ATHENS – Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras is expected on Aug. 4 to ask visiting European Commission President-elect Jean-Claude Juncker to give the country the important newly-created position overseeing immigration policies in the 28-country bloc.
Greece has complained bitterly that the European Union has done too little to help the country deal with ongoing waves of illegal immigrants who are seeking asylum or want to use it as a jumping-off point to get to other countries.
As the EU’s southernmost entry point, Greece has been targeted by immigrants from the Mideast, especially those fleeing the Civil War in Syria, as well as those from Africa who try to cross on rickety, overcrowded craft, many of which have sunk with a great loss of life.
Samaras has nominated Defense Minister Dimitris Avramopoulos from his ruling New Democracy Conservatives to replace Maria Damanaki from his coalition partner the PASOK Socialists. She holds the lesser-important position of European Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries and said she will leave politics.
Juncker, the former chief of the Eurozone, is expected to name his Cabinet next month in Brussels. He has a close relationship with Samaras, who is expected to press his case that Greece deserves the immigration job because it already most has to deal with it.
This comes on the heels of a Greek court acquitting the owner of a strawberry farm and his foreman of charges in the shooting of 28 immigrants last year, and allowing two other workers who were convicted of being able to buy out their jail sentences.
That coincided with a Greek prosecutor deciding to stop a probe into the death of 11 immigrants who drowned in the Aegean Sea last year when a boat full of migrants went under. Survivors blamed the Greek Coast Guard but the government decided not to prosecute.
Juncker, who supported harsh austerity measures demanded by international lenders in return for bailouts – which created record unemployment and deep poverty – said he now wants to help Greece.
Ahead of his visit, Juncker said that he wanted to show support for Greece. “My priority… is jobs, growth and investment and I am pleased to be going to Greece to discuss these priorities,” the former Eurogroup chief said in a statement. He didn’t say why those weren’t his priorities when he headed the Eurozone.
“I want to send a message of hope and optimism by recognizing the efforts of the Greek people and the Greek government in reforming their country,” he said. That comes too late for 1.4 million people out of work.
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