Greece takes over EU presidency
A man holding an umbrella walks past the Parliament in Athens on January 1, 2014. Greece on January 1, 2014 began a six-month stint as president of the European Union. AFP PhotoCrisis-hit Greece on Jan. 1 took over the six-month rotating EU presidency from Lithuania with a crucial European Parliament ballot looming and the bloc divided over delicate efforts to create a banking union.
In the European Parliament elections in May, euroskeptics and far-right parties are poised to score major gains that could harden the bloc’s political agenda for the next five years.
The country itself is scheduled to hold municipal elections on May 18 and 25, a process expected to bolster political forces opposed to the government’s austerity policies and the economic agreement with the country’s EU-IMF creditors.
In its fifth EU presidency since joining the bloc in 1981, Athens plans to host 14 ministerial meetings and another 120 related gatherings in the first six months of 2014. The Greeks, who are still drawing EU-IMF loans to keep their economy running, have pledged to organize a “Spartan” presidency.
The overall cost is calculated at 50 million euros ($68 million), but the Foreign Ministry hopes to eventually return part of the money to state coffers.
An unnamed European automaker has provided free cars to chauffeur visiting dignitaries around and gift costs have also been drastically slashed. “We will not be handing out ties and foulards,” deputy Foreign Minister Dimitris Kourkoulas told a recent briefing. “For symbolic reasons, we decided not to have this cost. We will have notepads and pens to hand out to our guests,” he said.
The Greek presidency, taking over from Lithuania, will be officially unveiled on Jan. 8 when the EU’s 28 commissioners are to convene in Athens. Samaras will then present the Greek priorities in Strasbourg on Jan. 16. Italy will take over from Greece in June.