The first of January 1981 was a milestone in modern Greek history, for on that date Greece opened a new chapter in its political history. The period in question was difficult and indeed arduous, since Greek efforts underwent many stages of uncertainty and doubt. At the same time, however, the period 1981-2001 demonstrated the country’s ability to forge ahead when the appropriate political conditions and vision were present.
The signing of the Accession Treaty marked the beginning of a long and laborious procedure of adjustment to Community procedures in a new environment with major economic, political and cultural challenges but also numerous expectations. Against this background, Greece had to resolve structural problems that acted as a break on efforts to achieve sustainable development and overcome many of the hurdles which were undermining its future.
The European Union has supported Greece in this effort. In particular, economic support from the European Union through the Integrated Mediterranean Programmes (a success of Andreas Papandreou) and the three Community Support Frameworks have had a positive impact on Greece and changed the face of the country in terms of major and minor infrastructure projects. For its part, from the moment of its accession to the EEC/EU Greece has worked to ensure parallel enlargement and integration/deepening of the Community. It has sought and continues to seek a reduction in the democratic deficit and to extend all the mechanisms, reforms and policies which restore the social contract and social peace at a Community level (see the address given by Costas Simitis at the Greek Centre of European Studies Conference in September 1991 on ‘Greece in the European Community: the challenge of adjustment’ contained in the book edited by Lucas Tsoukalis Greece in the EEC: the challenge of adjustment, Papazisis Press, 1993).
Greece in 2003 bears no relationship with the Greece of poverty and underdevelopment, high inflation and economic instability. According to OECD reports, per capita income in Greece is particularly high, with the country being ranked between 25th and 29th worldwide. Greece is no longer a country which exports its work force. On the contrary, for the first time in its history it is a country which imports human resources, an immigration reception society.
Greece in the 21st century is supported by a national strategy for competitiveness. A strategy to promote its comparative advantages in sectors such as agriculture, tourism, cultural heritage, small and medium-sized enterprises, as well as in sectors now being highlighted within the context of the information society. This policy of national competitiveness relates to all of Greek society and goes hand-in-hand with the functional and social state.
In the Greece of the new millennium the role of the state and public policy remains significant but is different from that of the past. It is that of a state which promotes adjustments in the economy and society, safeguards competition in the marketplace, supports innovation and research, invests in human resources, protects the interests of employees and the rights of citizens, shows interest in the unemployed and invests in the young generation.
The Greek economy now participates on equal terms in European Monetary Union having managed over recent years to transform itself in economic and development terms. Thanks to an economic policy of stabilisation, of development and social cohesion implemented by the government of Costas Simitis, the Greek economy is now an economy with high growth levels, low inflation, plus long-term fiscal and macroeconomic equilibrium. As stated by the President of the European Commission, Romano Prodi, “Greece is today a shining example of the Europe we want to create”. Public opinion is united on a range of common, ambitious objectives and committed to achieving them through consent.
The three previous Greek Presidencies of the European Community/European Union were particularly useful in assisting the country in its adjustment to the environment of the Union.
Greece held the Presidency of the EEC for the first time in the second half of 1983. The assumption of the Presidency in July 1983 coincided with a difficult time both at a national and Community level. The Cold War was still a reality and the shooting down of a South Korean jumbo jet by the Russians over the island of Sakhalin showed just how difficult the political situation was. At that time the European Community was experiencing a major crisis, part of which related to addressing budgetary problems (the British contribution to the Community budget and future financing of the Community), implementing the third round of enlargement, institutional development leading to the European Union, the revision of agricultural policy, the need to develop new policies, improved operation of the structural funds, and so on.
At the time, Greece was in the first stage of adjustment to the new regime of relations with the EC and endeavoured to place the Greek - Community dialogue in a new context, as set out in a memorandum submitted by the Greek government. Against the background of political and economic adjustment in Greece and at a critical time also for the Community, Greece assumed the Presidency from the Federal Republic of Germany in July 1983. A new cold war climate was prevailing on the international scene at the time and relations between East and West were in a state of constant crisis. It was therefore only to be expected that the Greek government would try to exercise a multi-dimensional foreign policy in order to bolster Greece’s negotiating position in connection with specific national problems (Cyprus and the Aegean).
Among the main results of the Greek Presidency of 1983 were the enactment of the new supplementary budget in 1983, substantive progress in the third round of negotiations for enlargement, the commencement of negotiations with African, Caribbean and Pacific States on the signing of the Lome III Convention and the signing of a Cooperation Agreement between the EEC and the Andean Pact.
With regard to European political cooperation, a primary concern of the Greek Presidency was for the position of the 10 on international problems to be expressed in the best possible manner by formulating and promoting common policies. It was also at this time that consumer policy emerged, to be followed by the Consumers’ Consultative Committee and the Consumer Commissioner.
The second Greek Presidency (1st July - 31st December 1998) coincided with a transitional period in the development of the European Community. The pressing problems in the Union which had arisen as a result of enlargement (the accession of Spain and Portugal) as well as difficulties encountered in the implementation of budgetary reforms were resolved by revising the Treaty of Rome and adopting the Single European Act.
The climate in the European Community was clearly better since new proposals emerged within the Community concerning the process of European integration. It was a period strongly associated with the personality and ideas of Jacques Delors. At an international level, the upheavals which were taking place were determinative for the future of Europe and the role which the European Community had to play was extremely important. On the other hand, it should be stressed that Greece, which had assumed the Presidency of the Community, had in the meantime redefined its stance towards the Community. Having overcome its initial hesitation, it now recognised that the European perspective was the only route for the country. This emerged during the Intergovernmental Conference at which the Single European Act was negotiated, where Greece appeared with specific targets on all major Community issues.
The second Greek Presidency took initiatives to discuss major issues relating to the future role of the Community and the content of the process of European integration. Characteristic examples in this respect were initiatives for the international role of the Community, the single European area, environmental protection and general discussions on East-West relations. What is of particular interest is the fact that Greek policy on European issues had in the meantime developed and changed. Initial reservations about the EC had now been replaced by a pro-European stance with emphasis on the concepts of solidarity, cohesion and the balanced development of the Community.
The second Greek Presidency came to an end in the impressive surroundings of the Knight’s Castle on Rhodes, where the necessary foundations were laid for adoption of the Community Social Charter.
In January 1994 Greece assumed the Presidency of the European Union for the third time. It was a Presidency completely different from the two previous ones. In the European Union the integration procedure had proceeded significantly. The Treaty of Maastricht establishing the European Union had just entered into force and there were a number of exceptionally complex and difficult issues relating to the process of European integration which had to be tackled. Greece was called upon to implement the Treaty on European Union, coordinating its Presidency on three levels. The first related to ministers, the second to Secretaries-General, and the third to top-ranking bureaucrats. The driving force behind the Presidency was the idea of European integration. Without downplaying or ignoring national priorities, the Greek Presidency put forward its programme with a purely European orientation. This can be seen primarily, but not only, from the overall way in which negotiations were handled and from the completion of the enlargement chapter.
At the Corfu Summit held on 24– 25 June 1994 the decisions taken were, to a large extent, dynamic and effective responses by the European Union to the day-to-day problems of citizens, to the problem of unemployment, internal and external security, so to ensure more transparent and more democratic operation of the Union. However, they were also responses to assessments concerning the ability of a small Member State not only to promote and implement the fourth round of enlargement of the Union in just six months but also to promote new aspects of the EU’s external relations. (See the address delivered by Theodoros Pangalos taking the form of a review of the third Greek Presidency at the seminar organised by the Greek Centre of European Studies and the Greek European Studies and Research Centre on 12 September 1994, The 3rd Greek Presidency of the EC/EU: A Review. A. Sakkoulas Press, 1995).
At Corfu, efforts to enlarge the European Union with the accession of Austria, Finland and Sweden were completed with the signing of the respective Acts of Accession. During its third EU Presidency, Greece promoted the prospect of EU enlargement towards the south and east of Europe so as to ensure stability, development and collaboration in Southeastern Europe.
Below are just some of the specific directions given at the Corfu Summit in relation to key areas of policy:
• Improving the employment situation
• Measures to ensure full use of staff of SMEs
• Measures to promote programmes for information technology and industrial technologies
• Agreement on 11 plans in the transport and energy sectors
• Establishment of a permanent coordinating body for development of the information society
• Promotion of a new type of development to improve the quality of life.
A particularly important policy area which was successfully handled by the third Greek Presidency was that of justice and home affairs, which at that time was one of the most interesting developments introduced into the unification process by the Treaty of Maastricht. For the first time the Union had a formally instituted framework for cooperation in what are particularly sensitive areas for the state and citizens. These areas relate to the free movement of persons, the safety of European Union citizens and police and judicial cooperation. Seeking to contribute in a substantive manner to the establishment of a new institutional identity for the activities under the Third Pillar of the European Union, the Greek Presidency promoted:
• The stepping up of work to prepare a Treaty for the establishment of Europol
• The stepping up of implementation of the Dublin Convention as well as promotion of the idea of signing a parallel convention with non-member states in order to achieve a broader, harmonised European policy on asylum
• Preparation of an overall strategy to combat illegal drug activity
• Support for judicial cooperation and joint action as part of efforts to fight international organised crime (see the analysis of this matter by Stelios Perrakis in the collective work The 3rd Greek Presidency of the EC/EU: A Review. A. Sakkoulas Press, 1995, pp. 101-115).