NEWS

PM claims EU success

Summing up Greece’s EU presidency, a day before Italy takes over, Prime Minister Costas Simitis said yesterday that the Union had changed radically in the last six months and that Athens’s term at the helm had been declared a success. In his final act as EU president, Simitis will address a plenary session of the European Parliament in Strasbourg today. «The European Union of today is not the European Union of December, not only because it has been enlarged and has 25 members, not only because it must take decisions regarding a new constitution, but also because it sees that it must have a common foreign policy, a common defense policy,» Simitis said after briefing President Costis Stephanopoulos on the presidency and domestic issues. «I am glad Greece held the EU presidency these six months and contributed to this debate and to the change that was brought about.» Simitis also chaired a meeting of his Cabinet, in which he set out in greater detail the challenges and achievements of the presidency. «The Greek presidency ended in a climate of general acknowledgement of its abilities in every sphere of EU interest,» he told his ministers. «There was very substantial political gain for our country,» he added. «Our country’s standing in the eyes of our 24 EU partners was raised significantly, as it was with regard to third countries.» On cue, US Secretary of State Colin Powell telephoned Foreign Minister George Papandreou yesterday and congratulated him on Greece’s EU presidency and last week’s EU-US summit which he described as «very positive» for transatlantic relations. The two men also discussed the ceasefire called by Palestinian organizations and the gradual withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza and the West Bank. Simitis listed the five major issues of Greece’s presidency as «enlargement; the European Constitution; the strategy for competitiveness, employment and a social Europe; a common policy on issues of migration, asylum and security and defense issues.» He also spoke of the success of Cyprus’s EU accession. The treaty enlarging the EU by 10 countries was signed in Athens on April 16, at the Stoa of Attalos, a Hellenistic-era shopping arcade restored in the 1950s by the American School of Classical Studies with US funding. «The climate that was shaped in Athens helped overcome the friction among EU members,» Simitis said.