So here we go: a country with multiple problems is at the fore of the European Union news, only this time for a different reason. On New Year’s Day, Greece was handed the presidential baton for the EU.
During the six months that Greece will be in office, it aims at tackling youth unemployment, increasing the availability of credit to small and medium-sized businesses, promoting social cohesion, economic governance in the Eurozone, protecting joint borders and trying to prevent a repeat of the recent financial crisis.
Indeed Greece takes over at a critical moment. There is major internal opposition to the EU, with people questioning its ability to pursue an effective economic policy that will facilitate recovery, prosperity and employment. “The European Union is the main mechanism for the imposition of austerity and extreme measures against the working majority in most European countries. The European Union is responsible for the acute humanitarian and social crisis in Greece”. In these few, yet eminent words, an anti-EU protestor epitomises a view that is shared by a great number of Greeks.
Greece since 2010, when it first signed its bail-out program has experienced 57.9% youth unemployment, 27.8% official unemployment, a rise in homeless people, numerous cuts in benefits and increases in taxes. It has even come close to selling its islands. NO THAT WAS A JOKE! As Antonis Samaras, Greece’s Prime Minister, mentioned at the European Parliament, ‘many things have been said in this room- positive and negative- about this period’.
However, during its time in office, Greece has called to chair hundreds of formal and informal meetings, provided a lead for negotiations and hosted thirteen ministerial councils.
Above all though, it has to fulfil its aims for its European counterparts and its people.
One could say that this is a great chance for Greece to prove what it can do and even re-negotiate its deal on its advantage. But is this really an option?
Despite the fact that it has been argued that the Greek Presidency will isolate the German Chancellor Angela Markel, this claim seems groundless … Greece has signed its bailout program and is bound to swallow the ‘medicine’. Even though Greek politicians denounce the measures before every vote, they are always passed and, as such, more and more reforms are imposed as dictats.
It is up to the rest of Europe to change mentality and decide to alter the program. As Evángelos Venizelos, deputy Prime Minister and Head of PASOK socialist party, has promised the EU Presidency will consist of hard work and austerity: ‘A Spartan presidency with Athenian values’.
Therefore, the EU Presidency does not really allow much optimism from Greece’s part and it is not actually an opportunity. But it could be a chance for Greece to show what it stands for and make her voice heard regarding the problems the South is dealing with. Let’s hope that despite the crucial moments that the European Union is facing, it will achieve its goals and prove all the stereotypes wrong.