French Presidency priorities correspond closely to Greek ones

The goals of the French EU-Presidency are seen at first as over-ambitious – almost of a Gaulistic character – but with a tendency to be watered down little by little.[1] In any event, the priorities of the French Presidency correspond closely to areas of major interest in Greek public discourse. Moreover, there have been recent points of political convergence between Greece and France (most importantly for Greece: coordination of positions in the Bucharest 2008 spring NATO Summit over the controversial issue of FYROM[2] joining the Alliance, where the Greek veto was openly supported by France) which increased the visibility of French initiatives in Greek public opinion and made for an overall feeling of joint positioning in international fora.
 
Of the priorities declared by Paris, energy is of major interest for Greece – especially from an energy security point of view – due to its recent openings to ‘pipeline foreign policy’. Greece is actively participating in oil and gas pipeline projects (namely the “Burgas-Alexandroupolis oil pipeline” and the “South Stream gas projects”), through which Russian energy flows towards the EU are to increase. Given US warnings against ‘increased dependence from Russian oil and gas’, Athens is very much interested in putting its energy policy in a European/EU-setting.
 
Immigration has always been a topic of interest for Greece, since the country is a main point of entry for economic migrants from Balkan countries, but more importantly from ex-Soviet countries (the Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, Armenia) and also from the Near and Middle East (Syria, Egypt, Iraq – up to Pakistan and Afghanistan) and Africa. There has been a recent sharp increase in migratory flows, which in part use Greece as an entry point to the EU, coming mainly through Turkey across the Aegean to the several Greek islands and long mainland coasts. Efforts to rationalise such migratory flows have been unsuccessful, while the proportion of illegal/unregistered aliens remaining and seeking work in Greece is increasing. Thus, there is mounting social pressure to ‘do something’ about immigration (although up to now no flare-ups of the Italian sort have been noticed) and any EU initiative in which national measures could be inserted is most welcome politically.
 
As to defence policy, the never-ending security problems that Greece faces in its part of the world keep it a steady supporter of a wider and more active EU defence policy, notwithstanding the fact that special Greek interests (e.g. over the FYROM issue, Greek-Turkish relations, the Cyprus issue) keep Athens wary of any majority voting in Common Foreign and Security Policy matters. For Greece, building up a ‘European’ defence capacity is mainly viewed as an overall security umbrella over EU member states.
 
Last but not least, Greek concerns run high as to what moves and initiatives will come from the French Presidency to salvage the Reform Treaty following the Irish ‘No’. The Greek Parliament initiated ratification proceedings for the Lisbon Treaty hours before the Irish referendum; the issue came to the forefront of public attention due to a row within the Socialists (“PASOK”) as to whether Greek ratification should proceed through a Parliament vote or by referendum.
 
Thus, the issue of the institutional future of the EU has gained sudden political interest in Greece – both among the elites and in public opinion. The next steps of Brussels but also of the French Presidency are closely watched.
 



[1] See the newspaper TO VIMA, 17 July 2008.
[2] Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.