A Huge Step Forward, First Female President of Greece
Updated: Apr 15
Author: Constantine Hatzis; Chief Editor: Bincheng Mao
This is an opinion piece; it reflects the personal opinion of the author(s)'s, not necessarily the opinion of the ECC.
Source: Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou said the women of Greece must 'realise that they can attain their dreams' [Alkis Konstantinidis/Pool/Reuters]
Katerina Sakelloropoulo is now the elected Greek President succeeding Prokopis Pavlopoulous, making her the first female president of Greece. She assumed office on 13 of March this year, making this further unique as Katerina is not aligned with any political parties. She was the former head judge of the Council of the State, which is the Supreme Administrative Court of the Hellenic Republic; this is why she is not aligned with any political parties.
Due to lack of party affiliation, she was seen as a nonpartisan candidate, which allowed her to gain many votes even from the main opposition party Syriza, considered by some as a radical left party, even though she was nominated by the center-right party New Democracy. This was demonstrated by the landslide victory of her election in which she received 261 votes in the 300 seat parliament, way above the 200 vote requirement. Though this nomination by the Prime Minister Mistotakis has been viewed as a political move in order to combat the criticisms regarding the lack of women in his cabinet, as only 1 out the 18 senior positions in his cabinet are women. Additionally, what makes this so bizarre and almost ironic was that she was nominated by the center-right party New Democracy, the current party on power, even though she has fairly liberal policies and is quite progressive in terms of environment and human rights; she was nominated to her position as head judge, making her also the first female to take position in Hellenic history, by Alexis Tsipras, former Greek Prime minister from the years 2015 to 2019 and current leader of the radical left party Syriza, which further demonstrates how well-liked she is among all sides. For an example of her liberal ideologies, Sakellaropoulo “has served as President of the Hellenic Society for Environmental Law since 2015, and has actively worked on large cases involving the environment, including the diversion of the Acheloos River in Thessaly and the preservation of the historic refugee buildings on Alexandras Avenue in Athens”.(Kokkinidis). But, due to her nonpartisanship, although she does maintain liberal policies, she was elected, which is quite surprising as during this current divisive political climate in Greece nonpartisanship is quite few and in between. So it is a breath of fresh air for Hellas to finally see some unity within parliament.
Now the role of President in Greece is mostly symbolic and ceremonial, as the president, unlike the Prime Minister, is not the active chief executive of the country. The president is the head of state and is elected by the 300 members in parliament, which means that she will not have any significant executive, veto or legislative power. Her position is quite similar to many other presidents in European nations like the President of Germany and the President of Italy. However, Katerina Sakellaropolous will have a very significant symbolic power, and with her influence can inflict serious damage to the government if she ever wants to criticize a certain policy or an approach. Now, this is far from having a woman lead this nation, but this is quite symbolic for Greece and she will be a role model for many Hellenic women against the thick glass ceiling that exists in the Greek political system. Furthermore, a person like her who is almost unanimously supported, can unite Greece and it’s polarized political system, says Aristedes Hatzis—Professor of Law at the University of Athens. He further states, "She's going to be supported by almost 90 percent of Greek MPs. This is unprecedented unanimity for Greece's political system. First female president, broad political consensus, this is a moment of historical significance for Greece." Due to this almost universal support, she will probably have a significant amount of influence in the government just based on how popular she is. Although she has little veto power, like aforementioned she can deal critical damage to the government if she speaks out against it, which will be further amplified by how loved she is by the people. What this possibly means is that some of the issues she is passionate about and fights for like environment and human rights, will be given more attention and be noticed more by the Greek people and this can definitely have an influence against some of the conservative policies of New Democracy. She is a rare judge who has always taken a courageous stance on civil rights whether that be voting against sexual discrimination, or in favour of refugee children or civil unions for same-sex couples, which has caused some dissatisfaction within the New Democracy party. So having here be president signifies that such issues may be brought to the forefront of politics and her opinions may now have a stronger weight and influence due to her new status. This can alter the course of many policies. There is definitely an opportunity that this president can have a substantial impact on Greek politics during her 5-year term.
Now how this influences the society of Greece is that this move is now a symbolic act of what may hopefully come and the glass ceilings that will be broken. Greece is known to be quite conservative and traditional amongst many European nations, with some having the lower representation of women in politics. With only 18% percent of women being in parliament which is quite smaller than the average 30% for many European countries, which is further propagated by only have 1 woman in a senior cabinet position out of 18. Greece scores below the European average in gender equality and was at the very bottom of the gender equality index for 2017 issued by the European Institute for Gender Equality. Traditionally, Greece has not been very egalitarian, and as someone who is from Sparti, I know how traditional Greece can be, with the women typically stuck in homes as the primary caretaker with the husband as the breadwinner. There is a reason why Greek food takes forever to cook, and it was because traditionally women were stuck in their homes all the time which allowed them to create such food. While this may not be as common in the more urban areas of Athina and Thessaloniki, it is still quite prevalent in the more rural areas of Greece in which women are forced into limited positions. So having a woman who has been a symbol for breaking the glass ceiling as being the first female head judge of the Council of the State and now the first female president, is perfect to open “a window to the future”, as the Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said. Furthermore, Sakellaropoulo is a progressive judge who has protected human rights and as president, she will probably fight for many human rights, including inequalities that exist amongst men and women. Even if this is just a political move for Mitsotakis to shake off any criticisms he had for a lack of women in his cabinet, the nomination of Sakellaropoulo is extremely symbolic and provides a great model for many Hellenic women so they can break the glass ceiling. It helps breach the gap between the sexes in terms of equality, and hopefully allows for more representation of women in the political sphere.
This is an opinion piece; it reflects the personal opinion of the author(s)'s, not necessarily the opinion of the ECC. The ECC's publication of opinion pieces are not an endorsement of them.