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Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Venizelos’ op-ed article in the German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (3 January 2014)

Friday, 03 January 2014

The following op-ed article by Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Evangelos Venizelos appeared in the 3 January 2014 issue of the German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung:

On 1 January 2014, Greece assumed the Presidency of the Council of the EU for the fifth time since its accession to the European family, in 1981. This Presidency comes at a turning point for Europe, just months before the European elections, and with the pan-European debate on the course and future of the European endeavour already under way. And this vital debate concerns whether and how to safeguard the European social model of democracy and rule of law, as well as the institutional equality of member states – notions and attainments that until recently were taken for granted, but that, in the shadow of the economic crisis and looming xenophobia and Euroscepticism, are now being called into question.

Heeding this climate, and determined to contribute actively to bringing the European crisis to a definitive end, Greece has shaped its priorities based on the needs and concerns of Europe’s citizens. And the Presidency is, after all, an opportunity to remind our partners that Greece is a “regular”, institutionally equal member state of the Union and has, in all its previous Presidencies, contributed decisively to the enlargement and institutional development of the European Union.

The Hellenic Presidency’s first priority is to promote policies that boost growth and the real economy, with emphasis on supporting sectors critical to job creation, given that unemployment is the greatest problem currently being faced by most member states.

Our second priority is to deepen economic governance institutions and fortify the common currency. We will put special emphasis on the implementation of the decisions of the December 2013 European Council regarding the creation of a banking union without internal inequalities or forms of anti-competitive conduct in the banking market.

Protection of the common European borders is our third priority, with the main focus on managing legal immigration and effectively confronting illegal migration. The European South, and particularly the Mediterranean countries of the Union, are under heavy pressure, facing humanitarian crises, like the tragedy in Lampedusa, as well as security problems that concern the whole of Europe.

Finally, our horizontal priority is the development of a comprehensive maritime policy that promotes blue growth, fisheries, tourism, maritime transport, and alternative forms of energy; a polity that, in line with the findings of the relevant study carried out by the European Commission, provides for the exploitation of maritime zones and the relevant provisions of the International Law of the Sea.

The six months of the Hellenic Presidency will coincide with the turnaround in the Greek economic crisis; a crisis that, over the past seven years, has fuelled a cumulative recession of 25% of GDP and seen youth unemployment skyrocket to 60%. Thanks to the sacrifices of its citizens, and in spite of the long-term recession, Greece has already managed to show a structural primary surplus of over 6% of GDP, as well as a nominal primary surplus. These are the best performances in Europe. In 2014, our fiscal deficit will be under the European ceiling of 3%. In tandem, we have taken major steps towards regaining our competitiveness, through bold structural changes in the insurance system, the labor market, and public administration.

So it is no coincidence that the Hellenic Presidency itself has been designed to stay within the lowest budget of any Presidency in the past five years: €50 million. This reduction in expenditure will be achieved not through sacrificing the effectiveness of the Presidency’s programme of activities, but through capitalizing on existing Public Administration human resources and carrying out nearly all of our meetings at a single, central venue, in Athens.

The history of our continent has taught us that the key to facing down crises successfully has always lain in a spirit of unity on the level of leaderships and societies. Convinced that this unity is not a theoretical construct, but a realistic aspiration that we all need to adopt, we are launching our Presidency with a sense of our responsibility in regard to European citizens’ very real concerns. And we are also optimistic that, as Europeans united, we can succeed. Because Europe, as our Presidency motto says, is our common quest, and united we sail further.