London, Asharq Al-Awsat—Greece will officially open its six-month presidency of the European Union on Athens in Wednesday, after formally assuming the position on January 1.
Having promised a “low-budget presidency” with an “extremely small” budget of only 50 million euros in line with its straightened financial circumstances, the Greek government will host what it is calling a “modest” gathering at the Zappeion to mark the beginning of its presidency.
Only nine people have been recruited as civil servants to administer the six-month stint at the head of the EU, compared with an average of 250 for other countries’ presidencies. Private Greek companies are expected to pick up the bill for any travel and events associated with the rotating leadership post.
Greece is taking the rotating presidency at a critical moment for both Greece and the EU, with major economic policy decisions due to be taken in the first six months of 2014.
Greece’s troika of creditors—the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank and the European Commission—postponed a planned visit to Athens to check in on the progress of economic and budgetary reforms the Greek government agreed to undertake in exchange for bailout packages worth more than 240 billion euros.
A drive-by shooting at the German embassy in Athens on December 30, just two days before Greece nominally took up the presidency, highlighted the ongoing discontent with the key contributor to Greece’s bailout package and EU powerhouse.
The same day, Prime Minister Antonis Samaras announced that Greece would exit its loan agreement in 2014, though experts express doubts that the Mediterranean country will pull out of recession in the near future.
According to Samaras, the EU presidency is “a chance for Greece to prove that it is a normal European country.”
“The first six months of 2014 are extremely crucial for Europe, given the European [Parliament] elections in May, and they are crucial for Greece because they are six months of change,” said Evangelos Venizelos, Greece’s deputy prime minister and foreign minister, in remarks on January 7.
But the irony of Greece “presiding over Germany” has not been lost on its leaders, with the government promising to focus on the economy, immigration and youth unemployment—issues that arguably affect Greece more than any other country in the 28-member union.
Greece has held the presidency five times since it acceded to the EU in 1981. It takes over the position from Lithuania.