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PM, EU officials, praise Greece at EU presidency ceremony

Samaras and Barroso both sought to strike an upbeat note at an official ceremony for Greece’s assumption of the European Union’s Presidency emphasizing the country’s progress and playing down the fragility of Samaras’s government.

By the end of its Presidency, Greece will have switched from being Europe’s weakest link to a symbol of Europe's ability to overcome difficult times, Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras said on Wednesday, in a speech declaring theofficial ceremony for Greece’s assumption of the European Union’s rotating six-month presidency.

Addressing a joint press conference with Barroso, Samaras declared that “Greece, after great sacrifices, is leaving the crisis behind it.” Apart from economic recovery, he said Athens would focus during the presidency on battling unemployment and tackling security issues, including the problem of unchecked immigration.

Samaras referred to forthcoming European Parliament elections in May as an important landmark. “Voters will choose whether they want Europe or not,” Samaras said in response to questions about the stability of his government and the possibility of losses at the polls.

SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras was conspicuous by his absence at the ceremony at the Athens Concert Hall, boycotting the event in protest at the government’s agenda for the presidency, which his party deems places insufficient focus on boosting growth and curbing unemployment

With the Greek phrase ‘efcharisto’ (thank you), the European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso marked the opening ceremony, pointing out that Greece has withstood the hardest period of the crisis thanks to European support.Greece is taking over the rotating Presidency at a particularly challenging moment, Barroso said, reiterating that the European Commission has always stood by the side of the Greek government and people. “I always said that the success of Greece is the success of the EU,” he said. 

According to Barroso, the union faced its most serious crisis during the past five years. “And we fought back together. Greece has not defaulted and has not left the euro. Greece is now taking the helm of the Council. The euro has been saved and strengthened,” he said.

The Commission’s visit to Athens demonstrates an ambition to join forces with Greek authorities, Barroso said, wrapping up his speech with a pledge in Greek ‘Imaste mazi sas’ (We are at your side).

On his part, European Council President Herman van Rompuy said that economic and social recovery was a difficult path demanding sacrifices and the Greek people deserve respect for their courage and resilience.

"Greece carried out reforms and the EU showed solidarity. We will be at your side until recovery," he stressed, noting that no country could deal with the crisis alone.

Today we can leave the crisis behind us, the European Council president added, saying that 2014 must be a better year, in which the EU would achieve results, especially in fighting unemployment.

"The rotating presidency represents the idea of common goals, is proof that the Union is everyone's business. Greece has long experience of these responsibilities, this is its fifth time, which comes at an especially difficult moment," he said.