Greeks set for stormy EU role

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The Independent Online
THE ACCUSATIONS and apologies have already started. Rarely has a presidency of the European Union caused so much controversy even before it got under way.

Today in Athens, the Greek government will try to shed a little light where before there was mainly heat by discussing its plans for the next six months with the European Commission. With the exception of former Yugoslavia - where the government is expected to push for a more active role - it is unlikely to spring any surprises.

But Andreas Papandreou's Socialist government has already raised the hackles of many in the Commission and in other European capitals. They have bad memories of previous Greek presidencies, are wary of the intentions of Athens in the Balkans, and are eager to push on to July, when the Germans take over.

Theodore Pangalos, deputy minister for foreign affairs, has already endeared himself to those who hope for trouble by accusing Germany of leading an international conspiracy against Greece by pushing for the recognition of Macedonia. He called the European paymaster 'a giant with the strength of a beast and the mind of a spoilt child', which was hardly a wise move for a country that receives so much EU cash. And he made an embarrassing apology at the Brussels summit last month.

However, Mr Pangalos' rhetoric does not match the reality of a man who knows his way around Europe. He is thought to be a little fusty but broadly reliable by those who have done business with him before, according to European diplomats. He was also in trouble last year for saying that Greece had botched its attempt to block the recognition of Macedonia. 'The name issue has been lost,' he said, a reference to fears in Athens that the new republic's title constitutes a threat to Greece's own province of Macedonia.

Few European officials expect Greece's handling of the crisis in former Yugoslavia to be exemplary, but several point out that no other EU state has distinguished itself. Greece will have little weight in the peace negotiations, and military operations in the Balkans are handled by the United Nations and Nato, not the EU.

In foreign policy matters, Greece must work closely with Belgium and Germany, the past and future presidencies. Virtually all EU decisions are taken on the basis of a unanimous vote amongst all 12 members.

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