The international legal system depends on adoption by the domestic legal systems of individual states to function effectively. The international legal system is interpreted through diverse ways at the domestic level. The execution of international law at the national level is determined by governmental structure, the constitution, and the division of power in individual states. Many nations explicitly describe how international law will be applied within their legal systems in their fundamental laws, including their constitutions, charters, and basic laws. The two main theories regarding international law application are monism and dualism. Monist theory says that both the international and domestic legal systems are one and the same and that the international legal system takes precedence over the domestic system. On the other hand, proponents of dualism argue that international law should be applied through incorporation into the domestic system and that both the international and internal systems are to be separate.
One example of a state that has interpreted international law and adopted it within its domestic legal system is Greece. The current constitution of Greece was originally adopted in 1975 and amended most recently in 2008. Greece is a parliamentary republic with three branches of government. The three branches of government in Greece are the legislative, executive, and judiciary. The Greek parliament is unicameral and is elected by popular vote, and the total number of members is 300, as determined by law. The executive branch consists of the president, who acts as the head of state, and a prime minister, who serves as the head of government. The judiciary is divided between civil, criminal, and administrative courts that are presided over by the Supreme Judicial Court and the Special Supreme Tribunal. The Greek judicial branch also follows the tradition of civil law as opposed to common law. The background of civil law is based in Roman tradition and is prevalent in Eastern Europe, whereas common law is based in English tradition and is common to Western Europe and the U.S. Greece is subject to the laws of the United Nations and the European Union as an active member of both organizations.
International law is explicitly referenced in the Greek Constitution in several provisions. The first reference to international law occurs in Article 2 Section 2 of the Greek Constitution, in which it states that Greece will adhere to international law. The provision states that “Greece, following the generally accepted rules of international law, seeks consolidation of peace and justice and fostering of friendly relations among Peoples and States (Greek Constitution art. 2 par. 2). In addition, Article 28 Section 2 states that Greece will accept limits on their autonomy as voted by the majority vote of parliament when it states, “Greece shall accept restrictions on the exercise of national sovereignty by laws passed by the absolute majority of the total number of deputies, if this be dictated by important national interests, if human rights and the foundations of the democratic regime be not violated, and if this be effected on the basis of the principle of equality and on condition of reciprocity” (Greek Constitution art. 28 par. 2). The incorporation of such provisions within its constitution illustrates that Greece views international law as a significant characteristic in its own fundamental laws and that international law will take precedence over internal laws.
With regards to the provisions referencing the role of international law within its constitution, Greece is operating under the principles of monist theory as opposed to dualist theory. Monist theory stipulates that international law does not need to be translated into domestic law and that the act of ratifying a treaty incorporates both international law and national law. The provision in the Greek Constitution that supports monist theory is Article 28 Section 1. In Article 28 Section 1, the Constitution mentions that the generally recognized rules of international law will be an aspect of Greek law upon their ratification and will prevail over any contrary constitutional provision. In contrast, dualist theory specifies that international law is not directly applicable domestically and that it must be translated into national legislation before it can be applied nationally.
International law within Greece can be implemented through parliamentary procedures. For any treaty to come into effect, parliament must vote in favor by a 3/5th majority, as stated in Article 28 Section 2. Additionally, if the President opts to act as a representative of the state and personally endorse any “conventions on trade, taxation, economic cooperation and participation in international organizations or unions and all others containing concessions,” as referenced in Article 36 Section 2, all policies must be ratified by the Parliament before being enacted (Greek Constitution art. 3 par. 2). In constitutional law, the powers of judicial administration are granted by the constitution to the state and the state enacts legislation under its judgment to promote the well-being of all citizens. Fundamental law, on the other hand, explicitly states the laws for individual people. Because Greek law is dictated by parliamentary and executive operatives, it can be considered constitutional in nature. For example, Article 1 of the Greek constitution states that “Popular sovereignty is the foundation of government,” and, “All powers derive from the People and exist for the People and the Nation; they shall be exercised as specified by the Constitution” (Greek Constitution art. 1). This is saying that powers of government entities are dictated by the constitution.
In Greece, jurisdiction over issues such as whether rules of international law belong to customary international law and the clarification of international law provisions rests with the Supreme Special Court. According to Article 100 of the Greek Constitution, the Supreme Special Court is comprised of the Presidents of the Supreme Courts, four members of the Court of Cassation, and four members of the Council of State. The selected members of the Court of Cassation and the Council of State serve on the Supreme Special Court for a 2-year term. The Supreme Special Court is not a permanent standing court and only called when a case relating to its special competencies arises. Decisions of the Supreme Special Court are also binding and irrevocable for all the other branches of the judiciary.
Greece has interpreted the meaning of specific sources of international law within its domestic system. A recent example of Greece interpreting international law in its internal system occurred with its implementing of austerity measures as ordered by the European Union to solve the debt crisis the country has been experiencing over the past few years. As a result of the financial crisis of the late 2000s, the Greek economy has declined, and the level of government debt grew to unsustainable levels. As a consequence of the unstable economic conditions within the country, the European Union offered Greece a bailout to stabilize its finances and restore some order in its economy. The bailout came with the conditions that Greece would need to implement austerity measures such as tax increases and cuts in government spending. In response to the bailout provisions and reflecting their view that international conventions in which they are party to represent an essential part of their domestic legal system, Greece had to abide by the bailout conditions and implement a variety of austerity measures through their legislative and executive branches.
Another example of Greece interpreting the meaning of international law occurred through its declaration recognizing the jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice as compulsory with several reservations in 2015. In its statement, Greece stated that it will hold any of the rulings of the court as mandatory with the exception of any dispute relating to military action taken to protect its sovereignty, any dispute concerning State boundaries or sovereignty over its territory and any dispute in respect of which any other party to the dispute has accepted the compulsory jurisdiction of the Court only in relation to or for the purpose of that dispute. Through the determination of such reservations, the Greek government is asserting its perception that the ICJ statute goes against what it views as customary international law.
The future of Greece’s perception of international law depends on several factors. One such factor is related to the ongoing Greek debt crisis. As a result of the economic turmoil within the country and the conditions brought about by austerity measures the country has taken, a potential backlash may emerge against organizations that Greece is a party to such as the European Union. In recent years, an active nationalist movement led by groups such as Golden Dawn also emerged in Greece in response to the issues facing the country and called for less participation in international organizations. In addition, the expressed reservations by Greece against the ICJ statute may serve as an indicator as to how Greece may perceive international law in the future.
In conclusion, the success international legal system is contingent on the adoption by the domestic legal systems of individual states and the interpretation of the international legal system at the national level is diverse and depends on several factors. Greece is one such country that has applied international law within its domestic system in several ways and has also had to interpret specific sources of international law. Through the study of Greece’s application of international law in the domestic law structure, one can determine how the country will interpret and apply international law in the years to come.