ATHENS — "Europe, with all its difficulties and failings, is our home," President of the Hellenic Republic Katerina Sakellaropoulou stressed on Thursday as she received European Parliament President David Sassoli at the presidential mansion. Sassoli is visiting Athens to mark the 40-year anniversary since Greece joined the European Economic Community, the precursor to the European Union, which also coincides with the launch of national dialogue for the Conference on the Future of Europe.
Sakellaropoulou highlighted the fact that Europe, in the recent major problems that it faced due to the pandemic, relating to the Recovery Fund and the issue of vaccinations, "had found a balanced solution and solidarity had prevailed." She particularly praised the role of the European Parliament in the understanding reached regarding an EU digital certificate for Covid-19 vaccination.
On the launch of national dialogue in Greece on the future of Europe, she said it was particularly encouraging that civil society will be given a voice in the Greek parliament, saying that this process of open consultation between institutional agencies and the citizens was "an entirely unprecedented endeavour in the EU."
"It is important for all of us to envision the kind of Europe we want, for our own generation but also for the future," she added, noting that the core EU values of democracy, rule of law and human rights "are the dominant framework that we must always defend."
The president also pointed to a series of issues, however, such as the climate crisis, economic recovery, social cohesion and migration, that need to be addressed in this dialogue, which she stressed must also engage young people, allowing their voices to be heard.
Replying, Sassoli noted that Greece's presence had "truly enriched the EU" while agreeing that this was a period in which to "review and reassess many of the tools and instruments at our disposal".
Citizens in all 27 EU member-states, he added, were aware that the EU provides security and that the EU countries will either emerge as winners together from the major global challenges they are facing or will be unable to prevail.
Tools such as NextGeneration and the Recovery Fund gave all 27 countries a chance to recover and progress, without the constraints of past rules that had created many inequalities, he noted.
"The Greek state and the Greek citizens, unfortunately, are well acquainted at first hand with the consequences of these rules. However, 15 months ago we all decided together that these rules were not able to deal with the pandemic and we suspended them. Now it is the turn of national parliaments and governments to think and consider what new rules must be adopted. We must on no account return to the old rules, exactly as they were," Sassoli said.
He similarly highlighted the need for "effective" and fit-for-purpose democracy in the EU, welcoming President Sakellaropoulou's remarks in this respect and saying that the need to improve the functioning of the EU's democracy was another lesson learned from the pandemic. He also agreed that the dialogue on the future of Europe was an ideal opportunity for young people and civil society to join in the discussion.
"I think this process constitutes an unprecedented and unique opportunity, which is happening for the first time and can be useful so that we can move forward into the future," he said.
Concluding his remarks, he said that there were "many who have it in mind to divide us. The behaviour of Turkey, the behaviour of Belarus, the behaviour and attitude of Russia and many other totalitarian states creates suspicions and this is the time to reflect, to consider how we can increase our security."