A politically unstable Greece takes over EU Presidency
“It will be a Greek presidency of hope for more and better Europe” said the Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras from Brussels where he took part in the end of the year EU Summit. It was a crucial meeting of the heads of Europe where issues such as deepening of economic and currency union, policies on defense and security of EU, immigration, energy and EU enlargement were put on the table. And this year’s EU summit came after the agreement of a major banking union plan which would impose new rules on the problematic banks within the Eurozone by setting a special fund as a first step towards an EU banking union. But while the EU leaders appeared optimistic that at last the union is getting to grips with its systemic problems and looks at the right direction for its solutions, many EU countries, especially of the South, are still in the deep end of an economic recession. It was this paradox that brought thousands of protesters in front of the European Parliament building last week to express their desperation over the continuing austerity measures which has ruined their lives.
As of the 1st of January Greece – a country among the worst hit by the crisis and still suffering under the strictest austerity packages -is taking over the EU presidency for the next six months. This is a big challenge for the weak government coalition of the conservatives of New Democracy and the socialists of PASOK. Their leaders have been extremely busy lately dealing not only with a suffering society but with their own disgruntled deputies who are forced to vote reluctantly unpopular bills brought to parliament by an unpopular Minister of Economy. They also have to prevent their main opponent, the leftists of Syriza from gaining strength among the electorate and on top they have to further weaken the extreme right of Golden Dawn which remains strong even after the imprisonment of its leaders. Most of all they have to persuade a suffering and skeptical society that this will be a year where things will get better.
The plan of the Greek EU presidency is ambitious. Among the priorities as set out by the prime minister and the responsible minister, are policies to deal with economic recession and unemployment and managing illegal immigration as well as promoting policies for increasing the security of EU’s sea borders aiming at making Greece a hub for sea-related investments. Fourteen ministerial summits, 35 high level sessions, 57 working group meetings and 33 conferences will take place during the Greek EU presidency. A self-confident prime minister was in no doubt that this will be a success period for his country. The Greek presidency coincides with the start of the recovery of Greek economy after six years of recession, he told journalists in Brussels at the end of the Summit. “We have regained our lost credibility thanks to the unbelievable efforts of the Greek people,” he said and attacked the leader of the opposition Alexis Tsipras for “cultivating his own garden with poison and throws to all Greeks”.
Whether Samaras government will realize all its targets during the six months of 2014, is hard to predict. Because this period coincides with a crucial time leading up to the Euro-elections expected to take place at the end of May 2014. The latest polls show an increase in the support for Syriza and a beginning of a downward trend for the extreme right of Golden Dawn. This may not necessarily be the result of a successful political narrative on behalf of the official opposition, but an increasing uneasiness among the supporters of the two governing parties that the coalition lacks enough cohesion and efficiency to go ahead. The latest bill on property auctions and taxation, passed only by a majority of two and several members of PASOK central committee asked the leader of the party Evangelos Venizelos to leave the government. Many are expressing openly their frustration for being forced to vote so many anti-popular bills pushed through the parliament.
It is going to be crucial six months. If Samaras government manages to really reverse the trend, to attract serious investment to create enough jobs then it will just about manage to stay afloat to complete its term. If not, the next six months may give the official opposition the golden opportunity to increase its grip in the political life of Greece and force a political change.