03-07-2018 | EYE ON GREECE | EU

03-07-2018 | EYE ON GREECE |

Tuesday, July 03, 2018

Tsipras in televised address to Cabinet: Greek people’s sacrifices recognized in Eurogroup decision; DM not present

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras told his Cabinet members on Monday that last month’s Eurogroup decisions for the country – debt relief measures and the framework for post-bailout supervision – was a “minimum recognition for the Greek people’s sacrifices”, with his comments again carried live by the state-run broadcaster.


Parliament to debate Eurogroup deal on Thursday

Greek lawmakers will start discussing on Thursday the package deal achieved in June’s Eurogroup for the completion of Greece’s fourth program review, debt relief and the post-bailout supervision.


Governing coalition may split over name deal, says ANEL spokesman

Theodoros Tosounides, spokesman of the junior coalition partner Independent Greeks (ANEL), said on Monday his party will consider parting ways with ruling left-wing SYRIZA if the government brings to Parliament the name deal clinched with Skopje over the name of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM).


BoG: Post-bailout is a new program

The Bank of Greece views the country’s debt as sustainable in the medium term after the Eurogroup decision of June 22. However, it stops short of certainty as regards its long-term sustainability, arguing that the key for that is in continuing the fiscal consolidation and reform effort for a long period, and in the Eurogroup committing to further debt easing measures should unfavorable conditions arise.


EU grants Greece 20 million euros to improve refugee reception centers

The European Commission awarded another 20 million euros to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to improve reception conditions in Greece, notably on the island of Lesvos, the Commission said in a press release on Monday.


Island mayors decry ‘linking’ of VAT status to refugee crisis

The mayors of the five eastern Aegean islands hosting thousands of undocumented migrants on Monday issued a joint statement accusing the government of making them “hostages” to the refugee crisis by linking it to the issue of their special value-added tax status.


IOBE: Econ sentiment in Greece drops in June 2018 for first time in 5 months

Economic sentiment in Greece fell in June 2018, the first time in five months, according to the Athens-based Foundation for Economic & Industrial Research (IOBE), with the relevant index reaching 102.5 points, down from 104.2 points in May and 103.6 points in April.


ATHEX: Stocks decline in very thin trade

The lowest daily turnover of the year at the Greek stock exchange confirmed more than just the beginning of the summer holiday in Athens on Monday; far from emerging from the crisis era, Athinon Avenue still appears to be a shallow market swayed by a few speculative moves. The benchmark at the day’s low wiped out all of Friday’s gains.







KATHIMERINI: Ongoing political fluidity

ETHNOS: Illegal constructions are responsible for the flood problems in Mandra, Attica

TA NEA: PM Tsipras mocks the Greek people by handing out allowances while ‘forgetting’ the slashing of pensions

EFIMERIDA TON SYNTAKTON: Ongoing crime in Mandra, Attica

AVGI: The next day

RIZOSPASTIS: Anti-popular policies escalate covered by government propaganda

KONTRA NEWS: Black September ahead for vested interests

DIMOKRATIA: The 4th German Reich crumbles down

NAFTEMPORIKI: BoG: Growth will accelerate under 7 conditions

RUTTE AND TRUMP VERBATIM in Washington Monday, according to the White House’s official transcript. Read on, or watch here.

“If we do work it out, that will be positive,” U.S. President Donald Trump said. “And if we don’t, it will be positive also, because…”

“No,” a smiling Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte interrupted.

“Just think about those cars that pour in here,” Trump said.

“It’s not positive. We have to work something out,” Rutte responded.

The two then shook hands.

Who knows? U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross told CNBC it’s “premature” to say whether Trump will go forward with his plan to slap auto tariffs on foreign vehicles.

Special delivery: Trump sent letters to at least nine NATO leaders ahead of the July 11-12 summit, telling them to step up their efforts to meet targets on defense spending, or else. The language in the letter to Germany’s Angela Merkel was particularly harsh, the New York Times reports, but the others — including Canada, Norway and Belgium — all got an earful too. “[It is] increasingly difficult to justify to American citizens why some countries do not share NATO’s collective security,” Trump warned. Belgium’s Charles Michel, for one, isn’t concerned: “I am not very impressed by this type of letter,” he reportedly told journalists at last week’s EU summit.

NOTHING TO SEE HERE: Horst Seehofer is still Germany’s interior minister this morning. His EU colleagues still haven’t met him at one of their meetings, but well, he’ll get an opportunity to make that right as soon as next week when interior ministers meet in Innsbruck, Austria. It would be a particularly opportune moment to show up, given that his deal with Merkel involves a yet-to-be-concluded “administrative level” agreement with Austria. Does Vienna know?

So, what happened Monday night in Berlin? Seehofer had announced his resignation on Sunday, then resigned from the resignation Monday, after striking a deal “that allows me to stay on as interior minister,” he said. “After a hard struggle and difficult days, this is a good compromise,” Chancellor Angela Merkel said, adding that the agreement “allows us to preserve the spirit of partnership in the EU.” Matthew Karnitschnig in Berlin has more on how Germany’s elites avoided, or prolonged, the government crisis.

What’s the compromise? It involves some wishful thinking — pretending that asylum seekers have never legally set foot on German soil, or imagining extraterritorial parts of Germany (located in Bavaria, of course). Here’s the text. And yes, that’s the whole text.

Where do we go from here? Don’t hold your breath for the fight between the two “sister” parties CDU and CSU to end any time soon. Bavaria’s regional election is coming up in October, and it’s the one political event the CSU won’t let Germany forget about. Add to that the underlying, and much deeper, fight about where Germany’s center-right parties are headed: toward the center (Merkel) or toward the right (as Bavaria’s strongmen want).

GOOD MORNING. Political infighting makes the world go round. Just look at Britain, look at Washington and think about where these things tend not to happen: in certain “flawless” democracies such as Russia, or China.

All’s fine in Bavaria, and Germany in that respect: Seehofer played his last card well, and avoided walking into the trap set for him by the pretenders to the throne — remember these names: Markus Söder and Alexander Dobrindt — who pushed him closer to the point of no return day after day over several weeks. Both appeared ready Monday to save the coalition at the price of pushing Seehofer into the abyss. Merkel and Seehofer may have never gotten along, but they do have something in common: a knack for staying in power.


DUDA SACKS CHIEF JUDGE: Polish President Andrzej Duda will use a new law to force the top judge on the country’s Supreme Court into early retirement, a senior presidential official has said, escalating a confrontation with the EU over the rule of law. Duda will make immediate use of a law on the retirement age of judges to cut the term of Małgorzata Gersdorf, the first president of the court. The law takes effect on July 3 and is a top concern of EU officials demanding changes to Poland’s judiciary, Michał Broniatowski reports from Warsaw. News of Duda’s decision to force out the country’s top judge came as the European Commission officially notified Warsaw that it had launched fresh infringement proceedings intended to stop Poland from implementing the new law.

ASSELBORN SPEAKS OUT: Poland — or more formally, the rule of law in Europe — will be on the agenda of a meeting of Germanophone foreign ministers today in Schengen, as will migration and the “protection of the Schengen area,” according to the invitation. On Monday I spoke to the host, Luxembourg’s Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn, who certainly doesn’t mind telling people, even if they are his guests, what’s on his mind.

The German row is part of a bigger picture, Asselborn told Playbook: “It’s unusual for the EU’s biggest country to become paralyzed in this way and made to look almost ridiculous. It’s a convulsion,” he said. The real reason for the dispute? “The CDU and CSU are arguing very stubbornly with one another about how to deal with the AfD,” he said; that’s the far-right party Alternative for Germany, for the newcomers here.

Orbán, Kaczyński, Kurz? “The CSU is very much drawn to the right. But in the right corner of the goal — speaking in football terms — there’s no more room, because that’s where the AfD is. At European level, Viktor Orbán and Jarosław Kaczyński are standing right there — and Sebastian Kurz is on a dangerous course in this direction.”

Speaking of Kurz, Asselborn — who’s a social democrat and feels no need to show him any particular consideration — accused the Austrian chancellor of trying to deny refugees the right to ask for asylum in Europe. “Chancellor Kurz said that Europe is finally moving toward an Australian model [on migration],” which includes refusing right of entry to refugees. “Such a Europe is not the Europe of the founding fathers. I reject that. Europe must not become a fortress against humanity.”

Fighting for the — so far — obvious: “It is still worth fighting to keep Europe’s borders open to persecuted people as laid out by the Geneva Convention,” Asselborn said.


TODAY’S AGENDA: Parliament debates the priorities of the Austrian Council presidency in the morning, following a 9 a.m. session with Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov and Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker about the achievements of the outgoing presidency. Here’s Bulgaria’s self-assessment for you, by the numbers and by the files. And ICMYI: Kurz spoke to Playbook about his priorities for the presidency last Friday.

TRANSPARENCY UPDATE: We reported yesterday that Germany is one of the governments backing the Council position in the talks with Parliament and Commission about lobby transparency (there are 20 out of 28, according to MEP Sven Giegold). Council’s position now foresees that EU ambassadors and their deputies will meet only with registered lobbyists — but this rule would only apply during the rotating Council presidency and in the six months leading up to it. That would mean they’re transparent about their meetings roughly once every 13 years.

Group leaders in Parliament, meanwhile, agreed on stricter rules for MEPs, if even only on a voluntary basis. MEPs can now sign a declaration saying they follow the “systematic practice” of only meeting registered lobbyists. They can make these declarations and their meetings with lobbyists transparent in their personal profiles on the Parliament’s website.


TSIPRAS’ WIN, MITSOTAKIS’ PROBLEM. Not only did Greek Prime Minster Alexis Tsipras recently wear a tie for the first time in years (he had, err, tied his style choices to his country exiting the European bailout program), he also secured permission to freeze a planned VAT hike on some Greek islands. That, plus his role in resolving the name dispute with the future Northern Macedonia, secured him respect and even gratitude among EU leaders at last week’s summit. Hard times for Greece’s opposition leader, who, despite a lead in the polls, can’t be happy with Tsipras’ string of political wins — and he isn’t.

‘We should have never been in that program’: I sat down with Kyriakos Mitsotakis, the leader of New Democracy, at the end of last week in Brussels. For him — no surprise here — despite a deal in June that will pave the way for Greece to exit the bailout program in August, the situation “doesn’t look as good as it looks from the outside.” He said: “Look, any deal on the debt is better than no deal. Greece is exiting the program, sure. But it’s only honest to say that we should never have been in this place.”

Trust issues: The June deal is “another program in disguise,” according to Mitsotakis. “We don’t have the same degrees of freedom that Portugal and Cyprus had.” Why? It’s simple, he said. “The markets and also our European creditors fundamentally don’t trust the country yet, and I think they don’t trust Tsipras. If this deal was actually such a good deal, why haven’t the markets reacted more positively? Look at the spreads; they haven’t really changed.”

Will New Democracy try to renegotiate post-program conditions? “What I first want to do is restore credibility,” he said. “What I want [is] to convince creditors and markets that we’re here to implement reforms, not because they were imposed on us but because we believe in them. Once we do that I think there might be room in the future to discuss fiscal targets. But it won’t be my number one priority.”

LEADING THE POST-POPULIST CHARGE? Mitsotakis wants to win back voters for the establishment, he told me, when I asked what the message of the European Peoples’ Party should be ahead of 2019’s European election. In Greece, voters have spent the past years under a left-wing populist government (with a coalition partner from the far right). “We have to have a message that resonates with the people who currently listen to the populists and have been deceived by them … It invariably ends in tears. It hasn’t been a success in Greece, no matter how you look at this. It cost us a fortune.” The EPP’s campaign should be about inclusive growth, technological change, climate change — “the big challenges” — but also about “protecting our borders.” Greece, he added, should be “at the forefront of how we effectively manage our borders, together with the European Union.”

THE MACEDONIA ISSUE: Mitsotakis is a fervent critic of the deal Tsipras struck with his Macedonian counterpart to end the decades-old name dispute. Why is that? “We’ve always said we want a solution, but one that needs to respect the sensitivities of both peoples. The main problem, according to Mitsotakis, is that the deal recognizes the existence of a Macedonian ethnicity and language. “This, frankly, is not acceptable to the overwhelming majority of the Greek people.”

EU officials insist that Greece got more out of the deal than it lost — beyond national pride, perhaps. But for Mitsotakis, that’s more than he’s willing to give. “I’m not willing to pay the price to destabilize my own country to stabilize our Northern neighbors. We cannot accept a Macedonian language and ethnicity.”

The arguments: Pride: “If you accept a North Macedonian state but a Macedonian language, and ethnicity, what do you tell the people who are Macedonians but are Greek?” The economy: “What happens with the hundreds of Greek companies that use a  ‘Macedonian’ trademark? It’s a big issue for Greek companies, for exporters, that the current deal does not address.” And finally: There’s fear of “regional unrest” in Greek Macedonia, where separatist forces may see the deal as an invitation to get organized.

Bottom line: Mitsotakis won’t help Tsipras win a majority in parliament. But if the agreement is ratified under the current government, he said he would not try to tear it apart later.


Britain moves big into Brussels: You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave: The U.K.’s diplomatic footprint in the EU capital will be bigger post-Brexit than it ever was. Efforts to beef up its representation in Brussels reflect “an anxiety in London about being left out of the loop on EU matters of huge importance to the U.K. once its officials and politicians lose their automatic seats at the institution’s tables.” But what exactly the future expanded role of UKRep should be, and whom it should report to, is part of a turf war in London for control over Britain’s relationship with the EU. Tom McTague has the story.

Fortress Europe: Three years after a picture of a drowned infant on a Turkish beach triggered an outpouring of solidarity across the Continent, European leaders have developed a thick skin of indifference toward the misfortune of asylum seekers, hardened by their fear of populists at the palace gates, or within its walls. But the appetites of their populist challengers can’t be sated, and Europe has lost its moral high ground in the process, writes Paul Taylor: “If the EU could have built a wall across the Mediterranean Sea, it would have done so by now.”

Behind the secret US war in Africa: American special operations teams are playing a more direct role in military actions against suspected terrorists in Africa than the Pentagon has publicly acknowledged. Our U.S. colleagues have the full story on the secret programs allowing American troops to direct combat raids in Somalia, Kenya, Niger and other African nations.

Macron’s mini-me academy: The French president’s centrist party, La République en Marche (LRM), has opened a virtual academy that will offer courses to anyone who wants to learn about Macronism. The idea? To train up an army of loyalist volunteers for the showdown between the forces of liberalism and hard-right populism in next year’s European election. Zachary Young has more.