US Media on Greece
© Copyright Embassy of Greece 1996-2005. All Rights Reserved.
A NEWS REVIEW FROM THE EMBASSY OF GREECE IN WASHINGTON DC
PRESS & INFORMATION OFFICE
July 2003; Vol. 9 No. 7
(also available in PDF file)
Praise for Greece’s EU Presidency
As Greece on July 1st handed over to Italy its presidency of the European Union, Prime Minister Costas Simitis received widespread congratulations for his government’s achievements for the EU in the past six months, despite adverse international circumstances.
Romano Prodi, President of the European Commission, said: “Costas Simitis proved himself worthy of exercising power. During his six-month mandate, the Greek presidency was steady at the wheel, even during the most difficult times, exhibiting skill and sensitivity.”
Congratulations were also offered by Europarliament President Pat Cox for the Greek presidency’s “positive contribution to the course of Europe” and its demonstration that “a small country can maintain a strong leading position,” a sentiment echoed by the President of Italy, Carlo Ciampi, who said during his official three-day visit to Greece, July 15-17, that the “vision and wisdom” of Greece in the EU presidency “proves that success does not depend on the size of a country.”
Similar tributes came from a variety of European leaders praising Greece’s “ability and determination at the helm of Europe,” its “humanitarian spirit,” its “great leadership skills,” and even prompting a Portugese Eurodeputy, with a reference to Plato and Aristotle, to propose that “politics cannot be separated from philosophy” and that “the Greek presidency should be used as a point of reference by future presidencies” (see also page 4).
In the United States, congratulations and thanks for EU-US cooperation were forthcoming from Secretary of State Colin Powell in a phone call to Foreign Minister George Papandreou. The annual EU-US summit meeting in Washington on June 25, Mr. Powell said, had been “very positive.”
A detailed account of Greece’s presidency was provided by Mr. Simitis on July 1st to a plenary session of the European Parliament in Strasbourg. During the past six months, he said, the EU had experienced an “evolutionary process” from which it had emerged “more mature and determined to undertake new initiatives.” Current discussions on foreign policy, defense and security and of the draft Constitutional Treaty, Mr. Simitis said, indicate the processes which, he hoped, would be positive for the future of the Union.
The Greek prime minister went on to name the five main priorities of Greece’s presidency during a period of transformation for Europe: completing the EU enlargement with the ten acceding countries and pursuing discussions with the other candidate countries; accelerating implementation of the Lisbon employment strategy; drafting a new Constitutional Treaty; dealing with the problems of immigration; and making progress on priority goals in the area of EU foreign relations (especially on the Iraq crisis; relations with the western Balkan states, the Middle East peace process, and cooperation with the US and Russia).
Enlargement and Other Priorities
On EU enlargement, Mr. Simitis said that the signing ceremony in Athens last April of the Accession Treaty of the 10 new members “constituted one of the major events in the development of the European Union.” The accession of Cyprus was, he noted “the vindication of struggles over many years to re-establish the principles of international law.” The dismissive position of the Turkish-Cypriot leadership, he added, made it impossible to achieve the aim of having a united Cyprus in the EU.
Other developments in the enlargement process included the adoption of revised texts for relations with the three candidate countries, with accession of Bulgaria and Romania envisaged for 2007, and Turkey’s accession course reviewed at the end of 2004.
In the context of current low growth rates in Europe, with increasing unemployment, an aging population, and environmental problems, Mr. Simitis spoke of the ambitious ten-year economic reform program agreed at the Lisbon summit in the year 2000. The results so far include improved coordination of fiscal policies; a new strategy on employment; measures to suppress tax evasion; an action program to increase investment in research, introduce a European patent, and bring new technologies to European educational systems; adoption of a Charter for Small Enterprises; agreed policies on deregulation of the energy market; and a new strategy on sustainable development combined with environmental protection.
On the Convention on the Future of Europe, Mr. Simitis referred to the text submitted for a Constitutional Treaty, worked out during 18 months of discussions chaired by former French President Valery Giscard d’Estaing, as a “sound basis” for the Intergovernmental Conference which is to begin its work next October. Greece, Mr. Simitis said, had contributed to achieving a high degree of consensus on this important issue for the future direction of the European Union.
Turning to Migration Policy, Mr. Simitis said that “constant negotiations” during the period of Greece’s presidency “mark a new beginning to establish a common immigration policy in the European Union.” The progress achieved, he said, can be summarized as follows: coordination in guarding the Union’s external borders; including immigration issues as a basic element in relations with the countries of origin; providing more financial resources for controlling immigration; and the adoption of new directives, agreed upon at the Thessaloniki summit in June, on the “smooth integration of legal immigrants into European societies.” These included a common computerized system for the issuing of visas to third country nationals and an agreement to spend 140 million euros to fund joint programs on immigration and asylum in the period 2004-6.
The agreement reached on Reform of the Common Agricultural Policy, Mr. Simitis said, ended “years of uncertainty which prolonged the justified concern of our farmers.” The reforms will guarantee a foreseeable framework of income support with greater flexibility for production and business decisions. They will also, he added, benefit EU citizens by linking income support for farmers with compliance with EU laws on the environment, public health, food safety, hygiene and animal welfare.
EU Foreign Relations
The latter part of the Greek prime minister’s report was devoted to a review of the EU’s external relations.
Iraq, Mr. Simitis said, was “without a doubt the most difficult” issue on which, despite the threat of fragmentation of the EU’s foreign policy, Greece was able “to undertake decisive initiatives for the unity of the Union” and “averted a confrontational atmosphere.”
In line with Greece’s goal to promote a “qualitative change” in relations between the EU and the five western Balkan states, the Thessaloniki summit and the EU-West Balkans meeting reaffirmed the accession prospects of those countries and inaugurated a new and regular process of political dialogue aimed to adapt legislation to conform with the acquis communautaire and to provide increased financial aid.
Other issues which engaged the active attention of the Greek presidency included the Middle East, relations with the US and Russia, and Euro-Mediterranean collaboration, with a decision to establish a Euro-Mediterranean Parliamentary Assembly.
On the Middle East peace effort, Mr. Simitis noted that Greece’s active role had included two visits to the region (in February and May) by Foreign Minister Papandreou. The Greek presidency had also made every effort to reduce tensions in transatlantic relations arising out of differences on numerous issues--Iraq, the International Criminal Court, the Kyoto Treaty, and trade, among them. The importance of transatlantic relations was reaffirmed at the EU-US summit in Washington on June 25 when a joint initiative on the non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction was announced and a judicial cooperation agreement was signed.
The Greek presidency also achieved a marked improvement in EU relations with Russia, with both sides agreeing to four areas of collaboration: the economy, home affairs and justice, security, and research and technology. By an agreement at the end of May, a Permanent Cooperation Council was established in St. Petersburg.
On European Security and Defense Policy, Mr. Simitis reported progress in the contribution of forces by the EU partners, the implementation of a military exercise program, and the elaboration of crisis management procedures. The first successful crisis management operations, Mr. Simitis noted, were the police mission to Bosnia-Herzegovina and the military mission to the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.
The website of the Greek EU Presidency, www.eu2003.gr, proved quite popular. During its six months of operation the site got over 84 million hits.
Ready for the Olympic Test Events
With good progress apparent in preparations for next year’s Olympic Games, August 13-29 , the main focus of the IOC inspection team, which visited Athens July 15-17, was on the organization of the test events scheduled for this summer and early next year.
The inspectors seemed satisfied with the work in hand at most of the test sites, including the two coastal facilities for the sailing events and the work in progress at the seashore site of the disused Hellenikon airport where the canoe and slalom events are scheduled in addition to a variety of other sports, including basketball, softball, and baseball preliminaries. The inspectors remained concerned, however, that deadlines for these test events, in January and February next year, are still very tight, as they are also for the completion in time for next April’s tests of the Olympic swimming venue.
Good progress at the Schinias rowing center, near the site of the ancient Battle of Marathon, was noted by the inspectors who were also pleased with the work at the Olympic Complex in Goudi where the modern pentathlon and badminton events will be held.
After a temporary glitch which followed an adverse court ruling, construction of the press village in Maroussi, north of Athens, was found to be well advanced, as were the projects in progress in the vicinity of the main Olympic Stadium. While good progress was noted in the construction of the suburban rail line and road improvements, there was some concern over the readiness of the tram line connecting the coastal venues with central Athens—a project considered vital to alleviate the capital’s traffic congestion.
Of the 40 test events scheduled by June 2004, seven will be held in the period August 6-28. They will test all aspects of the competition and technology systems and include each functional segment, including accreditation, spectator services, security, etc. The tests will be open to journalists and a limited number of spectators.
Interviewed in the official ATHOC journal Athens 04, the President of the Republic, Mr. Kostis Stephanopoulos, said that while taking on the organization of next year’s Olympics is a “huge responsibility,” Greece will prove itself to be “a country with great ability.” The Athens Games, he said, will promote the Olympic ideal and underline their ancient Greek origin. He expressed “restrained optimism” as to the success of the Olympic Truce movement in today’s turbulent times; but, he added, “even if a single instance of the Truce is achieved for the duration of next year’s Games, the benefits will be great for peace, for the Olympic ideal and for our country.”
New Olympic Medals
In Prague, where on July 3 the 115th General Assembly of IOC heard with satisfaction her report on preparations for next year’s Olympics, Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki, president of the Athens Organizing Committee (ATHOC), announced the IOC’s approval of the new designs which Greece has commissioned for the gold, silver and bronze medals to be awarded to victors at the Athens Games.
The changes are the first to be made since the Amsterdam Olympics of 1928 and, in the words of IOC General Director of Sports Gilbert Felli, they “remedied a historical injustice,” by introducing distinctly Hellenic elements in the design. These depictions, which will remain as a permanent feature of future Olympic medals, show a new image of Nike, the Greek goddess of victory, based on the 10-foot high statue created by the ancient sculptor Paionios in 421 BC and housed in the Temple of Zeus in ancient Olympia. The other element of the permanent new design shows the Panathinaiko Stadium in Athens, where the first modern Olympics were held in 1896.
For next year’s Olympics, the obverse side of the medals will show the “eternal flame” to be lit at ancient Olympia, lyrics from the “Olympic Ode” of Pindar, and the official emblem of the Athens Games.
A total of 1,130 gold, 1,130 silver, and 1,150 bronze medals, designed by the artist Eleni Votsi, will be minted.
Other Olympic News
Steps are being taken, including a government allocation of one million euros, to establish animal shelters in the Athens area, to deal with the problem of stray animals in advance of the Olympics. Concerned to provide humane solutions to the problem, the government and ATHOC are collaborating in a program aimed at the collection, medical treatment, tagging, and, where possible, adoption of strays.
The Environment Ministry has announced a program for the repair and aesthetic improvement of building facades along roads near the 2004 Olympic venues. A key element of the program is the removal of advertising billboards.
A record number of 201 countries will send athletes to the Athens Games, two more than those participating in the Sydney Olympics in 2000.
A record number of 139 countries have so far applied to sponsor participants in the 2004 Paralympic Games, it was announced in Athens after a three-day visit by a delegation of the International Paralympic Committee.
More than 8,000 performers—dancers, musicians, actors and specialized athletes (skilled in aerobics, yoga, martial arts, body-building etc.)—are being sought as volunteers to appear at the opening and closing ceremonies of the Athens Olympics which, in the words of the ATHOC president, “will enchant and inspire spectators and television viewers all over the world.” All the performers, from the most famous to the unknown, will appear without payment—as will another 2,000 theatrically-experienced volunteers who will assist in the preparations and rehearsals of the two major ceremonies.
In a July 7 report by Alan Abrahamson in the Los Angeles Times, ATHOC President Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki quotes the praise expressed by IOC President Jacques Rogge for her work and that of the Greek government in preparing for the 2004 Games. “What you have done in two years,” Mr. Rogge said, “is remarkable.” For her part, the ATHOC president said that the challenge is like a nation’s “call to war–and we have to do battle.”
For continuing coverage of the 2004 Athens Olympics, go to www.athens2004.com.
Greek Cabinet Reshuffle
After changes in the top positions of the ruling PASOK party, a limited reshuffling of the Cabinet was announced on July 5. The former deputy minister of national economy and finance, George Floridis, became minister of public order in the place of Michalis Chrysohoidis, who was elected secretary of PASOK’s central committee. George Paschalidis replaced George Anomeritis at the head of the merchant marine ministry, with the position of Mr. Paschalidis at the head of the Macedonia-Thrace ministry assumed by Haris Kastanidis. Six other changes affected deputy ministers.
From the International Press:
“The Hellenic Example”
On June 30th the Financial Times, in an assessment of Greece’s six-month EU Presidency, wrote that it was “widely seen as a success.”
The article pointed out that “on a macro-level the Greek presidency is being widely viewed as a success, not least in the way it managed to contain the damage of the Iraq crisis.” Foreign Minister Papandreou is quoted as saying that Greece “found itself well placed to act as an ‘honest broker’ in the crisis . . . While the Iraq crisis grabbed most of the headlines, the Greek presidency managed to pull off some crucial deals on EU reform which transcended the acrimony in the national capitals.”
The report also noted that EU farm ministers praised Greece’s handling of the “epic talks on reforming the Common Agricultural Policy, which reflected a close working relationship with the European Commission. Deals which proved elusive for many years have also been clinched, including the outline of an agreement of an EU savings tax, an energy tax and an EU patent.”
“There was also political agreement on an aviation framework with the US, and progress was made on an asylum framework and the improvement of relations with countries in the western Balkans.”
“However,” the review concluded, “the high point of the Greek presidency was the signing ceremony of the accession treaty for ten new members of the EU in the shadow of the Acropolis on April 16.”
Praise for the “self-effacing” style of the Greek presidency also came in The Economist of July 5th. Under the sub-heading “The Hellenic Example” the article stated: “The Council’s president can play an important part as an honest broker, helping to shape the complex legal and political compromises often needed to win consensus. So the president must sometimes take a more neutral position than it would like. Over the past six months the Greeks would probably have sided with the anti-war camp over Iraq, had they not been constrained in their role as EU president to be scrupulously neutral.”
From The US Press:
EU Defense Progress under Greek EU Presidency
In an interview with Greek Defense Minister Yannos Papantoniou, Defense News of June 30 wrote that he “has been a leading figure in EU defense policy for the past year” and that “under his guidance, the EU Rapid Reaction Force deployed to the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), a milestone on forging a common European security and defense identity.”
Mr. Papantoniou, the article added, “also developed the principles for a European armaments agency, a common market for defense products, space and training policies.”
Asked about relations with the US, he said that they should not be competitive, but rather develop on the basis of a “strategic partnership.” For this to be credible the European pillar must be reinforced, especially in the area of defense. Only then will the US view Europe seriously and be willing to cooperate on an equal basis in confronting international security problems.
“Would Europe close its market to US weapons to protect its own industries?” Mr. Papantoniou was asked, and he answered: “It would be a mistake. European armed forces should be equipped with the weapons of the best possible price and quality.” Europe’s aim, he added, is to make its defense industries more competitive and win a greater share of the market.
With the exception of Greece, European countries, Mr. Papantoniou noted, are reluctant to spend more on defense in a post-Cold War and economically-depressed period, but most European defense ministers, he added, share the view that the percentage of GDP spent on defense must be increased.
Two controversial issues to be resolved, Mr. Papantoniou concluded, are the expansion of the Rapid Reaction Force’s capabilities to perform other than peace-support missions and the introduction into the European Constitutional Treaty of a mutual assistance provision, similar to that of NATO.