Greece, whose continued membership of the European Union (EU) appeared far from certain at the start of 2013, will assume the presidency of the EU’s Council of Ministers from 1 January 2014.
Antonis Samaras, Greece’s prime minister, has identified growth, employment and social cohesion as the country’s main priorities for its six-month long presidency. Greece will hand the presidency over to Italy on 1 July 2014.
In particular, Greece will push member states to fulfil their commitments from mid-2013 to increase the availability of credit to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), and to provide funds for getting unemployed young people back into work.
However, some believe that the presidency could be overshadowed by Greece’s efforts to emerge from a six-year long recession while complying with the terms its two international bailouts, worth €246bn. The terms of the bailout package require the Greek government – which enjoys a majority of only two in parliament – to continue its austerity programme of deep cuts in public spending.
The European Commission (EC) predicts that Greece’s economy will again contract in 2014, for a seventh year of recession, before growing slowly in 2015.
The Greek presidency could also be overshadowed by discussions between the government and its international creditors – the EC, the European Central Bank (ECB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) – on a potential third bailout, or by domestic challenges to the government, in particular due to social unrest as a result of the economic crisis.
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