Even if a small budgetary surplus raises the hopes for recovery of Greece, the Hellenic Republic assumed the rotating presidency of the European Council in turbulent times. “Both the EU and Greece are in a transitional state”, Sir Graham Watson MEP, President of the ALDE Party, resumed the situation. Indeed, the Greek presidency will be shaped by the ongoing management of the financial and sovereign debt crisis, and the European Parliament elections. Precisely, the upcoming European elections determine the tight agenda under which the Greek government is operating. Only two and a half months are left to find agreements in the Council and with the European Parliament on key issues at stake before the launch of the election campaign.
In the context of a short presidency with an even shorter budget, Theodoros Skylakakis MEP, President of the Greek ALDE member Drassi, analyzed what could realistically be expected to be achieved by the Greek presidency in the upcoming months. Of course, the banking union is high on the agenda and it is likely that the Hellenic presidency is able to reach an agreement. After all, as Skylakakis put it “the Greek are great problem-solvers!” However, this agreement is likely to remain based on the intergovernmental method, which would exclude it from parliamentary scrutiny.
Another priority of the Greek presidency, which is likely to turn out for the better, according to Dimitrios Katsoudas, Director of Studies at Forum for Greece and Former Secretary General for European Affairs at the Greek Foreign Ministry, is the necessity to tackle problems arising from migration and the increasing influx of refugees. As the sceptre of the presidency will be passed on to Italy on July 1st, the set-up of a real European migration and asylum policy will remain high on the European agenda. Katsoudas reminded how unfair the current system is and called for a review of the Dublin II treaty and a fair burden sharing in the EU. Skylakakis supported this by adding that the weakest state should not be burdened with controlling one of the most important borders.
Indeed, Greece faces great challenges on its borders and in relation to its neighbouring countries. In this context, Sir Graham Watson deplored that Prime Minister Samaras did not address key issues in the region during the presentation of the priorities of the Greek presidency to the European Parliament. No mention was made of how to overcome the dispute on the name of the Former Yougoslave Republic of Macedonia, the partition of Cyprus and the accession process of Turkey to the EU.
Both Greek experts agreed, that from a liberal point of view, what is most urgently needed are structural and institutional reforms both in Greece as well as the European level. However, while mainstream parties remain reluctant towards reform and prefer compromises to maintain the status quo, populist and other extremist political forces will gain momentum. “Eurosceptics are right in reading the inefficiencies of the EU, though they are wrong in the methods they propose” reminded Skylakakis. This analysis also applies to Greece, where institutional reform has not been brought forward sufficiently. Considering that “if you sustain the wrong system, you get the wrong results”, according to Skylakakis Greece needs an overhaul of the political system. Dimitrios Katsoudas as well lamented the lack of liberal imprint in the Greek reform agenda. Minimal privatization, the reluctance to open the economy to competition and the absent restructuring of the state apparatus cannot lead to a sustainable recovery from the economic and political crisis. At the same time the private sector is crucial for growth – however, it is slowly being killed by the lack of access to credit. In the meantime, disenchantment within the population is growing.