|Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras delivers a speech in Athens, Greece, Jan. 8, 2014. Greece prepared to officially launch its six-month presidency of the European Union. (Xinhua/Georgia Panagopoulou/pool)
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by Maria Spiliopoulou
ATHENS, Jan. 8 (Xinhua) -- Greece formally assumed the European Union (EU)'s rotating Presidency for the first half of 2014 on Wednesday with a ceremony attended by several top European dignitaries.
Addressing the main event held at Athens Concert Hall, they shared the Greek government's optimism for a successful result in joint efforts to leave behind the economic crisis and forge a better future for the Union.
European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, who headed the College of EU Commissioners during their one day visit to Athens, noted that Greece takes over the rotating Presidency of the Council in a particularly challenging moment for the country and the Greek people, as well as for the entire Union.
"Thanks to EU support and solidarity, Greece has withstood the hardest period of the crisis," he said, adding that the challenges are still immense, social conditions are still demanding, and unemployment remains at unacceptable levels.
But important progress was achieved, Barroso said.
Greece is expected to reach a primary budget surplus, and is reducing its current account deficit, he added, paying tribute to the Greek people for "the courage and dignity" they have shown.
European Council President Herman Van Rompuy said in his address that Greece carried out reforms and the EU showed solidarity.
"We will be at your side until recovery," Van Rompuy said, stressing that no country can face such crisis on its own.
He expressed confidence that 2014 will be a better year for Europe and the Union will achieve the targets set.
"Jobs, growth and security are the goals of Greece and Europe. Europe remains our common goal," he concluded.
For his part, Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras appeared certain that by the end of the Greek EU Presidency, Greece will be viewed as a symbol of Europe's ability to overcome difficult times.
Referring to the Greek EU Presidency's top priorities, the Greek premier said now it is time to beat the recession and unemployment, to find a balance between growth and stability, to develop maritime policies, and to deepen the banking union.
Greek Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Evangelos Venizelos stressed that Athens will work closely with its European counterparts to achieve progress, noting that a successful Presidency will also alter Greece's international image.
"In light of the Greek people's harsh experience of the crisis and the frequently unfair international debate on Greece and the Greeks, this Presidency is an opportunity for Greece to put forward its true face: that of an institutionally equal member state of the European Union," he said.
The ceremony was closed with a cultural program that included a tribute to late Greek director Theo Angelopoulos and Greek composers and poets.