Greece hopes to persuade its EU partners during its Union presidency that it will highlight important issues and make a difference.
By H.K. Tzanis for Southeast European Times in Athens -- 07/10/13
Greece foreign affairs ministry is planning reduced funds and personnel to manage the country's EU presidency. [H.K. Tzanis/SETimes]
Greece will assume the EU presidency next January amid the continuing economic crisis bedevilling the country and much of the Eurozone -- a doubled-edged prospect that is nevertheless viewed as a challenge toward clarifying Union priorities.
The government announced last week it will spend roughly 50 million euros on its EU presidency and will use no more than 150 staff members.
By contrast, recent EU presidencies have cost between 60 and 75 million euros and fielded up to 250 staff members.
Even with the envisioned cost and personnel reductions, two German MPs -- Christian-Democrat Klaus-Peter Willsch and Liberal Frank Schaeffler -- called on Athens to give up its turn at the EU helm.
The comments generated heated political reactions in Greece and prompted support by Joseph Daul, head of the centre-right European People's Party (EPP) group in the Euro-parliament.
"The EPP family fully supports Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras and his government in all their efforts to lead the country out of the economic crisis and its social repercussions," Daul said.
The Greek presidency comes at a crucial time for the EU, according to Greek MEP Georgios Papanikolaou.
"The emphasis must be on growth and jobs as well as on migration and maritime policies that the EU must have. Within this framework, Greece must and should highlight these priorities," Papanikolaou told SETimes.
Papanikolaou criticised Cyprus for failing to seize the opportunity during its EU presidency last year to present the steps it took to prevent an economic meltdown, or to prepare the groundwork for future negotiations with institutional creditors.
"Instead, Cyprus used the (EU) presidency as an alibi to hide its problems," he said.
Papanikolaou said Greece has no reason to hide anything.
"What we want to do is to present the progress made and highlight the sacrifices made by the Greek people. That is the challenge for the presidency," he said.
The Radical Left Coalition (SYRIZA) opposition party deputy, however, said a successful Greek presidency should first promote initiatives to benefit less favoured areas, particularly island regions that are more affected by austerity.
"A Greek EU presidency must also focus on the social dimension of a European recovery, especially for the Union's islands," Parliament deputy Dimitris Gakis told SETimes.
The government's goal is to confirm the European dimension of Greek policy, said George Tzogopoulos, a research fellow with the Athens-based Hellenic Foundation for European Studies and Foreign Policy (ELIAMEP).
"[The goal is also] to prove that even amid such a crisis it can assume a pan-European role as it did in 2003 as well as to buttress the country's international standing," Tzogopoulos told SETimes.
In 2003, Greece assumed the EU presidency that was crowned by passing the Thessaloniki Declaration at the EU-Western Balkans summit, a landmark action which affirmed the future of the Balkans is within the EU.
Tzogopoulos said given the institutional changes in the EU after the Lisbon treaty, individual EU presidencies no longer assume a presiding role in shaping international foreign policy issues; the EU high representative for foreign affairs and security policy assumes that role now.
Tzogopoulos also said that Greece and Italy, which will succeed Greece at the EU's helm in the second half of next year, will both be in a position to propose alternative incentives for economic growth in place of the austerity-driven policy.
"[This] regardless of whether European powers, such as Germany, actually agree to such alternatives," Tzogopoulos said.
What should Greece's priorities be during its turn at EU's rotating presidency? Share your opinion in the comments space.