The President of the Hellenic Republic, Prokopis Pavlopoulos was received by European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker for a bilateral meeting at the latter’s headquarters in Brussels on December 19, which was followed by a working lunch with the College of Commissioners.

This was the first visit by a Greek head of state to the Commission since Greece’s accession to the EU in 1981.

Pavlopoulos, Juncker, and the European Commissioner for Migration and Home Affairs Dimitris Avramopoulos addressed the press in the early afternoon and reiterated Juncker’s close ties to Greece, which included words from Juncker where he spoke of a relationship of trust and friendship that personally connects him to Greece through hisadmiration for the Greek people and their attitude during the near decade-long Greek crisis. These sentiments were echoed by Pavlopoulos and Avramopoulos.

Juncker went on t say that he considers Greece to be a core member of the§ EU, and that he always stood against those who wanted the country to quit the Eurozone.

Greece has made “substantial reforms in recent years, but much remains to be done,” said Juncker, while noting that when Athens was dealing with a fiscal deficit of 9.1% of GDP back in 2011, many thought it was impossible for the country to present clear fiscal figures and a budget surplus, which is now the reality for 2018.

“The Greek parliament voted (for) a budget which, for the first time, was not imposed by the adjustment programme,” Juncker said, seemingly content that Greece was able to benefit from the EU’s Investment programme, the European Fund for Strategic Investments, which is commonly known as the Juncker Plan.

Avramopoulos, the key go-between for the EU executive and Greece while dealing with the difficult migration portfolio since 2014, said Greece and the Greek people remain committed to the founding principles of the European Union.

Reflecting on Juncker’s term in office, Avramopoulos added, “We’ve been fighting a number of battles – one of those (was) with (the debt and migration crises in) Greece, indeed. We’ve gone through rough times, indeed – but now the most difficult has been overcome. Of course this is not the end of these efforts.”

Avramopoulos later directed his thoughts to Pavlopoulos, in which he said “this is not the end of those efforts… President Juncker is right. Those reform programmes must be completed so that through the crisis a new, modern, Greek polity will be reborn, inspired and guided from by the higher values of European civilisation,” later adding, “I feel lucky to have been on the frontline of the battle for Europe and for my home country, Greece … Greece owes much to Europe. Greeks owe much to President Juncker.”

The ‘saviour of the European vessel’

Pavlopoulos added his own praise for Juncker, thanking him for both the invitation to the Commission, but more importantly, for Juncker’s personal support for Greece during the financial crisis, stressing that Juncker should be credited with having saved the  European project due to his leadership and that the European Commission had successfully tackled – often without the strong backing of the leaders of many of the member states – the bloc’s biggest challenges to date.

“Throughout your public journey, you have previously proved…that you are a real European,” saidPavlopoulos, who also thanked Juncker on behalf of the Greek people for his contribution to defending the EU. “We do (sic) not forget (sic) that you have the courage to recognise the huge sacrifices of the Greek people … who have paid a heavy price”.

If differences are resolved, Europe’s doors are open

Turning to the subject of the possible accession of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) to the EU, Pavlopoulos said, “Europe’s doors are open but on the condition of respect for international law and history, saying if those two criteria are met, “the gates of Europe stand open.”

With so much praise heaped upon him by both Pavlopoulos and Avramopoulos for past deeds, Juncker spoke far more generally when addressing the subject of the Western Balkans’ future membership in the European Union, saying he was “in favour” of their accession, but added that the process could take years as all of the region’s conflicts need to be resolved before addition enlargement plans could be made. Key among those resolutions are the issues around still outstanding border disputes, which can be resolved by highlighting the stability that the EU projects to a region that has traditionally been troubled by ethnic, religious, and sectarian conflict.

“We want to export the stability of the EU countries to the countries of the Western Balkans. There should be stability in the Union and it should also be transferred to these countries. We do not want to create instability there,” said Juncker.