Greece is EU president

Greece took over the European Union’s six-month rotating presidency yesterday at a time when, in the shadow of possible war in Iraq, the EU has to complete the process which will take it from its current 15 members to 25 while also shaping the future of the union and its institutions. Athens’s agenda contains five key issues. These are: overseeing the enlargement process, which will bring Cyprus and nine other countries into the EU; managing migration and combating illegal migration; dealing with issues such as competitiveness, employment, social cohesion and development; overseeing the institutional changes being debated by the Constitutional Conference and which will be discussed at the EU summit in Thessaloniki in June and shaping EU foreign policy. In his New Year’s message, Prime Minister Costas Simitis pointed out that Greece has a unique opportunity to make progress on issues of special concern. «The presidency gives our country the opportunity to show its worth, to point out problems, to hasten solutions to issues of interest to it,» he said. «My aim is to strengthen our international position, our negotiating strength, so we can have positive results for all the issues we are negotiating within the EU, whether these concern the Common Agricultural Policy or combating illegal immigration.» Foreign Minister George Papandreou noted the need for closer ties with other countries, including those that will not be joining soon. «Greece takes on the presidency during a period marked by far-reaching changes in the European Union,» he said in a statement yesterday. The decision taken in Copenhagen last month to enlarge the EU, was a «decision on the lifting of divisive barriers, on the liberation of Europe from the constraints of the past,» he said. «With this enlargement, the EU must not throw up new barriers. We must continue our efforts toward the forging of stable ties with all the European countries with a potential future in the European Union – we must strengthen our relations with the other countries of our neighborhood, the countries of the Mediterranean, the Caucasus, Russia.» He added that, «For us, beyond the priorities of our six-month presidency, the development of Greek-Turkish relations and a viable and practical solution to the Cyprus problem will remain, in 2003, basic parameters of an overall strategy for peace, stability and cooperation in our region.» Regarding foreign policy, he said, «We want an EU with a powerful presence in international developments… on an equal footing with our strategic partner, the United States.» European Affairs Minister Tassos Yiannitsis commented on the possibility of war in Iraq. «It is difficult to say what priorities and which decisions might be influenced by war. What is certain is that – in some cases more and in others less – it will have an affect,» he said.

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