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Europe

Looking Back on Greece's Turbulent Six Months

Greece completed its six-month term as president of the European Union on June 30. The period will likely go down as one of the most turbulent in the organization's history.

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The summit in Athens this past April officially welcomed in the EU's new members.

Coming at a time of when "Project Europe" seemed to be on track, the last thing the Greek presidency of the European Union expected was the chaos, bitterness and infighting the Iraq war caused within the EU.

A little more than a month before the first U.S. rockets fell on Baghdad in March, eight European countries signed a letter supporting America's imminent military invasion of Iraq. The letter, published in the Wall Street Journal Europe, opened wide the fissure that had begun to crack relations between pro and anti-War camps.

Greek Prime Minister Costa Simitis, whose country had assumed the six-month rotating presidency of the EU on January 1 following a historic summit that paved the way to expand the EU by 10 countries, quickly called a meeting. The emergency summit in Athens in February brought pro-war countries like Spain and Great Britain into a compromise with leading war opponents Germany and France.

The accomplishment was the first of many for the Greek government, which officially ends when Italy takes over as EU president on July 1, for the next six months.

In a half year as turbulent as any in the history of the EU, Greece presided over the Iraq crisis, the drafting of the EU's first-ever constitution and the official welcome for the Union's ten new members.

Pulling Great Britain back into the fold

Following the easing of tensions over Iraq, the EU smoothed ruffled feathers within its ranks by agreeing on supporting a central role for the United Nations in the war-torn country. Even Great Britain, America's greatest ally, was pulled back into the fold, helping to draft the statement along with Spain, Germany and France.

"The EU reaffirms its commitments to play a significant role in the political and economic reconstruction of the country," read the final draft, reflecting none of the division of the previous months.

At the same summit in April, the ten new member nations of the European Union, from Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean, officially signed the treaty of accession in an historic ceremony in Athens. They will join the EU in 2004, marking the biggest expansion yet in the history of the postwar institution.

The first draft of the document that will chart the course of the expanded Union made its debut last month at a conference in Porto Carras. The European constitution aims to streamline decision-making and make the EU more visible abroad by establishing a president and foreign minister post. European leaders gave their approval to the first draft, saying it was a good blueprint to work from.

Success balanced out by failures

Approval has also greeted Simitis' (photo) work of the past few months. His diplomatic successes have

Constantine Simitis in Washington

Greek Prime Minister Constantine Simitis

him rumored to succeed European Union Commission President Roman Prodi in a few years. The Greek foreign minister has also been tipped to assume the newly-created foreign minister post, one that German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer is reportedly also up for.

The Greek successes have been balanced out by some failure. Despite efforts by the U.N. and a visit by Simitis, Greece and Turkey were unable to find a way to reunify the divided island of Cyprus. The southern, Greek two-thirds of the island is scheduled to enter the EU along with the nine other candidates in 2004 setting the stage for more tension between old rivals Greece and Turkey.

Simitis' other two stated goals when Greece took over the presidency in December - fashioning a common security policy and fighting illegal immigration - never made the progress the Greek leader expected. The idea of a common security policy suffered a setback after Germany, France, Luxembourg and Belgium met separately to draft a European defense initiative at the end of April.

Greece also failed to shepherd through a comprehensive common EU policy on asylum and immigration. Though EU countries pledged to invest 140 million euros ($163 million) in protecting Europe's expanded borders, many observers said the deal fell short of what a country like Greece -- which receives many of the immigrants from the Middle East and Africa -- needs.

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