Greece had sought membership in the European family long before it signed the official accession agreement in May 28, 1979.
The European identity was crucial for the country after its emergence from the horrors of the German Occupation and the bloody Civil War.
In fact, Greece applied to be part of the newly established European Economic Community way back in June 1959, an application that led to the Association Agreement between Greece and the EEC, signed in June 1961.
However, this agreement, which in fact constituted the first step towards Greece’s integration into the European Community, “froze” when the colonels seized power in April 1967.
The accession procedures were re-activated after democracy was restored in July 1974. The Greek government, and Constantinos Karamanlis in particular, aimed to integrate the country into the European Union as a full member.
Indeed, the application for full accession was submitted on July 12, 1975, by means of a letter addressed to the President at that time of the European Union Ministerial Council and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ireland, Garret Fitzgerald.
Reasons Greece wanted to join Europe
Greece had several reasons to be part of the wider European “family.” Other than the obvious benefits the Greek economy would have, being part of the EEC would provide the institutional framework within which stability could be brought into its democratic political system and institutions.
Another reason was the reinforcement of Greece’s independence and position within the regional and international system as well as its “power to negotiate,” particularly in relation to Turkey, which, after the invasion and occupation of Cyprus (July 1974), appeared as a major threat to Greece.
Furthermore, Greece’s accession to the EEC would contribute to the development and modernization of the Greek economy and society.
Accession negotiations were initiated in July 1976 and brought to a conclusion in May 1979, with the signing of the Accession Deed in Athens at the Zappeion Megaron. The Greek Parliament ratified the Accession Deed of Greece to the European Community on June 28, 1979.
The Accession Treaty entered into force two years later, on January 1, 1981.
Europe provides economic support
In March 1982 Greece submitted a Memorandum requesting further economic support in order to restructure the Greek economy. The European Commission met the request by means of the Integrated Mediterranean Programs (IMPs) approved in 1985.
The significance of the IMPs was much greater than the additional funds that were approved for Greece, for they introduced, on behalf of the European Union, an effort towards structural policy development shaped in 1988 with the new structural policy, by means of the first “Delors package.”
While at first Greece was reluctant to follow the model of European integration, especially in areas such as the role of institutions, politics and defense, but from 1988 onwards, Greece began to support the “federal” integration model as well as the development of joint policy in new areas (education, health, and environment), the strengthening of supra-national institutions (Commission, Parliament) and the development of a joint foreign and security policy by the Union.
Moreover, as of 1987 Greece started to project as its main goal Cyprus’ accession to the European Community. For this purpose, Greece supported the Nicosia Government in the latter’s application for accession, submitted in June 1990.
Greece adopts the Euro
From 1996 onward, under the leadership of Costas Simitis, there was further support for the idea and process of European integration, deepening integration in every sector, in line with the federal model.
Greece was among the member states supporting the adoption of a European Constitution. When this attempt failed, Greece welcomed the inclusion of the major institutional innovations provided for in the Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe (TCE) in the Treaty of Lisbon.
An effort towards greater economic and social convergence with the fulfillment of the “convergence criteria” set by the Maastricht Treaty and Greece’s participation as a full member in the Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) as well as adoption of the single currency (euro) on January 1, 2002.
In addition to the EU deepening, Greece has been a fervent supporter of the Union’s enlargement. Greece was also supportive of the accession of the countries of Eastern Europe to the Union, despite a general hesitation.
The fourth Hellenic EU Presidency, during the first semester of 2003 was a success for Greece and it was during this Presidency that the European Union witnessed the largest wave of enlargement in its history (ten new member states).
The fifth Hellenic Presidency, during the first semester of 2014, was held in the midst of the worst economic and social crisis in the recent history of the European Union.
However, it was successful both in terms of quantity and quality. Indeed, 71 pieces of legislation were adopted mainly in the fields of major importance for the everyday life of the European citizens (growth, jobs, further integration of EU and Euro zone, Migration and Maritime Policies).
In recent years, political divisions brought by the economic crisis have made many Greeks doubtful of the European Union and the common currency bloc. Opinion polls between 2010-2015 showed that the majority of Greeks wanted to remain in the euro zone, but at the same time believed that austerity policies imposed by the country’s EU creditors were too harsh.