ATHENS – The Greek government has issued an order prohibiting protests on Jan. 8 in the capital city to prevent any embarrassment or disruption of a ceremony in which the country will be handed the symbolic but essentially powerless six-month rotating European Union Presidency, an event expected to attract dozens of European officials.
The order announced by the police will take effect at 6 a.m., hours before EU commissioners, led by European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, are to attend the Athens events.
Greece is hoping to emerge from a grueling, six-year recession during its presidency, and negotiate a landmark deal with bailout creditors to make its massive national debt sustainable.
A similar protest ban was imposed last year during a visit to Athens by German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble. Prime Minister Antonis Samaras has also imposed bans on protesters getting near holiday parades which are VIP-only events, including Oxi Day and Greek Independence Day that have become private affairs.
The protest bans became fashionable after tens of thousands of demonstrators turned out to show their unhappiness late in 2012 when German Chancellor Angela Merkel came to Athens. Germany is the biggest contributor to two bailout packages but she has insisted on harsh austerity measures that have created record unemployment and deep poverty in the country.
Greece is going to spend 50 million euros to oversee the EU Presidency, which has been essentially irrelevant since the EU added another President, of the European Council of heads of state, to go along with the positions of European Commission President and European Parliament President.