Jan 09 - Greece is talking up its recovery story as it takes over the European presidentcy. But unemployment is ticking up, and anti-EU sentiment is still strong. David Pollard reports.
Service by numbers at a Greek unemployment office. The numbers aren't good. A jobless rate that has just ticked up to 27.8 per cent. An economy that's shrunk nearly a quarter from its peak. And, over four years, a nearly 25 per cent cut in wages for public workers like laid-off school guards, protesting outside a government ministry. (SOUNDBITE)(Greek) LAID OFF SCHOOL GUARD SOTIRIS ANAGNOSTOPOULOS SAYING: "We are like the walking dead, and we are just waiting for them to nail the lid on the coffin." These official cars weren't in Athens for a funeral. They're celebrating Greece's taking over of the European presidency. Prime minister Antonis Samaras says 2014 will confirm nascent signs of a recovery in Greece along with the euro zone. For European Commission president, Jose Manuel Barroso, the fact that Greece is still in the euro zone at all is a plus. (SOUNDBITE) (English) EUROPEAN COMMISSION PRESIDENT, JOSE MANUEL BARROSO, SAYING: "Not so much time ago people were making speculations about Greek exit, about the implosion of the euro, also about the implosion of the European Union. So the very fact that we are here in Athens today celebrating the beginning of the Greek presidency, of a full member of the European Union, and a full member of the euro area is clear evidence that those predictions were wrong.'' Greece is pencilling in 0.6 per cent growth this year. Worries over whether it will need another loan as part of its 240 billion euro bailout programme remain. But, in a sign of increased confidence, Athens is also thought likely to make a bond issue. Holger Schmieding of Berenberg Bank. (SOUNDBITE) (ENGLISH) HOLGER SCHMIEDING, CHIEF ECONOMIST, BERENBERG BANK, SAYING: "Investors are not yet convinced that Greece is out of the woods or will be out of the woods shortly. But we do see good signs in Greece as well. So investors in a way are trying the waters.'' In Athens, protests against the EU go on. During its six-month presidency, Greece will have to broker a deal on the final pieces of the EU's flagship banking regulation. It could face a bigger challenge at home in the form of European elections in May - tipped to see a surge in support for anti-EU parties from both the left and the right wings of Greek politics.