NEWS

Greece’s EU presidency is widely praised

Ending a six-month term as president of the European Union which saw the bloc grow from 15 members to 25, saw rifts open among members themselves and with Washington over Iraq, but which also saw Europeans get a draft constitution and a revised agricultural policy, Prime Minister Costas Simitis was treated yesterday to praise from all wings of the European Parliament. «The Greek presidency succeeded because it had good cooperation with all and because we had all realized in Europe that we must move forward, because otherwise there was a danger of falling back,» Simitis told a plenary session of the Parliament. Other speakers were more direct in their acknowledging the role Greece – and Simitis himself – had played in making a success of the presidency at a very difficult time. This was a long way from the 1980s, after Greece joined the EU, and early 1990s when Athens was often seen as being at odds with its EU partners. European Commission President Romano Prodi noted that in Greece’s case, the congratulations «are not given out of politeness but for entirely objective reasons.» Recalling the Sophoclean statement that «rule proves the man,» he noted that the prime minister had shown himself worthy during the unusually demanding times of the last six months. «You showed that you have the necessary nature for the job,» Prodi said. Remaining with the classical references, Baron Crespo, the leader of the Socialist Group, said Simitis had managed «with great leadership skills to hold the rudder on a course that was no cruise but an Odyssey.» European Popular Party leader Hans Gert Petering spoke of the party’s cooperation with members of Greece’s opposition New Democracy party and stressed to Simitis that «your success is our success too.» The Greens’ Johannes Voggenhuber said: «A small country proved that it is able to guide the EU. I congratulate you because you proved that a six-month rotation enriches [the EU] and is, in fact, a creative element for the Union.» Predictably, criticism came from an MEP of the Communist Party of Greece. Stratis Korakas declared that the Greek presidency had strengthened the «unpopular, reactionary and aggressive nature of the European Union.» Simitis said Iraq had presented the greatest challenge, raising the need to bridge differences among EU members and with the United States. He noted the most important achievements as the signing of the accession treaty with 10 new members, the drafting of a constitution, the revision of the Common Agricultural Policy and a number of other issues, including a European patent, taxation on deposits, and the opening up of the energy market. PASOK changes expected today After weeks of suspense, PM Costas Simitis will chair a meeting of his PASOK party’s Executive Bureau at 11.30 a.m. today. Simitis, who has kept everyone guessing as to what changes he plans to make to his Cabinet and the party leadership, is to meet briefly with Secretary-General Costas Laliotis an hour before the 13-member party organ convenes. Rumors are rife as to what changes Simitis might make. It is widely expected that he will call for the resignations of all Executive Bureau members and will make participation on this body incompatible with a government position. He is expected to reshuffle the Cabinet on Monday or Tuesday.