Greece’s course in the EU
Greece is a European country and this is a historical fact, independently of the association agreement and later accession of the country to the European Community/Union. However, the orientation became concrete upon submission of the application for accession to the newly established European Economic Community in June 1959, an application that led to the Association Agreement between Greece and the EEC, signed in June 1961, the first Agreement of its kind concluded by the EEC. This Agreement, which in fact constituted the first step towards Greece’s integration into the European Community, “froze” following the imposition of dictatorship in Greece (April 1967) and was re-activated after democracy was restored (July 1974).
The Greek Government and Constantinos Karamanlis in particular, aimed at integrating the country into the European Union as a full member. Indeed, the application for full accession was submitted on July 12, 1975, by means of a letter addressed to the President at that time of the European Union Ministerial Council and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ireland, G. Fitzgerald.
The reasons behind Greece’s choice for full accession to the Community can be summed up as follows:
- Greece considered the Community to be the institutional framework within which stability could be brought into its democratic political system and institutions.
- Greece sought to reinforce its independence and position within the regional and international system by developing its relations with other international actors beyond the United States of America.
- Accession to the Community was regarded by Greece as a powerful factor that would contribute to the development and modernization of the Greek economy and society.
- Greece wanted, as a European country, to be present in, and have an impact on the process of European integration as well as the configuration of the European model.
- The European Community’s reaction to the Greek application was initially expressed by the European Commission, which, according to article 237 (at the time) of the Treaty of Rome, had to state its “opinion” on the country’s application for accession to the Community. The Commission published its “opinion” on January 28, 1976. The Commission, while stressing that a “clearly positive response” should be given to Greece’s request for accession, proposed the institutionalization of a pre-accession transition period before full institutional integration, in order that the necessary economic reforms would be implemented.
Prime Minister Karamanlis appealed to the governments of the nine member states – France and Germany in particular – and the Commission’s proposal was rejected. Accession negotiations were initiated in July 1976 and brought to a conclusion in May 1979, with the signing of the Treaty of Accession in Athens (Zappeion Megaron). The Greek Parliament ratified the Treaty of Accession of Greece to the European Community on June 28, 1979. The Accession took place two years later, on January 1, 1981.
Greece’s participation in the European Community / Union from 1981 to date could be divided into four basic sub-periods: the first, from 1981 to 1985, the second, from 1985 to 1995, the third, from 1996 to 2009 and the fourth from 2009 to date.
The first period – beyond the first Greek Presidency during the 2nd semester of 1983 – was characterized by Greece’s strong doubts concerning certain aspects of the European integration. One of the country’s main goals was the re-determination of its position within the community by means of establishing a “special regime” of relations and regulations. For this purpose, in March 1982 Greece submitted a Memorandum requesting additional divergence from implementing certain community policies as well as further economic support in order to restructure the Greek economy. The Commission acknowledged only the second request as well-founded, which was actually met by means of the Integrated Mediterranean Programs (IMPs) approved in 1985. The political significance of the IMPs was much greater than the additional funds that were approved for Greece, for they introduced, on behalf of the European Union, an effort towards structural policy development shaped in 1988 with the new structural policy, by means of the first “Delors packet”.
During this period Greece was particularly reserved with regard to the model of European integration, especially in areas such as the role of institutions, politics and defense. During the second period of participation, the policy Greece maintained with regard to the EU was characterized by the gradual adoption of stronger pro-integration positions. Particularly from 1988 onwards – when Greece held its 2nd Presidency during the first semester – Greece began to support the “federal” integration model as well as the development of joint policy in new areas (education, health, and environment), the strengthening of supra-national institutions (Commission, Parliament) and the development of a joint foreign and security policy by the Union. On the other hand, however, inconsistencies remained in both the sector of economy, with the country diverging from the average “community” development level, and the political sector, with the name issue of the Republic of North Macedonia, which was provisionally addressed with the signature of the Interim Accord in 1995 (and completely resolved with the Prespa Agreement of 2018).
Moreover, as of 1987 Greece started to project as its main goal Cyprus’ accession to the European Community. For this purpose, Greece supported the Government of the Republic of Cyprus in the latter’s application for accession, submitted in June 1990. Another milestone was the third Greek Presidency during the first semester of 1994.
The third period of Greece’s participation in the Community / Union commenced in 1996 and was characterized by even further support for the idea and process of European integration, deepening integration in every sector. Greece was among the Member States supporting the adoption of a European Constitution. When this attempt failed, Greece welcomed the inclusion of the major institutional innovations provided for in the Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe (TCE) in the Treaty of Lisbon, the compromise text which emerged from the project of “constitutionalisation” of the European Union. It was also characterized by an effort towards greater economic and social convergence with the fulfillment of the “convergence criteria” set by the Maastricht Treaty and Greece’s participation as a full member in the Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) as well as adoption of the single currency (euro) on January 1, 2002. In addition to the EU deepening, Greece has been a fervent supporter of the Union’s enlargement. Greece worked with dedication to make possible the accession of the countries of Eastern Europe to the Union.
The Hellenic EU Presidency during the first semester of 2003 was a success for Greece and it was during this Presidency that the EU witnessed the largest wave of enlargement in its history with the accession of 10 new member states. More than that, the Hellenic EU Presidency of 2003 inaugurated the EU strategy for the European perspective of the Balkans with the iconic Thessaloniki Agenda.
The fourth period of Greece-EU relations started with the emergence of the great economic crisis in 2008/2009. Greece then entered a long period of economic recession and is implementing economic adjustment programmes and their relevant memoranda of understanding following agreements with its partners/lenders and the IMF. In parallel, the EU and the Euro faced serious a multifaceted crisis. Greece is gradually coming out of this difficult period in the wake of the end of the economic adjustment programmes and the return of economic growth.
The fifth Hellenic Presidency, in the first semester of 2014, was held in the midst of the worst economic and social crisis in the recent history of the European Union. However it was successful with a number of important pieces of legislation being brought forward in fields such as employment, development, the deepening of the banking union, migration and maritime transport.
Greece has been at the forefront of the European Migration Crisis since 2016 sparing no efforts and resources to secure both the EU borders and the sanctity and dignity of human life.