment project in Elliniko. The Deputy Minister himself states that he provided services for the urban planning studies of this specific project. Considering that Mr. Economou’s governmental portfolio included this project, we can see that the former consultant for the construction company has, in a very short space of time, jumped from a position working for private interests in this project to representing the public interest in a governmental position.
The term ‘revolving doors’ describes the phenomenon in which legislators and politicians become lobbyists or advisers to the industries over which they exercised oversight or control when working for the public authorities or, vice versa, when executives of industries or their associations are appointed to managerial or governmental positions dealing with issues relating to their work in the private sector. The transition of Mr. Economou from the position of an industry consultant to the post of Deputy Minister who has its activities under his responsibilities, fulfills the definition of the revolving door phenomenon.
The problem with revolving doors is that the transition from the private to the public sector and vice versa allows individuals to use the connections and knowledge they have acquired from their previous post to potentially satisfy personal or private interests to the detriment of the public interest.
Articles 68-76 of Law 4622/2019 (Government Gazette A ‘133/7.8.2019 as amended by subsequent legislation) regulates incompatibilities for governmental appointments. The law stipulates that for all persons appointed as members of the government and deputy ministers “the exercise of any professional or business activity is automatically suspended.” Members of the government are required to obtain a permit from the Ethics Committee of the National Transparency Authority if they wish to undertake any professional activity related to the area of their work within government within one year of their departure from their post, to avoid conflict of interest. This means that a person can effectively immediately move from the private sector to a public office.
It should be noted that the report from the Fifth Round Evaluation of the Council of Europe Group of States against Corruption (GRECO), “sees merit in strengthening and adapting some aspects of the revolving door standard,” and recommends that, “the post-employment regime be reviewed in order to assess its adequacy and that it be strengthened by broadening its scope in respect of persons with top executive functions.”
Opposition party SYRIZA MP and former Alternate Minister of Environment and Energy Socrates Famellos referred to the appointment of Economou as an `important ethical issue`. The former minister also made reference to an article published by Documento, which alleged that Ministry officials were very concerned that a former advisor and one of the negotiators of Lamda Development`s bid to develop Elliniko had now been given political responsibility for the same project.
Mr. Economou has stated that his cooperation with Lamda Development was well known and does not constitute evidence of any undue influence from the company. His services, he claims, were limited to advising on adherence to urban planning legislation for the project.
A state governed by the rule of law should provide concrete measures to transparently and effectively combat the phenomenon of revolving doors and conflicts of interest.
However, as the case of Mr. Economou shows, Greece has not adopted a legal framework that covers all these cases and which specifically lays down the rules and conditions under which an industry advisor or executive may, with the restrictions necessary for the protection of the public interest, be appointed to a governmental or public position which has supervisory responsibilities for the activities of the industry.
The lack of such measures makes it easier for former executives of private companies holding public office to exert influence and lobby, satisfying private interests to the detriment of the public and citizens.
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