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Europe: Our Common Quest
Europe: Our Common Quest
The fifth Hellenic Presidency of the Council of the European Union concluded its mission and handed over to Italy. The Hellenic Presidency conducted its work at a period heavily affected by the ongoing economic crisis and its devastating effects in the social sphere. It was a period characterized by severe criticism of the EU and its way of functioning. This criticism and discontent were rather eloquently demonstrated during the recent European Parliament elections, when EU citizens proved to be quite vocal in their demand for a better Europe.
During the first semester of 2014, the Hellenic Presidency labored in an effort to lead the Union to a hopeful future, the future that the peoples and citizens of Europe deserve. We tried to turn the EU into a mature and potent political actor, one that, having learned from its past mistakes and delays, is capable of effective management of both internal as well as external challenges and opportunities. Our primary aim was to deliver tangible results for EU citizens under particularly difficult conditions. Our main objective was to find realistic solutions to the Union’s very real and pressing problems.
During the Hellenic Presidency, 71 pieces of legislation were concluded. Work continued even after the European Parliament recess and agreement was reached within the Council on over 15 legislative acts.
Cooperation with the European parliament as well as with all EU Institutions has been exemplary. Since assuming the duties of the Presidency, Greece attempted to prioritize its work so as to reflect all issues of major impact to the average European citizen:
Further Integration of the EU and the Eurozone
First among the main priorities of the Hellenic Presidency has been tackling the EMU and eurozone’s architectural deficiencies, which have been given new prominence due to the recent economic crisis. In this context, Greece paid special emphasis to EMU deepening, and particularly to the completion of the Banking Union. The conclusion of the Single Resolution Mechanism Regulation (SRM), together with the Inter-Governmental Agreement on the Single Resolution Fund (SRF), constitute a major step towards the completion of the Banking Union. Other important financial files have also been concluded, aiming at enhancing the transparency, soundness and responsibility of the financial system, at ensuring the financial markets’ stability, whilst protecting the rights of private investors and consumers.
Growth – Jobs – Cohesion
On Jobs and Growth, (a) the approval of the own resources legislative package will ensure timely and steady financing of EU policies, in the framework of the Multiannual Financial Framework. (b)The agreement on the funding of the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund secures the unimpeded funding of the new Common Fisheries Policy. Moreover, (c) the adoption of legislation, in the framework of the Single Market Act I and II, will further contribute to our common goals, namely enhancing the competitiveness of the European economy as a whole, by providing the necessary facilitation and safeguards to EU citizens and businesses.
Agreement was also reached on the participation of the Union in the capital increase of the European Investment Fund (EIF), thus further enhancing its capacity of restoring normal lending to the economy, and in particular to SMEs. Important investment files were also concluded, like the innovation investment package, that introduces a new generation of public and private partnerships facilitating innovation projects. Progress was made in the field of telecommunications and infrastructure with the adoption of two Directives (a) one aiming at reducing the cost of high-level electronic communications networks, and (b) one regulating alternative fuels infrastructure.
Migration – Borders – Mobility
In the field of border and migration management, which presents a major challenge not only for the European South, but for the Union as a whole, the Hellenic Presidency concluded two legislative files revising the list of countries whose citizens need to issue a visa before entering the EU, thus instituting a visa liberalization regime with another 20 third countries, including the Republic of Moldova. Other important and difficult achievements were the adoption of the directive on the conditions of entry and stay of third-country nationals in the context of Intra-Corporate Transfer (ICT), as well as the FRONTEX Regulation.
A major breakthrough has been the adoption at the June 2014 European Council of the Post Stockholm Strategic Guidelines for legislative and operational planning in the area of freedom, security and justice on which the Presidency, and the Council as a whole, has put a lot of work throughout the first semester of 2014. The Guidelines focus attention on (a) the implementation of the principle of solidarity in the areas of asylum, border and migration management, (b) the linkage between migration and the Union’s foreign policy (cooperation with third countries, “more for more” principle), (c) the development of effective return, readmission and visa policies, (d) continuous attention to an effective internal security framework. This development marks a turning point on what has so far been perceived as migration management. It testifies that handling of migration is not a problem for the countries of the south, but a European problem, affecting the security of the European borders and the social cohesion in all European countries.
The Horizontal Thematic of Maritime Policies
The horizontal thematic of the Hellenic Presidency has been to redefine and relaunch EU maritime policies in all their aspects, including security, growth and energy. A key component of this has been the European Maritime Security Strategy, adopted by the June 2014 General Affairs Council and endorsed by the European Council of the same month. It is the first time that the EU is developing a holistic, cross-sectoral strategy of this kind, which will result in better protecting and promoting security and economic interests of EU and its member states at sea. This Strategy is a clear testimony that when political will exists, it is possible for the EU to overcome red tape practices and make good and full use of the unique ability it possesses to compose views, policies, ways and means so that it better safeguards security and prosperity of EU citizens.