Europe's 'Nine' becomes 'Ten' -- with Greek ships, fruit, tomatoes
Athens — Cheap, plump Macedon peaches and Crete tomatoes stacked high on produce stands in wintery Strasbourg, Brussels, and London. Greek furs on the racks at Parisian salons. The blue and white Greek colors fluttering over almost half of Europe's merchant fleet.
France, West Germany, and others of the European Nine -- soon Ten -- in turn, will send a cornucopia of consumer goods (clothes, meat products, and cosmetics) into a Greek market no longer shielded by high tariffs.
On Jan. 1, 1981, after a separation of 3,000 years, the nation many believe to be the birthplace of European civilization once again becomes an official part of Europe -- by achieving full membership in the European Community.
But the picture is not a totally rosy one. The five-year "easing-in" period for the 9.5 million Greeks many present the slow-paced, underdeveloped Mediterranean economy with major economic challenges.
Andreas Papandreou, the anti-EC leader of the Panhellenic Socialist Movement, carries considerable strength going into next November's general elections. He has been threatening to annul the brief union with Europe (although in the past few weeks his anti-EC rhetoric has mellowed).
With inflation at 25 percent, competititon from European products, and a desire for a change, protest-voting Greeks could bring Mr. Papandreou to power.
But the pro-West centrist government of President Constantine Caramanlis has refused Mr. Papandreou's call for early elections, contending that by next fall Greek voters will have a better understanding of what benefits there are to EC membership.
"The man on the street, I believe, will realize by the end of 1981 that the balance of the give-and-take in accession to the EC is definitely on our side," Greek Prime Minister George Rallis said in an Athens press conference Dec. 29.
Mr. Rallis admitted that joirning the EC was going to cause major changes in the Greek economy. But he maintains that "there won't be a single sector that will be harmed."
Agriculture will benefit, say officials, because superior Greek produce will no longer be "paying for the right" (through import duties) to sell in Europe. Consumer prices in Greece, Mr. Rallis says, may drop in the coming year because of increased competition between Greek and European goods.
"Some small Green businesses will have to merge into more competitive units," Rallis says. "But small Green enterprises will be in a good position not only to produce and market more, but to make them into products of great demand because of the personal touch they are given."
EC membership now means EC funds for agriculture and regional development will be available Greece. This should ease the burden on Greek taxpayers who currently pay for farm subsidies and price supports.
For a country ruled by successive empires and foreign powers most of the past 2,000 years, recently prey to military dictatorship (1967-74), and continually wary of its neighbor and longtime foe Turkey, membership in the EC has a meaning other than just the economic one. It also is a way to safeguard independence and democratic institutions.
Abolition of democracy in Greece would mean immediate ostracism from the EC. Says Mr. Rallis: "This will make a potential dictator think not once but 10 times before he tries to make himself into savior of Greece." An attack on Greece would quickly be seen as an attack on Europe as a whole. Greece's reentry into NATO last October should add to the relief of even the most jittery Greeks.
The new Greek dimension to Europe, say many Greeks, may lead to better understanding between the Middle East and Europe with Greece as interlocutor. Greece traditionally has had good working relations with Arab countries.
There are no formal diplomatic relations with Israel although the Greek movement intends to upgrade relations at some indefinite point in the future.