- POSTED: 09 Jan 2014 02:37
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Anti-EU populists will not carry European Parliament elections in May despite the effects of the economic crisis, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said on Wednesday.
ATHENS: Anti-EU populists will not carry European Parliament elections in May despite the effects of the economic crisis, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said on Wednesday.
"I recognise that because of the crisis, extremism and populism can rise," Barroso said in Athens as troubled Greece officially took over the EU helm for the next six months.
"But I don't expect these forces to win," he added.
The bloc is seeing a major rise in anti-EU sentiment owing to the crisis, which has caused a rift between poorer member-states requiring bailouts and their richer brethren that have to stump up the cash.
There are also concerns whether Greece, ruled by a fragile coalition government labouring to impose unpopular economic reforms, will successfully meet the presidency's demanding schedule.
Barroso on Wednesday praised the country's "remarkable" economic adjustment but stressed that the effort should not wane.
"This is not the time to slow down the pace of reforms," he said as he pointed to Ireland, another eurozone member that required an EU-IMF bailout but has since managed to return to financial markets.
"My point is very clear: (adjustment) programmes work, so we should not waste the efforts so far," he said.
Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras said the presidency inauguration was "a special day" for all Greeks.
"With huge sacrifices, Greece leaves the crisis behind," Samaras said.
"Greece is now back on its feet, Europe knows its course well," the prime minister said.
Security tight, protests banned
Police threw up a tight security cordon around Athens city centre ahead of the evening's official opening ceremony for the Greek EU presidency, with protests banned in the area.
European Council president Herman Van Rompuy and the bloc's 28 commissioners were also in Athens for meetings with Greek officials.
The Greek presidency is expected to focus on growth and jobs, the implementation of a historic banking union thrashed out by finance ministers at the end of 2013, as well as immigration and maritime policy.
Greece itself is heading into the new year with some optimism following six years of recession, with Samaras predicting the crisis-hit economy would need no further aid after it exits its bailout programme in 2014.
But there is strong belief that Greece's weakened economy will require more EU-IMF assistance.
The country is still grappling with a massive debt and a fiscal shortfall which it still needs to address with its EU-IMF creditors.
There is a financing gap of around 11 billion euros ($15 billion) for the second part of 2014 and 2015 to consider, Greek Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras told reporters.
Stournaras said however it was "very early" to discuss a third EU-IMF bailout.
"Ideally we would like to have no new loan, but at the end of the day we will compare alternatives and see the best possible options for the Greek people," he told reporters.
Greece's main opposition leftist party Syriza, a strong critic of the government's austerity cuts, has said it would boycott Wednesday's opening ceremony.
As well as helping to organise the May European Parliament elections, Greece is scheduled to hold municipal elections on May 18 and 25.
The Greek polls are expected to bolster anti-austerity parties including the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn and Syriza, whose leader Alexis Tsipras is a candidate for the post of European Commission president on the radical left ticket.
The rotating presidency of the European Union -- designed to share out responsibility among the bloc's members -- has lost some of its importance with the creation in 2009 of a permanent head of the European Council, currently held by van Rompuy.
It is Greece's fifth European presidency since joining the bloc in 1981.