by Luis Vilacha Fernandez. Originally published on 2014/02/25
2014 will be a year of great challenges. During this year Europeans will face the EU elections in May that will determine the next five years of the Union in terms of political integration, banking union, migration, maritime policies and air passenger rights among others. Also, the upcoming EU elections are expected to reflect the highest level of Euroscepticism in Europe’s history. During this year the expectations will focus on the question of whether the economic recovery in the Southern countries will become a reality. Additionally, there will be some political issues. For instance concerning the question of what will happen with Catalonia and Scotland if the ‘yes’ wins the referendum? Likewise, the European Union will have to deal with different conflicts and trouble situations in the international arena and mainly with its neighbours; will the EU implement any resolution to help the pro-democracy riots in Ukraine? Will the EU renegotiate its agreements with Switzerland after they voted to restrict immigration from EU countries?
However, the rotating Council Presidency of the Union will get most of the attention of the citizens and policy-makers during this year. Greece holds the Presidency of the Union during the first semester of this year, while their citizens are still suffering the severe economic measures imposed by the troika (European Commission, European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund) and Italy will hold the Council Presidency during the second half of the year. This fact seems a poor taste joke, but it is not. It is just a bad coincidence that two of the Southern states which are suffering economic measures will have to deal with a Europe still in crisis and also with the EU elections in May that, as polls suggest, could led the European dream sink even more.
This paradoxical fact represents both an advantage and a disadvantage for Greece and the European citizens. On the one hand, the goals and objectives the Greek Presidency will implement could help the Southern countries to overthrow the economic crisis and inspire the rest of the countries that are suffering budgetary measures. The government of Mr. Samaras is in the right position during this semester to send a clear message to the North that the Southern countries can rule themselves. Although, and the paradox lies here, as Greece is an EU Member State that has been bailed-out twice, it must follow severe policies to reduce its economic deficit. At the same time, some structural reforms the troika ordered should be implemented to keep money flowing to the country.
The Greek Presidency’s main objectives are to foster growth, to increase competitiveness within the EU Member States and to reduce unemployment ensuring stability and prosperity for all (Greek Presidency, 2014). Besides this, it will aim to preserve the integrity of the Euro on a solid and sustainable base and to ensure its financial stability. Austerity seems to be at the centre of the Union’s policy-making once again. Thus, it is important to mention that the Greek Presidency will have the lowest presidential budget in Europe’s history, only 50€ million.
Greece must continue most of the initiatives that were promoted during the Lithuanian and Irish Presidencies of the Council following the rotating Trio Presidency of the Council (Ireland, Lithuania and Greece) (Greek Presidency, 2014). PM Samaras will have to deal with Macedonia/ FYROM (Former Yugoslavian Republic of Macedonia) and its political status in order to secure a future Macedonian accession to the EU. Besides, it will have to keep negotiating with Montenegro and Serbia on their future accession. Likewise, Prime Minister Samaras will have to continue the negotiations on Turkey’s accession to the EU that were initiated during last semester after having been frozen for 3 years. The negotiation with the United States to achieve a free trade area will also be on the list of important tasks to implement during the next six months.
Still, will Greece be capable of achieving all those challenges being a country ruled by the troika?
This is a tough question. On the one hand, Greece can be expected to implement at least some of the objectives that they have outlined as the most important during the inauguration ceremony of the Council Presidency. Greece is a sovereign Member State; therefore, it has the necessary tools to implement any political or economic measures they decide to carry out. However, Greece is a bailed-out country that has been somehow ruled by the troika since 2010. It is not that certain that most of the policies that the country could enforce during the next six months will be implemented by the own government but by the troika. This possibility is perhaps one of the fears that Greeks and Southern countries have for their near future. This lack of faith in the European Union’s project and values leads directly to Euroscepticism (EurActiv, 2013) and to what is even more dangerous, political nationalism embodied by extreme right-parties like the Greek party Golden Dawn.
European values have been devaluated since the economic crisis blew up in 2008. Hence, legitimacy must be reinforced in order to reduce the gap between institutions and citizens. Therefore, this semester will necessarily be very intensive within Europe’s politics as Greece holds the Council Presidency of the Union. However, the second half of the year will undoubtedly bring the same attention with the Italian Presidency of the Council. Thus, it is important to mention that 2014 seems to be a crucial year in Europe’s recent history; the consequences will start to come out soon.
EurActiv (2013). Record 60% of Europeans ‘tend not to trust’ EU. Available from: http://www.euractiv.com/elections/record-60-europeans-tend-trust-e-news-529566
Greek Presidency (2014). EU Presidency. What a Trio Presidency is. Available from: http://www.gr2014.eu/eu-presidency/the-eu-presidency/trio-presidency
Greek Presidency (2014). Programme & Priorities. Main principles-objectives. Available from: http://www.gr2014.eu/eu-presidency/the-greek-presidency/programme-and-priorities