«The Greek Presidency succeeded because it had good cooperation with all and because we had all realised in Europe that we must move forward, because otherwise there was a danger of falling back,” the outgoing President of the European Council, Greek Prime Minister Costas Simitis, said while addressing the plenary session of the European Parliament in Strasbourg.
The curtain fell in Strasbourg for the Greek Presidency in a climate of praise for Greece’s contribution, with the first-half 2003 presidency being characterised as a “model for the effectiveness of medium-size countries in exercising the Presidency” (Maij Wegen, European Popular Party), while the Greek Presidency was also praised for its ability to handle affairs in a “humanitarian spirit” (Carlos Lage, Socialist Group). In addition, it was stressed that the Greek Presidency managed “with great leadership skills to hold the rudder on a course that was no cruise but an Odyssey” (Baron Crespo, Socialist Group).
Simitis personally received expressions of gratitude from the President of the European Parliament, Pat Cox, “for the cooperation and assistance he offered” – with particular reference to the important role played by Alternate Foreign Minister Tassos Giannitsis – as well as from the President of the European Commission, Romano Prodi, who, inter alia, stressed that Sophocles’ principle that “man is proved by exercise of power” means “the exercise of power places man’s nature in doubt. Costas Simitis proved himself worthy of exercising power”.
During his address, Simitis stressed that during the past six months the EU had gone through “an evolutionary process” from which it had emerged “more mature and determined to undertake new actions”, since “the problems which the EU faced led to the realisation of what must be done immediately.”
Referring to the Greek Presidency’s five objectives (concluding the enlargement, promoting the Lisbon Strategy, completion of the Convention’s work, combating illegal immigration and tackling problems relating to migration, further developing the EU’s external relations), Simitis underlined that the results had been “very satisfactory” and referred to a number of specific examples by way of indication: the draft European Constitution, the new Employment Strategy, the agreement on the prevention of tax evasion and the taxation on energy, the establishment of a Community Patent, the Action Plan for small enterprises, the agreement on the ‘Railway Package’, the new strategy for sustainable development, the phasing out of single hull oil tankers, the agreement on the reform of the CAP, the inter-institutional agreements, the upgrading of EU-Russia relations and the reduction of tension in transatlantic relations.
On the Cyprus problem (the settlement of which “should be made a criterion for evaluating Turkey’s progress towards meeting the Copenhagen Criteria”, said European Parliament member Arie Ostlander, EPP), Simitis expressed regret that “the Turkish-Cypriot leadership did not want to complete the settlement process on the basis of the Annan plan”.
Later at a press conference, Simitis said what needed to be done now was “to view the Intergovernmental Conference in a creative manner and aspire to formulate a commonly acceptable objective in a specific timeframe”.
Replying to questions, he expressed the view that “the Italian Presidency also will be a very good Presidency”, while adding that on the basis of his experience, he would stress the need for “continuous consultation with all Member States”.
Referring to Greece’s position on the common defence initiative of the four EU Member States, Simitis said he was positive towards the implementation of enhanced cooperation on the issue, while stressing that Greece was interested in examining “how we can proceed all together in this direction”.
The entire speech delivered by Prime Minister Simitis is as follows:
"It is a great pleasure for me to present a progress report of the Greek Presidency to you today.
During discussion of our priorities last January I pointed out that at this historic juncture we are all called upon to support a strong Europe, which within a polycentric world system will work towards peace, co-operation and development.
It is my belief that in the six months that have elapsed, Europe has undergone a process of re-shaping. The events of this period enabled Europe to discern its weaknesses but also to understand its strengths. Europe has become politically more mature, more determined to undertake new actions wherever it has become apparent that there is a greater need for decisions as to its future.
Greece had the good fortune to hold the Presidency during an exceptionally important six-month period, full of unexpected events, but also marked developments.
The present discussion on foreign policy, defence and security and an overall strategic concept on Europe shaped over the past months as well as the Draft Constitutional Treaty all bear witness to the fact that processes are under way which I hope will prove especially positive for the Union. During these six months Europe has become aware of its potential but also its limitations and realised that rapid crucial decisions are imperative.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
In December 2002, the Greek Presidency presented its main priorities and special objectives. Five top priorities had been set:
a) Completing the enlargement of the European Union with the ten acceding countries and simultaneously furthering negotiations with the other candidate countries.
b) Speeding up implementation of the Lisbon Strategy.
c) On the basis of consensus completing the work of the Convention on the Future of Europe by drawing up a new Constitutional Treaty.
d) Dealing with the phenomenon of immigration with new joint actions and complementary decisions to those of Tampere and Seville.
e) Promoting specific priorities in the field of European Union foreign relations, with the emphasis on dealing with the Iraq crisis, relations with the Western Balkans, the peace process in the Middle East, relations with the United States of America and with Russia.
I find myself in the very fortunate position today of declaring that we have worked diligently towards all the above goals with very satisfactory results which I will briefly present to you, as follows:
ENLARGEMENT OF THE EUROPEAN UNION
The Signing Ceremony for the Accession Treaty of the 15 candidate countries constituted one of the major events in the development of the European Union. It set the seal on the re-unification of Europe. It was a supreme moment of the Presidency, celebrated at the foot of the Acropolis. In the immediately preceding period, the Greek Presidency had ensured that the schedule be adhered to for drawing up the Treaty of Accession with delicate negotiations with the European Parliament on issues of financing an enlarged Europe but also with some acceding countries who tried to submit new demands. Already the new member-states have been integrated smoothly into the workings of the Councils of Ministers by participating as active observers until the ratification of the Treaties by national parliaments.
The Accession of Cyprus achieved along with the other 9 countries constitutes the vindication of struggles over many years to re-establish the principles of international law. We found ourselves very close to achieving a united Cyprus in the European Union. Unfortunately the dismissive position of the Turkish-Cypriot leadership did not make this possible ultimately. A solution to the Cyprus issue prior to accession was not brought to fruition and was dealt with by annexing a special Protocol to the Treaty in the light of the present situation and projections as to what will happen in the event of a re-unification. The European Commission, in agreement with the Cypriot government announced a package of measures for developing the northern part of Cyprus.
In April, Council adopted revised texts of its partnership relations with all three candidate countries. For Bulgaria and Rumania accession negotiations are set to finish by the end of 2004. During our Presidency we completed negotiations on three chapters with Rumania - (free movement of capital, taxation, free movement of goods) and four chapters with Bulgaria (transport,etc.).
In new partnership relations with Turkey specific conditions have been set on many issues, including among others, a policy of good neighbourliness, on the property of minorities, on religious freedom, on the role of the Army. European Union association organs with Turkey worked intensively monitoring the progress achieved based on the conditions of the partnership.
THE LISBON STRATEGY
The economy of Europe today is suffering low growth rates. Unemployment has increased, despite the creation of many new jobs, and social protection systems are faced with the challenges of an ageing population, whereas environmental damage continues at an alarming rate.
It was at the Lisbon Summit in the year 2000 that the European Union leaders adopted an ambitious ten-year reform programme so that 'the European Economy might become the most competitive and dynamic economy in the world, based on knowledge, capable of sustainable economic development with more and better jobs and a stronger social cohesion'. To promote this reform strategy we aimed at important decisions being taken in all sectors: the economy, research, energy, transport, communications, education, employment, social cohesion, and environment. The most significant results are, in short, as follows:
- Agreement on better co-ordination of fiscal policies and adopting new economic policy directions for the period 2003 -5.
- New strategy on employment and institutionalising a Tripartite Social Summit.
- Agreement of fiscal measures to combat tax flight to third countries and on taxation of energy products.
- Agreements on a European Patent, a Programme of Action to increase investments in research and agreement on the incorporation of new technologies into the European educational systems.
- Adopting a Charter of Small Enterprises and decisions to improve the regulatory framework and important agreements on the completion of the European money markets.
- Decisions to deregulate the energy market, on freight rail transport, and on the new trans-European energy networks as well as the extension of the transport network.
- Adopting a new strategy on sustainable development establishing environmental objectives in areas such as renewable energy sources, decisions on scrapping single-hulled tankers and an agreement on environment responsibility.
CONVENTION ON THE FUTURE OF EUROPE
At the Thessaloniki European Council Summit the final proposal was submitted for the Constitutional Assembly presented by Valery Giscard d'Estang as you know. After extensive discussions over 18 months wherein the participation of the European Parliament was decisive, a Constitutional Treaty text was submitted on the basis of a broad consensus and represents a sound basis for the inception of the Intergovernmental Conference. The Draft Treaty achieves a good balance, we believe, between the institutional and political measures that permit the presence of all member-states in decision-making and ensures effectiveness of the institutions. It also enhances the international presence of the Union and representativity of its structures.
With the convocation of the Informal Council of Athens, our participation in the Presidium of the Convention and our constant contacts with member-states, we contributed to ensuring a high degree of consensus. This facilitates the Intergovernmental Conference in its future work. We decided that the Intergovernmental Conference should commence next October and must complete its work prior to European elections in June 2004. The signing ceremony should take place after the 1st May 2004 so that acceding countries will have become full members and as such will participate in the deliberations of the Intergovernmental Conference. These will take place at the level of heads of state and government aided by the Ministers of Foreign affairs. Bulgaria, Rumania and Turkey will have observer status.
Dealing the ever-increasing phenomenon of immigration presupposes an overall improvement in the means the European Union has to hand and the degree of co-ordination of member-states' policies. The Thessaloniki decisions are the result of constant negotiations during the whole of the six-month period and mark a new beginning to establish a common immigration policy in the European Union. Part of the substantial progress achieved in this sector can be summarised as follows:- Co-ordination and solidarity in guarding the external borders of the Union, the inclusion of immigration issues as a basic element in our relations with countries of origin, earmarking additional resources to finance enhanced immigration policy and achieving agreement on two crucial new Directives on the Smooth Integration of Legal Immigrants into European societies. More specifically as to the conclusions of the Thessaloniki Summit:
- Co-ordination and collaboration on the guarding of border frontiers was promoted.
- The need to collaborate on the repatriation of illegal immigrants was stressed and we requested from the Commission that it examine the possibility of new means of enforcing repatriation.
- We decided to take into account the way in which third countries collaborate in dealing with the phenomenon of illegal immigration and cross-border crime by establishing an evaluation mechanism.
- We decided to speed up the establishment of a common computerised system for issuing visas to third country nationals.
- We agreed to run joint programmes in the area of immigration and asylum and the view was expressed that 140 million Euros would be needed to finance these for the period 2004-6.
- In the conclusions of the Summit we also included issues pertaining to better assimilation of legal immigrants who contribute both to the competitiveness of the European economy as well as the creation of an open multi-cultural society. We were especially happy to see the adoption of Directives on Family Reunion and Long-Stay Immigrants.
REFORM OF THE COMMON AGRICULTURAL POLICY
The agreement reached on the difficult subject of the Common Agricultural Policy Reforms I consider especially important. It ended years of uncertainty, which prolonged justified concerns of our farmers. This agreement sends out three clear messages:
- To European farmers the reform sets a pluri-annual, guaranteed, foreseeable framework of income support on a par with the support enjoyed today but with considerable leeway for production and enterprise choices.
- For European Union citizens more generally it signifies a better quality of life, since income support to farmers will go hand in hand with the respect of European Union legislation on the environment, public health, food safety, as well as the hygiene and welfare of animals.
The decoupling of a substantial part of the common agricultural policy subsidies from products to income support to farmers reinforces the position of the European Union in forthcoming negotiations of the World Trade Organisation considerably. The Union will now speak with a single voice and set a clear course.
The Greek Presidency had set specific goals for a qualitative change in the relations of the European Union with the five West Balkan states. The conclusions of the Thessaloniki Summit and the European Union - West Balkans Summit reaffirmed the accession prospects of these countries. A new regular political dialogue process has been adopted between the European Union and the West Balkan states, promoting harmonisation of legislation towards the community acquis and thereby ensuring a stable financial aid increase in financial aid.
Iraq constituted, without a doubt, the most difficult chapter of our Presidency. Many expected this issue to absorb all Presidency's activities leading to fragmentation in our common foreign policy and the Presidency standing by as a mere spectator. We were able to maintain our programme and at the same time to undertake decisive initiatives for the unity of the Union.
With the Extraordinary European Summit last February, the General and Foreign Affairs Council decisions and the announcement of the Presidency, we highlighted the issues where there was agreement and averted a confrontational atmosphere. The European Union underscored the special importance of the role played by the United Nations.
THE MIDDLE EAST
The Greek Presidency was very active on the Middle East issue and negotiations with the main protagonists in solving the issue were constantly under way. With this framework there were two visits of the Greek Foreign Minister (in February and May) to the region. These diplomatic moves were linked to the greater involvement of the United States and progress of reforms with the Palestine Authority. This led to the publication of the Road Map of the Quartet, (which includes the European Union), its acceptance by the conflicting parties, and the beginning of contacts for its implementation. The new phenomena of violence underscore the fact that only by adhering to obligations under the Road Map can a solution be found.
The Greek Presidency undertook every possible effort to reduce tensions noted in transatlantic relations due to the prevailing difference of opinion on various issues (Iraq, International Criminal Court, Kyoto, trade differences, etc.). A convergence of views was seen in some areas, such as Transport Safety and the Galileo Satellite System.
During the European - United States Summit in Washington (25.6.03), among other things, the importance of transatlantic relations and the common values they are based on were reaffirmed. The areas of successful collaboration of the European Union with the United States were highlighted (West Balkans, combating terrorism, Afghanistan, the Middle East, Quartet, etc.), A common initiative for the non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction was announced and a Judicial Co-operation Agreement was signed.
The Greek Presidency achieved a substantial improvement in the European Union's relations with Russia. This it achieved by taking decisions on a gradual creation of four common areas of collaboration (the economy, home affairs and justice, security, research and technology), and redefining a modus operandi by establishing a Permanent Co-operation Council (30-31.5.03) in St. Petersburg. A joint communiqué was adopted referring to issues of importance to both sides, such as the need to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, Chechnya, further collaboration on issues of security, abolishing entry visas as a long-term goal. Also the programme to implement the Kaliningrad Agreement was adhered to without any delays.
The Union's relations with its new neighbours was discussed at Council level at the initiative of the Greek Presidency. The objective was to avoid creating new dividing lines in Europe. At the Enlarged European Council in Athens on the 17th April 2003 with the participation of Russia, a declaration was adopted welcoming dialogue on a new policy of neighbourliness with our neighbours to the east and south. Priority is given to strengthening co-operation on issues which have an immediate impact on the life of citizens such as cross-border collaboration, energy, transport, etc.
Despite the negative context prevailing Euro-Mediterranean collaboration was promoted considerably with the decision of the Foreign Ministers Conference (26-27.5.03 Heraklion, Crete). It was decided to establish a Euro-Mediterranean Parliamentary Assembly and the issue of inter-cultural dialogue was promoted by the establishment of a Euro-Mediterranean Cultural Foundation.
The Council of Energy Ministers (20-21.5.03) in Athens was also very important in setting priorities for collaboration in the field of energy for the period 2003-6. The prospect of extended collaboration of the European Union with its Mediterranean partners is also reflected in the conclusions of the Thessaloniki Summit.
THE EUROPEAN SECURITY AND DEFENCE POLICY
Under the Greek presidency, (which ran for 12 months due to the non-participation of Denmark in the ESDP, the target of full operational capability of the European Union was achieved. Crucial in this success was the substantial progress in contribution of forces by the partners, the establishment of politico-military bodies, the implementation of an E. U. exercise programme, and the development of crisis management procedures. A solution was also reached on E.U. - NATO relations and the participation of third parties in European Union crisis management system.
Especial importance was attached to the successful first crisis management operations of the European Security and Defence Policy and more specifically the police mission to Bosnia-Herzegovina and the military mission to the Former Yugoslavian Republic of Macedonia.
At the European Summit of Thessaloniki the Strategy Report on the gradual shaping of a European defence and security doctrine was presented and discussed. The Foreign Affairs Council had requested this Report in May from Mr. Solana. It was agreed that Mr. Solana would continue on this and submit it upon completion to the next Foreign Affairs Council meeting in 2003. Discussions on security matters constitute an important step in clarifying common goals and the means to achieve them.
Finally, at the initiative of the Greek Presidency, the establishment of an inter-state body to boost defence capabilities and defence research in the European Union was programmed.
We are most satisfied with the political agreement reached on the Review of Community Officials' Status. Since the establishment of the European Union, this is the first radical reform of the salary and pensions system as well as career development.
I would like to conclude with two issues of immediate interest to the European Parliament:
a) the inter-institutional agreement to improve the Regulatory Framework pertaining both to the partnership of the three Union institutions as well as the transposition of union legislation into national legislation,
b) the Regulation on the Status of European Political Parties.
The crucial political issues impeding the adoption of a Directive for a long time was chiefly a matter of the financing of European political parties and the number of member-states within which the parties were to be active so as to be recognised as European political parties. With the compromise proposal of the Presidency and the very positive collaboration with you these problems were solved .
During the whole of its term, the Greek Presidency considered the European Parliament a pivotal force in promoting European integration and a defender of the Union's interests. We aimed at close collaboration with the Parliament and we enjoyed its unstinting support and collaboration in our task. I thank you most warmly for this.
It remains for me to wish the incumbent Italian Presidency every success."