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02 July, 2003
STRASBOURG 02/07/2003 (ANA - O. Tsipira)
Outgoing European Council President and Greek Prime Minister Costas Simitis at the European Parliament (EP) on Tuesday wrapped up the Greek European Union presidency with a statement reviewing his country's six-month tenure at the head of the bloc, as successor Italy is officially taking the lead in the spotlight of the EU.
''I feel that this past semester Europe went through a period of transformation,'' Simitis told the EP plenary session, adding ''the events that took place during that time allowed the Union to take a look at its weaknesses, but also at its strong points; they made it more mature in the political arena, more decisive in taking action, at the same time clearly revealing a need for decision-making for the future of Europe.''
Premier Simitis recalled the five priorities of the Greek Presidency set out in December 2002, including EU enlargement, renewing the Lisbon process on employment, managing the Convention on the future of Europe, taking new initiatives on illegal immigration and strengthening Europe's common foreign and security policy.
He said the Accession Treaty signed between the Union and the ten new members on April 15 in Athens, including the Cyprus Republic, constituted one of the most significant events in the course of the EU and sealed the reunification of Europe.
''It was a peak point in the presidency,'' he said.
Turning to the Lisbon process, the Prime Minister welcomed a series of agreements including one on the broad economic policy guidelines, tax evasion, the European patent, increasing the amount of money spent on research, the Charter for Small-Medium Enterprises (SMEs), the liberalization of the energy market, trans-European transport and energy networks, renewable energy sources, the removal of single hull tankers following the ‘Prestige’ disaster, and environmental liability.
On the draft EU Constitution, prepared by the Convention on the Future of Europe and presented to the heads of state and government at the EU Thessaloniki Council, June 19-20, the Greek premier stated that the draft text was a ''very satisfactory basis'' for the forthcoming Intergovernmental Conference (opening in October) and that a final agreement should be reached by June 2004 at the latest, that is, before the European Parliament elections.
With regard to EU immigration policy, Simitis stated that failure to properly implement the Tampere and Seville agreements was primarily the result of a lack in financing, clearly underlining the need for a common European approach to asylum policy.
He went on by listing a series of achievements including the recent decisions on agricultural reform and stressed that more money would now be earmarked on food safety and the environment.
Turning to external relations, he stressed the importance of the agreement on the Western Balkans, with increased financial assistance to the region and a long-term plan for EU accession.
On Iraq, the Prime Minister focused on the reconstruction aspects and the role of the United Nations, and welcomed the publication of the ''road map'' for peace in the Middle East.
In conclusion, the Greek prime minister thanked the European Parliament for its cooperation and wished Italy success in its six-month Presidency.
The EP Presidium thanked and congratulated the Greek prime minister, while President Pat Cox said he was grateful for the high level of cooperation and thanked Simitis for the assistance provided by the Greek Presidency in a number of areas, a ''positive contribution to the course of Europe.''
On his part, Commission President Romano Prodi paid tribute to the work of the Greek Presidency in not only completing the enlargement process but also in overseeing the work of the Convention, and congratulated Simitis and his associates for the ''efficient coordinating role that the presidency played.
''During his six-month mandate, the Greek presidency was steady at the wheel, even during the most difficult times, exhibiting the skills and sensitivity that we have been seeing in the Greek people since the birth of our civilization,'' Prodi said.
Chairman of the EP Christian Democrat group Hans-Gert Pottering spoke about the ''success of the Greek presidency'' which he said was ''bright'' in spite of the Iraq crisis, and thanked the Greek prime minister for his initiative to invite the heads of the EP's political groups at the recent EU Council in Thessaloniki.
In his address, PES Leader Enrique Baron Crespo noted that ''the Greek presidency had exhibited ability and determination at the helm of Europe'', while Liberal Graham Watson stated that the Greek Presidency, on the whole, should be seen in very positive terms.
Euro-deputies Johannes Voggenhuber and Neil MacCormick, on behalf of the Group of the Greens, praised the work of the Greek presidency and said it had proved that ''a small country is capable of leading the Union.''
Finally, Socialist deputy Carlos Lage, Portugal, said the ''Greek prime minister had handled the issue of Turkey with fairness, which was very important for Europe,'' adding that a solution had also been reached on the Common Agriculture Policy during Greece's tenure at the presidency.
''The Greek presidency was inspired by Plato and Aristotle, proving that politics cannot be separated from philosophy,'' the Portuguese euro-deputy said.
''The Greek presidency should be used as a point of reference by future presidencies,'' he concluded.
Source: Athens News Agency
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