Greece enters the new year assuming the six-month rotating presidency of the policy-steering Council of the European Union, as the Greeks continue to stagger under six years of debt-crisis recession and austerity – their country kept barely afloat by international emergency loans.
The view of many ordinary people about the EU role is dark.
“The presidency means nothing to the people,” said one Athens resident we interviewed at random. “They suffer while those in power make the most of it.”
As it lobbies for further relief which economists say is essential to make its debt sustainable, the presidency offers Athens the chance to work closely with the EU’s big and small players and to show that it has been sincere in its efforts.
But perhaps not effective enough yet, in the opinion of Dionysis Chionis. He is an economic analyst.
He said: “The Greek economy has achieved a very difficult feat over the past few years: paying off part of its debt. But I feel it will be extremely hard to be able to pay it all back without new debt restructuring.”
The debt crisis is not a matter for the Greek EU presidency; it is handled by the euro single currency club of nations. The presidency promises it will keep a tight rein on spending. All meetings are to take place in Athens. But there is a possibility of a general election during the course of the presidency.
There will be elections in May for the European Parliament. And Athens won’t be steering the EU growth and unemployment agenda alone, since in 2009 a new post of permanent European Council President was created, currently held by Herman van Rompuy.
Stamatis Giannisis, our bureau chief in Athens, said: “Greece isn’t a presidency novice. This is the fifth time it’s held it since 1979. But this might prove by far the most difficult one. The coalition government has a very thin majority in the Greek parliament, and it is faced with many complicated political, economic and social tasks, both European and domestic.”