The curbed cucumbers and the Greek regulatory system

Written by Efi Stefopoulou on .

cucumberAnd yet it is not a joke. Until four years ago, all cucumbers on the shelves of grocery stores and supermarkets in Europe should be straight. This was required by the relevant European Directives – yes, the ones supposedly promoting the common internal market. It was only in July 2009 that the common Market Directive 1677/88[1] ceased to be valid. It was only then that wonky fruit and vegetables returned to our table[2]. Many similar stories that go around occasionally have come to become Euro-myths and act as amplifiers of the distrust of the European citizens and the business world towards the single (common) market project.

The addiction of European legislation to unnecessary and frequently bizarre regulations is, after all, the main reason that, in all surveys at the Euro barometer, citizens declare that the law is a source of unbearable bureaucracy[3]. That is why the initiative of the European Union: “Legislation suitable for development” (REFIT- Regulatory Fitness and Performance Program)[4] is something that should interest us. The REFIT program reexamines all the stock of European regulatory matter, aiming to determine charges, contradictions, gaps or inefficient measures.

Last Wednesday, October 2, the first results of the evaluation of the EU regulatory stock were published[5]. European directives concerning chemicals as well as approval of the type of motor-vehicles, wastes, legislation on food etc. were examined among them. The proposals of the SMEs on the ten more intrusive procedures of the internal market were also studied. A legislative initiative of the European commission, which will be announced by the end of 2013, refers to the uniformly across Europe VAT return, it is the result of the recommendation and contributions of SMFs and their representatives. The REFIT program also includes new inspections about the suitability of legislation on issues relating to health and safety at work places, instructions to the working people through temporary employment agencies, assessment and management of environmental noise, means for legal protection in state contract procedures (we can say: remedies in procurement procedures) and arrangements for excise duty.

The quality evaluation process and the evaluation of the results of the law implementation is, of course, nothing new. The codification[6] and the recasting[7] of the law are technical impairments of regulatory complexity already mentioned during the Byzantine period. It is known, for example, that in the tenth century, Basil the First of the Macedonian Byzantine Dynasty, tried to create a general code of Greek-Roman or Byzantine law, which would provide a chronological classification of each legislative act, either old or new. He used to characterize his reform effort in the field of law as “recasting of existing laws”. Basil revised the Code of Justinian, bringing it closer to the needs of his time with the addition of new laws, which were imposed (dictated) by the new social and economic conditions.

His achievements in the field of Law, allowed the successor and son Leo VI the Wise to publish the “Basilikes”, which represents the most complete monument of the Greek-Roman and Byzantine Law. The work of Leo VI followed the objectives set by Basil I, revived that is, the existing regulatory framework, abolishing laws that had lost their meaning or did not correspond with the new conditions of life in Byzantium. “Basilikes Laws” therefore constituted an adaptation to the new conditions of life.

Ionian Civil CodeThe Better Regulaiton Principles, as well as ways of updating the regulatory stock come up in other parts of the history of Greek institutions. Directly after the liberation of the first areas of the New Greek State, the need for a framework of modern rules of law that would govern any relationship came up. More so, as the disharmony between Byzantine laws and the conditions prevailing in Greece at the time was evident. For that reason Kapodistrias suggested the use of ARMENOPOULOS[8] Byzantine Hexabiblos law book. Shortly thereafter, a decree of February 23, 1835[9] surrounded by force of law, the civil provisions of  the Byzantine Hexabiblos law book, without ruling out the conditional application of customs. Let us, at this point, footnote the advanced thinking and flexibility of the first legislature of the Modern Greek State, which leaves the possibility –under certain circumstances- open for the application of customs[10] over those in the Byzantine Hexabiblos law book.

During that period, in which the juridical identity of the New Greek State was being built, other important efforts to create a framework of rules are recorded. The purpose of those efforts was that the rules meet the Greek mentality of litigants. In the Ionian administration, the Ionian code prevailed. This is the first civil code of modern Greece, in effect from 05.01.1841 to 1946 when was repealed by the civil code, although some of its provisions, mainly concerning public land ownership, have been transferred almost entirely into the existing legal framework[11].

 CretanCodeIn Crete, during the Turkish rule, the collection and updating of the existing at the time, legal provisions was often the case. Typical example is the Cretan Code of 1893[12], which incorporated and reformatted every law, regulation, decree, directive and circular had been in force between 1868-1893, in order to meet the current needs of that time. In reference to the Cretan Law, the struggle between customs and law against the foreign rule of Crete, presents particular interest. Reflection upon the approach of Cretan Law of this period, in terms of differentiating between the appropriate and the being, would be most productive in regards to the extraction of conclusions on the inadequate implementation of laws recorded today in Greece.

The Samian Civil Code is yet another example of Greek Law which, although based on the Byzantine and French Law, was a legal construction highly Samian[13]: During the time period in which Samos had not as yet, joined the Greek State, the constitution of the island required the characteristics of the Constitutional State, since the National Assembly of Samos was the sovereign (master) body (authority). Moreover there was a municipal administration and specific, locally determined (appointed) Judiciary, Court, County Court, Court of Appeal[14]. The new political institutions and the communication of the island with its surrounding areas, had brought not only cultural orgasm, but also an urgent need to regulate civil relations with modern legal means. This setting was worthy of (corresponding to) the development and the conditions of Samos at that time.

In conclusion, it can be said, that there is not such a great distance between the application of the principles of better regulation in Byzantium, the Ottoman rule and the early years of the New Greek State and the adoption of the “REFIT-Legislation suitable for development” program by the European Union. The question is what attitude we must hold, as modern Greeks, towards the quality of the regulatory environment in which we live and are expected to thrive: Neither blind denial of any initiative coming from the “west”, nor their uncritical adoption will solve our own -confirmed[15] - as long as excessive regulation is concerned- problems. After all, a lot of the instruments of better regulation, about what our European partners admonish, are nothing more than greek ideas gone through the EU transformation and returned back. It remains, therefore, for us to dis-cover them and use them tailored to our own needs and to the Greek reality.

[1] See: EU regulation 1677/88 of the Commission defining the quality regulation for cucumbers

[2] See: Commissions press announcement titled “The return of the bendy cucumber” here.

[3] The results of the recent Standard Euro barometer: 74% of the Europeans believe that the EU generates too much red tape (Question QA16.4 page 59:

[5] Regulatory Fitness and Performance (REFIT): Results and Next Steps.

[6] Encoding (codification – administrative coding) is the process by which, provisions relating to a certain issue and are scattered into various pieces of legislation, are collected in a single document without the slightest alteration in their formulation (wording) or meaning. This document has no real legal status. Therefore, for any difference, one must refer to the primary settings which were tested for to the drafting of this collective document.

[7] The recasting of the law refers to the process of collecting all the provisions relating to a matter in a single text which, however, is not a simple copy of the initial provisions, but a substantial intervention of the meaning and content of the legislation enabling them to meet modern circumstances. The text resulting from the process of recasting is legally valid only in the case it has been passed as law by the parliament, in accordance with the procedure mentioned in the article 76 paragraph 7 of the Constitution of Greece.

[8] Collection of laws which had been drafted in the 14th century by “In Thessaloniki law maker and critic” Konstantinos Harmenopoulos and which had been widely applied among the enslaved Greeks during the years of the Turkish rule.

[9] See speech by Prof. S. Troianos on “The Byzantine juridical tradition in Greece of the 19th century”, which was given at the international symposium on “Byzantium in historical continuity”, which took place in Delphi 2011.

[10] The decree of 1835 stated that “…The customs, however, imposed (established) by long or incessant habit or by various court rulings shall prevail where they have already prevailed.

[11] According to the Ionian Code, every Ionian island constituted a separate unit of a federal state, and the public property was owned by each island separately. (I.e. the presumption of ownership was not in favor of the state, as it was and still is for the rest of Greece –the Ionian Islands excluded).  The property of each island was called “epichorios” (on the island) and “enchorios” (home property). The concept of the domestic assets of the Ionian also maintained the Kallikratis’ provisions: According to paragraph 15 of article 283 of N 3852/2010 defined that NPDD “Domestic Property of Kythera and Antikythera” continue to exercise powers in accordance with the specific legislation that defines this function.

[12] The preamble of the Cretan Code states that “The Ven. Gen. Administration recommended to our Commission and ordered that the Commission study all the existing laws, directives, resolutions and ordinances and regulations voted and validated and enforced by the General Assembly ratified fourth in the Accum. Gateway and under the fundamental right of Gen. Administration with the purpose to separate the valid from the invalid laws and create a new up to date collection.”

[13] It is a characteristic point that in the explanatory memorandum of the Samian Code which was approved by the Samian Assembly in 1890, its differentiations from the Italian and French civil code, which was in force at the time, are mentioned one by one, justifying, that way, the turning away from these models and adopting, as a basis, the social conditions that had been formed in the island during this period.

[14] See “Themistoklis Sofoulis – Prime Minister of Greece” by K Ptini, in the General State Archives of Samos region.

[15] See P. Karkatsoulis “Regulation – deregulation - reform” (in Greek), Sideris Publications as well as “Towards Smart Regulation in Europe


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