It is a new year and it is time for a new Presidency of the Council of the European Union. And as we do every 6 months, the entire College of Commissioners travels to the new Presidency-country for deliberations and to participate in the formal opening ceremony. This week, Athens was our destination.
Greece is currently holding their fifth presidency, so they have developed some experience by now. They explained that they will keep it fairly modest (they have for example chosen not to distribute presidency ties, to the great despair of all collectors) but that they would like to show Europe that they are back on track and that all the talk about ‘Grexit’ is now definitely outdated. Although the crisis is not yet over, unemployment is still extremely high and many Greeks are still experiencing great difficulties – the numbers are indeed pointing towards the right direction. Hopefully soon ordinary Greeks will see the light at the end of the tunnel.
The Presidency will be somewhat brief, as the European Parliament election is coming up in May. The actual possibility to make decisions is therefore limited to the first three months of this year.
Yet, this does not stop the Greeks from having high ambitions and their priorities are:
1. Growth, fighting unemployment
2. Better coordination and governance in the Euro Zone. Banking Union in place.
4. The ’blue growth’ – the sea as a resource for growth, transport, culture, energy, environment etc. The Greeks want to adopt a cross-sectoral maritime strategy in June.
During the day I also had bilateral meetings with “my ministers” to see how we best can cooperate and what is on the agenda. After all the cooperation with Greece in the past, we know each other well and it will most likely be fine. The opening ceremony at the Concert Hall consisted of a speech by Prime Minister Samaras, Foreign Minister Venizelos, José Manuel Barroso and Herman van Rompuy. This was followed by dance and a concert, where the audience enthusiastically sang along to Mikos Teodorakis.
We were the next morning given the opportunity to have an early guided tour at the Akropolis Museum and it was absolutely fantastic. I never cease to be amazed by the incredibly rich cultural heritage of Greece!