Greek Terrorism Discussed on Fringes of Historic EU Summit

By Louis Economopoulos | July 7, 2008 | 8:08 PM EDT

Athens, Greece ( - Greece's long-awaited entry into a group of nations allowed to use the euro currency was welcomed as a historic event by the socialist government on Monday, but Tuesday's funeral of murdered British military attache Stephen Saunders will continue to remind Greek authorities that terrorism is an issue that needs to be stamped out.

The decision by European Union leaders in Portugal to let Greece join 11 other EU member-states using the common euro currency was seen as a significant achievement by the Greek government.

Nonetheless, Prime Minister Costas Simitis paid serious attention to the subject of terrorism during talks on the summit sidelines with British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Simitis and Blair discussed the murder of Saunders in Athens on June 8 by the elusive terrorist group, November 17.

In statements to reporters afterward, Simitis said he had expressed his sorrow over the tragedy and assured the British premier that Greek society completely condemned it.

Greek authorities, he said, would do everything in their power to deal effectively with the issue of terrorist activity by November 17.

At the same time, Simitis stressed that Greek supported a strong and active role for the EU in efforts to fight terrorism.

The British police have joined Greek authorities in the search for Saunders' killers and the U.S. Ambassador in Athens, Nicholas Burns, said the U.S. would also continue cooperating with Greece in the fight against terrorism.

Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou, who will represent Greece at Saunders' funeral today in Salisbury, England., also mentioned the issue during a press conference, saying he had discussed the matter with his British counterpart, Robin Cook.

Papandreou said Greece and Britain would jointly press for the insertion of two paragraphs in the summit's final communique, one of which will condemn international terrorism while the second will note the need for all necessary measures to be taken at an EU level.

Asked to respond to reports in some British media portraying Athens as one of the most dangerous cities in the world, Greek government spokesman Dimitris Reppas said the government did not feel the need to respond to such publications.

He said that the government felt, as all Greeks do, that there is security in Greece. Isolated incidents should not lead to generalized conclusions.

"In Greece the situation is much better than that prevailing in other EU countries," Reppas said.

Opposition conservative New Democracy Party leader Costas Karamanlis said no more time must be lost in the fight against terror.

Clinton Congratulates Greece

Meanwhile, President Clinton was among the first world leaders to congratulate Simitis on Greece's successful entry into the Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) beginning January 1, 2001, one year before the euro currency is introduced.

"This achievement represents Greece's remarkable economic progress in recent years. This economic success complements Greece's increasingly active political role within the EU," Clinton said in a statement.

Clinton expressed the hope that this achievement by Greece would "usher in a new era of increased trade and investment" between the U.S. and Greece.

Simitis said the decision "opens up a new era of security and stability, development and prosperity. The image of a small and introverted Greece is finally leaving from our horizon."

"Today, Greece is a strong and modern country, with a robust economy and international recognition. We deservedly entered EMU. This conquest was the result of a policy that was followed with consequence. It is due to the efforts and sacrifices of the Greek people," he said.

"Greece was a country with a considerably lower level of development. The consequences of a civil war, the seven-year dictatorship in 1967-1974 and its client politics had taught Greeks to live with loans, deficits and inflation and to consider economic stability to be an unreachable goal."

Achieving the criteria needed for euro-zone entry had been harder for Greece than for other countries, Simitis said, because "we also had to change ways of thinking and working, to reform our economy and put down sound foundations for its further development."

Greece has for the last six years successfully reduced debt and slashed inflation in order to reach this week's achievement.

It joins Austria, Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Portugal, Spain and The Netherlands as countries that will begin circulating the new euro banknotes simultaneously on January 1, 2001.

The remaining EU member-states, Britain, Denmark and Sweden, "opted out" of joining the common currency.

Denmark is holding a referendum on the matter later this year, while Britain and Sweden have also stated their intention to do so at some point.

Britain's Conservative Party rejects the notion of joining the euro and is spearheading a campaign to "Keep the Pound".