May 29, 1979: Greece Signs Accession to the European Economic Community

Greece was seeking its accession to the European Economic Community long before it signed the official accession agreement in May 29, 1979. The European identity was crucial for the country after its emergence from the plights of the German Occupation and the bloody Civil War.

In fact, Greece applied to be part of the newly established European Economic Community in June 1959, an application that led to the Association Agreement between Greece and the EEC, signed in June 1961. However, this agreement, which in fact constituted the first step towards Greece’s integration into the European Community, “froze” when the colonels seized power in April 1967.

The accession procedures were re-activated after democracy was restored in July 1974.
The Greek government and Constantinos Karamanlis in particular, aimed at integrating the country into the European Union as a full member.  Indeed, the application for full accession was submitted on July 12, 1975, by means of a letter addressed to the President at that time of the European Union Ministerial Council and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ireland,  G. Fitzgerald

Greece had several reasons to be part of the wider European “family.” Other than the obvious benefits the Greek economy would have, being part of the EEC would provide the institutional framework within which stability could be brought into its democratic political system and institutions.

Another reason was the reinforcement of Greece’s independence and position within the regional and international system as well as its “power to negotiate,” particularly in relation to Turkey, which, after the invasion and occupation of Cyprus (July 1974), appeared as a major threat to Greece.

Furthermore, Greece’s accession to the EEC would contribute to the development and modernization of the Greek economy and society.

Accession negotiations were initiated in July 1976 and brought to a conclusion in May 1979, with the signing of the Accession Deed in Athens (Zappeion Megaron). The Greek Parliament ratified the Accession Deed of Greece to the European Community on June 28, 1979. The Accession Treaty entered into force two years later, on January 1, 1981.

In March 1982 Greece submitted a Memorandum requesting  further economic support in order to restructure the Greek economy. The European Commission met the request by means of the Integrated Mediterranean Programs (IMPs) approved in 1985.  The significance of the IMPs was much greater than the additional funds that were approved for Greece, for they introduced, on behalf of the European Union, an effort towards structural policy development shaped in 1988 with the new structural policy, by means of the first “Delors packet.”

While at first Greece was reluctant to follow the model of European integration, especially in areas such as the role of institutions, politics and defense, but from 1988 onwards, Greece began to support the “federal” integration model as well as the development of joint policy in new areas (education, health, and environment), the strengthening of supra-national institutions (Commission, Parliament) and the development of a joint foreign and security policy by the Union.

Moreover, as of 1987 Greece started to project as its main goal Cyprus’ accession to the European Community.  For this purpose, Greece supported the Nicosia Government in the latter’s application for accession, submitted in June 1990.

From 1996 onwards, under the leadership of Costas Simitis, there was further support for the idea and process of European integration, deepening integration in every sector, in line with the federal model. Greece was among the Member States supporting the adoption of a European Constitution. When this attempt failed, Greece welcomed  the inclusion of the major institutional innovations provided for in the Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe (TCE) in the Treaty of Lisbon. An effort towards greater economic and social convergence with the fulfillment of the “convergence criteria” set by the Maastricht Treaty and Greece’s participation  as a full member in the Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) as well as adoption of the single currency (euro) on January 1, 2002. In addition to the EU deepening, Greece has been a fervent supporter of the Union’s enlargement. Greece was also supportive of the accession of the countries of Eastern Europe to the Union, despite a general hesitation.

The fourth Hellenic EU Presidency (first semester 2003) was a success for Greece and it was during this Presidency that the European Union witnessed the largest wave of enlargement in its history (10 new member states).

The fifth Hellenic Presidency (first semester 2014) was held in the midst of the worst economic and social crisis in the recent history of the European Union. However, it was successful both in terms of quantity and quality. Indeed, 71 pieces of legislation were adopted mainly in the fields of major importance for the everyday life of the European citizens (growth, jobs, further integration of EU and Euro zone, Migration and Maritime Policies).

Today, political divisions brought by the economic crisis have made many Greeks doubtful of the European Union and the common currency bloc. Opinion polls show that the majority of Greeks want to remain in the euro zone, but at the same time believe that austerity policies imposed by the country’s EU creditors are too harsh.

Political forces of the extreme Left and the extreme Right have actively being against the EU from the time of the accession. The current administration, vehemently against European institutions before coming to power, has often accused the EU for the austerity imposed on Europe, but at the same time has made full use of the bailout loans and the funds provided by the National Strategic Reference Framework (ESPA) programs. The bailout funds provided by the EU institutions have kept the country from bankruptcy.

Another argument heard against the EU is that they lend to Greece at high interest rates and that the economic crisis was orchestrated. It is also said that today the EU is divided between the rich North against the poor South. The facts that Portugal, Ireland and Cyprus have exited the crisis through successful bailout programs and Europe lends to Greece at a 1% interest rate are cleverly downplayed by those who oppose the union.