This Europe: Greek government tells its former king: get a surname if you want your money

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The Independent Online

Greece's socialist government is risking the wrath of the Council of Europe after its latest refusal to settle with the former king over a property dispute.

Constantine, former king of the Greeks, as he's named in his Danish passport, is on course for £350m compensation over estates nationalised in 1994. A ruling is expected in June from the European Court of Human Rights.

But a leaked memo showed the only change in the government's hard line on the issue was that the mantra of "not one drachma" had switched to "not one euro".

Nikos Christodoulakis, the Finance Minister, accuses the former monarch of "deliberately attempting to damage the Greek economy", and counters Constantine's claims with a tax bill larger than the proposed compensation.

Costas Simitis, the Prime Minister, refers to the former king as Mr Glucksberg, the blue-blooded surname of his Danish royal house, and has told the London resident to get a surname before reapplying for a Greek passport.

The government insists the three disputed estates never belonged to the former king and were at his disposal only while head of state, an assertion Constantine contends – with the backing of the European court.

The man with no surname has provided stiffer legal opposition than expected – the human rights' court ruled in 2000 that he was entitled to compensation.

The irony of a ruling in favour of the monarch from a court established to uphold democracy has not been lost on the Greek public, who voted overwhelmingly in favour of scrapping the monarchy after the collapse of the seven-year military dictatorship in 1974.

Constantine, a member of the International Olympic Committee, fled Greece in 1967 and has set foot in the country only twice since, after initially supporting then opposing the 1967 coup.

Senior administration figures concede legal errors were made, but Evangelos Venizelos, the Culture Minister and constitutional professor who framed the 1994 law, is less willing to admit it.

Few doubt the Athens administration will comply with the June decision; respect for the rulings of international courts is the cornerstone of their stance on Cyprus and territorial disputes with Turkey.