Efforts to ratify the Lisbon Treaty should not be abandoned but remain “on schedule”, even in the face of recent setbacks like the ‘no’ vote in the Irish referendum, Greek Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis stressed in a press conference after the end of the European Council meeting in Brussels on Friday.
He also conceded that failure to ratify the treaty would effectively stall the expansion process, raising obstacles in the path of Turkey and western Balkan states wishing to join the European Union, but appeared sanguine that the problem would be resolved eventually.
Pointing out that the treaty had already been ratified by 19 of the 27 member-states of the Community and that most of the remaining countries had indicated that then intended to go through with its ratification, Karamanlis expressed hope that a formula for overcoming the problem with Ireland and other countries that faced “technical problems” with ratifying the treaty would be overcome by the time EU leaders next convened in October.
On the question of galloping oil and food prices and their repercussions on consumers, meanwhile, Karamanlis said that EU leaders had essentially put off action on an EU level for the time being, agreeing to take targeted action on a national level that would focus on the economically weakest members of society that were hardest-hit by what he termed a “global crisis”.
Questioned about what this deferment of action meant for Greek consumers, when they would be called to shoulder the burden of higher heating costs in the autumn, Karamanlis said that the discussion held in Brussels on this issue and the European Council’s instructions to the European Commission to propose further measures were “not the end of the road but a step in the right direction”. He stopped short, however, of promising that the problems would be dealt with.
“There are no magic wands,” he underlined to reporters as he outlined the steps agreed by EU leaders, adding that the measures “do not mean that this is a problem that can be solved” but only that its worst repercussions might be alleviated for the more vulnerable groups.
The Greek premier also fielded repeated questions from reporters regarding the latest developments regarding the investigation into the Siemens bribery scandal, following Thursday’s revelations that senior members of the main opposition PASOK party may have received money from the German multi-national group.
Reporters particularly focused on whether the government would insist on the line it has taken up until now and wait for the findings of the judicial investigation or whether it would consent to a Parliamentary inquiry into possible political involvement or responsibility. In his reply, Karamanlis underlined the government’s commitment to letting justice do its work and bringing everything out in the open.
“In the past years, justice functions without any hindrance,” he said and stressed that the government’s political stance was one of “full investigation, full exposure, assigning blame and responsibility without discounts”.
Clarifying justice would be allowed to complete its investigation, the premier also categorically ruled out any involvement by ruling New Democracy (ND) in the affair. At the same time, he indicated that he would not hesitate to expel members of his government or Parliamentary group, in spite of ND’s currently slim majority in Parliament, if the investigation uncovered evidence implicating members of his party in the scandal.
“The last thing that interests the Greek people is whether one person or another loses their seat in Parliament or is expelled from their party. What they want is full disclosure and offenders brought to justice,” he underlined.
On another note, the prime minister stressed that he would not seek to obtain political benefits from the current discomfiture of PASOK party and did not believe that this would benefit democracy.
Presenting the results of the summit meeting to reporters, Karamanlis particularly emphasised a reference in the text conclusions to the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) and highlighted the fact that, for the first time, these included a specific reference to the issue of the name dispute between FYROM and Greece.
He noted that the EU’s message to FYROM and the other western Balkan countries was positive but clear: their path toward EU membership depended on complying with the principles governing the Community, among them that of promoting good neighbour relations.
In FYROM’s case, this included finding a mutually acceptable solution to the issue of its name with Greece, Karamanlis said.
Asked whether Greece was hopeful of a breakthrough in talks with FYROM on this issue or whether Athens would once again be put in a position of using a veto to block FYROM’s entry into the EU, Karamanlis again stressed the need for FYROM to adopt democratic behaviours required by the Community and stressed that Greece would support its EU prospects if it did so.
Another issue highlighted by the Greek premier was that of illegal immigration into Europe and he repeated a call for an integrated EU approach to managing its borders.
Karamanlis pointed out that Greece’s position on the edge of the Union and its extensive borders meant that it was bearing the brunt of the problem largely alone. He repeated Athens’ call for measures to discourage illegal immigration, such as punishing employers that employed illegals or a common policy on immigrants’ rights, as well as reminding his counterparts of Greece’s proposal for a European coast guard to patrol its borders and the need to promote re-admission treaties with the main countries that illegal immigrants passed through to enter Europe.