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Greece begins six-month EU presidency on New Year's Day

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Greece officially assumed the rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union on Wednesday, a role it will hold for six months and is holding for the fifth time since joining the EU in 1981.

In statements in Brussels, where he was presenting the country's priorities of its presidency, Prime Minister Antonis Samaras had said this past month, "Greece begins the EU presidency with positive results, a primary surplus and an expected revival ahead. It will be a presidency of hope for a more expansive and improved Europe."

He had reiterated that thanks also to the Greek people's sacrifices, Greece had "restored its reliability before its fellow EU member-states and the respect it deserved, along with restoring its effectiveness in protecting Greek and EU interests, especially in the European South."

The country has set high in its priorities the issue of unemployment, especially among the young, and the promotion of investments that will lead to the opening of more jobs.

In statements made for the New Year on Tuesday, Vice President and Foreign Minister Evangelos Venizelos said that economing deepening of the EU and eurozone, the bank union, the safeguarding of EU borders and a common EU maritime policy topped the presidency's agenda.

Deputy Foreign Minister Dimitris Kourkoulas detailed the priorities of the presidency which he said would focus on the implementation of the European Council's Compact for Growth and Jobs by strengthening small and medium-sized enterprises; deepening Economic and Monetary Union (EMU); and dealing effectively with illegal immigration, in a new four-year programme that would succeed the Stockholm Programme for 2010-2014.

He also said that Greece wants to promote the EU's maritime policy, redrawing it ahead of the European Council of June 2014 to include security, energy, transport, tourism and the European Strategy for the Adriatic and Ionian Seas besides growth.

Kourkoulas said that during its presidency Greece would hold 14 ministerial summits in Athens, 35 high-level meetings, 57 meetings of work groups and 33 congresses or seminars.

In a feature story on Greece's presidency, the European Parliament's The Parliament Magazine said that the presidency would act as a mechanism of transition for the EU ahead of Europarliamentary elections, with a new European Commission and changes expected in the European Council's position president and the EU's high representative for Foreign Affairs & Security Policy. The feature also took special notice of Greece's 2003 presidency and its achievements, especially the implementation of the "Thessaloniki Agenda" for the western Balkans.

Greece, it said, will have significant challenges to deal with domestically and on European level, and its potential success in the presidency will help it return to the European stage after the economic and social crisis of the last few years.

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