Troubled Greece prepares for spartan EU presidency

Greece protests Athens_Picnik.jpg

While analysts have predicted Greece will require more aid, albeit on a smaller scale than previous bailouts totalling about €240 billion, the troubled country has vowed frugally to spend less than €50 million during its upcoming EU presidency.

"We will spend much less than we spent in previous presidencies," a Greek official told reporters in Brussels yesterday (1 October).

Greece, which beginning its tenure of the rotating presidency on 1 January, takes the helm of the EU at a critical time, just months before the end of the current European Parliament. This means that Greece will have less than four months to deliver on complicated dossiers, rather than the full six months.

“It will be impossible to adopt all the files in the few months before the European elections and we will have to make tough decision,” the high-ranking official said, stressing that the country's priorities had to be drawn according to the limited resources.

Greece would spend less and use no more than 130 officials, he said, in contrast to other recent presidencies that had budgets of €60 to 80 million and employed up to 250 staff.

Liquidity and trust

The Greek official insisted that more than 250 files were still pending but that some would inevitably have to be put on the back burner. Accelerating the completion of the Economic and Monetary Union figured at the top of the agenda, as it is considered a key condition to restore liquidity.

While Athens promises to makes progress on the banking union, like most countries taking over the EU presidency it sees itself more as an honest broker than a deal-maker. 

Delivering on the banking union could also restore trust among citizens. Ahead of the EU elections in 2014, boosting public confidence in the European economy is a must, considering recent gains by eurosceptic parties in national general polls, the official insisted.

“We need to take a critical look at what went wrong,” the Greek official said, lamenting the lack of transparency on how eurozone decisions are taken outside the institutional framework and away democratic control.

The growing euroscepticism in traditional pro-European countries should be a matter of concern and much more should be done to restore people’s confidence in the EU democratic construction, the official said. “We should not just explain the benefits of Europe, but also the cost of non-Europe,” he added.

Analysts have repeatedly blamed the draconian austerity measures for the rise of right-wing extremism in Greece and other parts of Europe.

The leader of Greece's far-right Golden Dawn party and four more of its lawmakers appeared in court yesterday to enter pleas on charges of belonging to a criminal organisation after being arrested following the killing of an anti-fascist rapper.

Golden Dawn rose from obscurity to gain 18 seats in parliament last year on a virulently anti-immigrant agenda and is now Greece's third most popular party, according to opinion polls. ?Its leader, Nikolaos Mihaloliakos, is a Holocaust denier, party members have given Nazi-style salutes and their emblem resembles a swastika.

Responding to questions on whether Greece might need additional financial support from the eurozone beyond 2014, when the current rescue loan programmes end, the high official said such decision would not affect the presidency.

The president of Eurogroup of finance ministers, Jeroen Dijsselbloem, last month said it was realistic to expect a third bailout for Athens.

The Greek presidency will also push dossiers to boost growth and a European migration policy.

"The Greek presidency will play an important role in ensuring that key legislative files are taken forward in the Council in the first crucial six months of 2014," European Commission President José Manuel Barroso said. "I'm sure that from now until then, we will make also progress in delivering concrete results."

  • 1 January - 30 June 2014: Greek presidency of the EU

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