Greece closes EU presidency, says country back to 'normal'

  
Greek soldiers Athens, undated.[Shutterstock]
Greek soldiers. Athens, undated. [Shutterstock]

Greece on Monday (30 June) wrapped up its leadership of the rotating EU presidency by claiming the six-month stint had proved that it was a "normal country" capable of managing its finances.

"There was tight management [of expenses]... this is an impressively positive result," Foreign Minister Evangelos Venizelos told a news conference.

"Our main goal was to show that Greece is a normal, equal member-state [of the EU]. The past six months... helped and will continue to help restore the country's image," the foreign minister added.

In its fifth presidency since joining the European bloc in 1981, Greece was keen to show its leadership skills despite ts deep economic troubles that brought it to the brink of bankruptcy in 2010.

At the start of the presidency in January, there had been concern about Greece's ability to handle the task in addition to holding municipal and regional elections nationwide in May.

During the Greek presidency, the EU agreed after long debate to apply a financial market tax by 2016, and approved a new oversight system to prevent banks from failing. 

There was also agreement on a draft maritime security strategy against organised crime, threats to freedom of navigation and environmental risks.

Venizelos said the presidency cost an estimated €19 million, around 30% of the budget Athens had allocated of €50 million ($70 million).

The British embassy in Athens described "the very small expenditure [as] a great example to set". 

But Filippa Chatzistavrou, a research fellow at the Hellenic foundation for European and Foreign Policy (Eliamep), argued that Greece's presidency had been "drab". 

"We did the minimum required... we could have done more" to improve the country's own well-documented problems, such as high youth unemployment and immigration, she told AFP.

"There was more Greece could have done to help itself," she said, pointing to Italy, another of the European Union's highly indebted states which takes over the EU presidency until the end of the year.

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi has called for more room for growth in the EU stability pact, and also appears determined to seek changes to EU rules governing asylum applications for immigrants.

"Greece also had reason to push for this, but did not," Chatzistavrou said.

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