Modesty amid Austerity Greece Aims for Frugal Council Presidency
Greece has announced it will offer fewer perks and spend considerably less than other countries on the rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union when it assumes the role in January. Doing otherwise would send the wrong message, Athens stressed.
Greece's finance ministry announced Monday that its government would run its upcoming presidency of the Council of the European Union on a shoestring budget of only 50 million ($68 million).
The announcement, which came during the presentation of the presidency's official logo in Athens, means that Greece will spend considerably less than have other EU member states, which assume the function on a rotating 6-month schedule. For example, Austria, Finland, Portugal and Slovenia each spent in the region of 70 to 80 million on their presidencies. Under former President Nicolas Sarkozy, France even managed to rack up 175 million in presidency-related expenditures, in part due to particularly generous hospitality.
Aside from the comparatively modest overall budget, the Greek government disclosed additional details as proof of the seriousness of its cost-cutting intentions:
- Small organizing team: Deputy Foreign Minister Dimitris Kourkoulas said that only nine new people will be hired on temporary contracts, while 19 other team members will be seconded from other departments. Greek media estimate that a total of some 150 staff members will be involved, as compared to the 240 who were on Cyprus' organizing team last year.
- Avoidance of unnecessary travel: All 140 events and meetings of the Council of the European Union will take place in Athens, the capital, and not in cities throughout the country.
- Greece will only reimburse costs for European foreign ministers and one accompanying person.
Enlisting Sponsors to Lower Costs
In total, Greece expects 14,000 visits and 18,000 overnight stays in connection with its presidency. Official guests will travel in sponsored cars.
Even the design of the presidency's visual communication strategy (see Photo Gallery) was particularly inexpensive, at a mere 12,000. Beetroot, a respected Greek design agency, came up with a stylized sailboat made out of the letters E and U on a dark-blue background. "Owing to Greece's crisis and the cuts," designer Alexis Nikou told SPIEGEL ONLINE, "we chose something that was optimistic yet simple and modest at the same time."
That fits the message that Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras tried to convey last Friday, when he visited German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin. He stressed that his country was on track to meet the austerity targets imposed by the so-called troika, made up of representatives of the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund, in return for bailout funds. "I believe we are going to soon have a recovery and that will fully eliminate our budget deficit that will also allow us to cover interest payments (on international loans)," Samaras told reporters, according to the AP. "There will not be a need for a new memorandum or new money."
Order for 150,000 neck scarves canceled
Speaking at Monday's press conference, Greek Foreign Minister Evangelos Venizelos underlined his desire that the presidency, which will run from January through June 2014, become a symbol of recovery for Greeks. "It is not easy to achieve," he continued, "but it is very important for Greece not to appear in the European family and globally as a country in a crisis, but as an equal partner, a member state of the European Union and of the euro zone; a sovereign, independent and proud state that suffers the effects of the crisis, but which has the right to hope for a recovery of its position."
Still, Greece's newfound frugality has had to kick in somewhat belatedly on at least one matter: the ties (for men) and neck scarves (for women) that have been traditional gifts from the country hosting the presidency. The government had already approved a budget of 150,000 for them, but then it hastily cancelled the order.
Deputy Foreign Minister Kourkoulas confirmed that Greek would regrettably break this tradition owing to its economic condition and negative media reports. "For symbolic reasons and after the agreement of the Italian Presidency and the European institutions, my dear ambassadors, I am very sorry, you will not get a new tie for your collections, but we all, I think, understand the strong symbolism of this," Kourkoulas said.
Still, it's not as if Germany had any grounds to feel smug. Following the last German presidency, in 2007, the country's Association of Taxpayers criticized the fact that the logo alone had cost 100,000. The logo was then placed on promotional materials, such as scarves, teddy bears and stress balls, which cost another 2.6 million.