Since informal meetings of southern European foreign ministers began in late 2013, Greece has been at the forefront of the movement that has become known as the South EU Summit (originally referred to as the EU Med), which provides a mode of cooperation for 7 southern EU nations inside the wider European Union.
In his position as Alternate Minister for Foreign Affairs, George Katrougalos has witnessed the creation and broadening of the association, since its first formal meeting in Athens in September 2016.
“Everybody agrees that it is an existential moment for Europe, and I think that Southern Europeans have a lot to say about that in the sense that we need a more democratic, more open Europe,” said Katrougalos, adding, “a better balance between the social and economic dimension.”
This rhetoric is anything but posturing. In fact, a heavier social dimension to the Union was made explicit on November 17 at an EU meeting in Gothenburg, Sweden. The European Commission, the European Council and the European Parliament unveiled The European Pillar of Social Rights, whose preamble reads: “The aims of the Union are inter alia to promote the well-being of its peoples and to work for the sustainable development of Europe based on balanced economic growth and price stability, a highly competitive social market economy, aiming at full employment and social progress, and a high level of protection and improvement of the quality of the environment.”
As a member of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’s Syriza Party, Katrougalos has been promoting the creation of an office for the EU Minister of Social Cohesion.
“We have a feeling that inequalities are growing, are getting explosive, not only within our societies but also among our states,” said Katrougalos.
To achieve this goal, he says the creation of the Minister of Social Cohesion post and the general democratization of economic policy are two significant initiatives.
Another task that Katrougalos is tackling is the recurring issue of migration. In the first 4 months of 2017 alone, the 7 countries represented by the South EU Summit jointly received 48% of all asylum requests in the EU, according to Eurostat.
Noting that it is incumbent on all EU members to carry out pan-European laws governing migration, Katrougalos said, “The rules that regulate the asylum procedure put a very disproportionate burden [on] the first entry countries. So we want to have commonly decided rules at the European level, more fair rules, in the sense that the burden must be served.”
In response to complaints from some northern EU countries about the South EU Summit’s necessity, Katrougalos is blunt.
“If you look at our countries, they represent the number 2, number 3 [and] number 4 biggest economies in Europe, after the departure of the UK of course. So we have a lot to say and, as I said, our ambition is to reinvigorate the European dream [and] to make it attractive to the European citizens. And that goes by deepening democracy and of course the social character of the Union.”