As European leaders arrive in Athens for the official inauguration of the Greek Presidency of the Council of the European Union, draconian security measures have been imposed in the center of Athens.
Public gatherings and demonstrations have been prohibited in the city center (link in Greek) as well as on the roads linking the center with the airport on which the visiting dignitaries are expected to travel. Added traffic restrictions also apply preventing cars from stopping on any of the major thoroughfares.
European Commission President José Manuel Barroso and the members of the Commission are due to be received by Greek PM Antonis Samaras at 13.00 at the Zappeion Megaron complex, where they will have a working lunch. Further meetings will then take place between commissioners and members of the Greek government before the official opening of the Presidency in the evening, at the ‘Megaron’, the Athens Concert Hall. Together with the Prime Minister and Mr Barroso, in attendance will be the President of the Republic, Karolos Papoulias, Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Evangelos Venizelos, and the President of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy.
The Zappeion complex, which will serve as the headquarters of the Greek presidency for its 6 month duration, has already been turned into a mini-fortress (link in Greek). A total of more than 2,000 police officers will guard the complex in the heart of Athens during the presidency which will also be served by its own specially created police station manned by 150 officers. Secret service branches and anti-terrorism units specially trained to handle hostage scenarios will also be among those guarding the visiting European dignitaries.
Furthermore it has also been reported that snipers will be positioned on key buildings around the Zappeion while low-flying helicopters will monitor the movements of dignitaries as well as any potential crowds of demonstrators for the duration of the Presidency. Cheering supporters are not anticipated. According to a Gallup poll published today, in 2013 approval in Greece of the leadership of the EU reached a record low of a mere 19%, having dropped precipitously over the years from a 60% approval rating at the start of the crisis in 2009.
Meanwhile two anti-establishment political parties, ANTARSIA and Plan B, have called for supporters to assemble outside of the Athens University at 6pm today in defiance of the police order, giving rise to the potential for clashes between protesters and police to take place just as Greece takes the helm of the European Council.