ATHENS | The Greek Presidency of the Council of the European Union, which begun on 1 January 2014, is Greece’s fifth since its accession to the then European Economic Community (EEC), in 1981. In contrast to the previous Presidency – from January to June 2003 – which added another milestone in the EU’s enlargement process with the accession of 10 new member states, the next one comes at a turning point, as most of Europe has been grappling with years of financial and economic crisis, recession and unemployment. Moreover, with European Parliament elections slated for May 2014, the debate on the future of the EU is being recast, as European citizens will be questioning the Union’s ability to set out and implement a credible and effective policy for a return to economic growth, high levels of employment, and prosperity.
Taking all this into account and determined to make good use of all available resources, Greece’s 2014 EU Presidency will be cost-effective, with a limited total budget of €50 million. The Greek presidency will hold 14 informal ministerial meetings in Athens, at the Zappeion Mansion, as well as some 100 to 120 meetings of various working groups or COREPER. Most of the other meetings, including the EU summits, will be held in Brussels.
Greece assumed its first Presidency of the EEC in the second half of 1983, just two years after its accession and at a tumultuous time for the Community, as three major issues – streamlining the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), adopting a common research and technology policy, and maintaining fiscal discipline – had caused friction among Member States. Conflicting and unbridgeable views led to a stalemate, as a result of which the Athens Summit (4-6 December 1983) was concluded without issuing a final communiqué.
Greece’s second Presidency of the EEC took place in the second half of 1988. At the time, growing awareness to environmental issues and the diffusion of new technologies led to the inclusion of environmental protection and the development of Europe’s audio-visual sector in the agenda of the Rhodes Summit (2-3 December 1988). The European Council examined the prospects for the future development of the European Community and its place in the world, on the basis of the experience from the implementation of the Single European Act and against a backdrop of ongoing radical changes in the world order, especially in East–West relations, just months before the fall of the Berlin Wall.
By the third Presidency, in the first half of 1994, the institutional setting governing the European project had changed dramatically, as the Maastricht Treaty establishing the European Union had just entered into force. During Greece’s third and fourth Presidencies – the latter in the first half of 2003 – the European Union expanded to include thirteen new members. At the Corfu Summit (24-25 June 1994) the Accession Treaty for Austria, Finland and Sweden was signed, while the Accession Treaty for Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, the Slovak Republic and Slovenia – the largest wave of enlargement in the history of the EU – was signed in a ceremony at the Stoa of Attalos, at the foot of the Acropolis, following an informal European Council meeting (Athens, 16-17 April 2003).
In the aftermath of a tumultuous decade for the Balkan region, the fourth Greek EU Presidencyrounded off proceedings with the Thessaloniki European Council meeting and the Western Balkans Summit (19-21 June 2003), which adopted the Thessaloniki Agenda: a set of concrete measures demonstrating the EU’s commitment to the European perspective of the Western Balkan countries. The 2003 Greek Presidency was also marked by the added challenge of the Iraq War, while Greece herself was in the international spotlight as it prepared for the Athens 2004 Olympics.