04-07-2018 | EYE ON GREECE | EU

04-07-2018 | EYE ON GREECE |

Wednesday, July 04, 2018

Tsipras in Thessaloniki on Wednesday for Quadrilateral Balkan Summit

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras will travel to Thessaloniki on Wednesday for the 4th Quadrilateral Summit between Greece, Bulgaria, Romania and Serbia.


Moscovici in Athens: Post-bailout supervision not a ‘fourth memorandum’; commitments must be kept

Commitments must be met, but are not inflexible, EU Commissioner Pierre Moscovici said during his whirlwind visit to Athens on Tuesday, in reference to the political “hot potato” entailed with another round of austerity measures that the current government has agreed to impose in 2019.


Government’s ‘expiration date’ is September 2019, says ANEL leader

The “expiration date” of the Greek coalition government is September 2019, the leader of the junior coalition partner Independent Greeks (ANEL) said on Tuesday, speaking at an evening newscast on private broadcaster ANT1.


Economic sentiment, PMI index drop in June

The overtaxation of Greek households, the changes to properties’ taxable values that have led to a freeze in certain parts of the market, and the submission of income tax declarations that for most taxpayers led to additional tax dues have put an end to the rising course of the economic sentiment index, as well as prompting a fresh decline in consumer confidence.


Banks asked to clear out NPEs faster

Banks are expected to sell more unserviced corporate loans in 2018 and 2019, in their effort to achieve nonperforming loan reduction targets, according to the Monetary Report that the Bank of Greece published on Monday. The report found that while the sale process is continuing, the pace has slowed.


Hel.Pe-Total-Exxon Mobil consortium awarded concession for hydrocarbon exploration off Crete

A consortium comprised of partially state-owned Hellenic Petroleum (Hel.Pe), Total and Exxon Mobil has been awarded a concession to begin hydrocarbon exploration in sea blocks west and southwest of Crete, according to a announcement on Tuesday by the relevant environment and energy ministry.


ATHEX: Stocks slide in turnover reminiscent of last August

Expectations at Athinon Avenue are falling as this summer progresses. Tuesday’s trading session ended in another day of losses for most stocks and the lowest daily turnover recorded since last August.







KATHIMERINI: Governmental shadowplay

ETHNOS: Parliament majority of a different type!

TA NEA: Parody government

EFIMERIDA TON SYNTAKTON: Pierre Moscovici hails Greece, New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis is discontent while Defense Minister Kammenos issues threats

AVGI: The masks have been taken off: New Democracy panics due to the country’s ‘clean exit’ from the Memorandum era

RIZOSPASTIS: Moscovici urges Athens to… ‘keep attacking’ the people!

KONTRA NEWS: PM Alexis Tsipras is going to ‘play’ main opposition leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis on the pensions issue

DIMOKRATIA: Beware of those bearing gifts!

NAFTEMPORIKI: Eurogroup head Centeno: Backtracking is not an option

SCHNITZEL SEASON HAS BEGUN. Commission President Jean-Claude called for a healthy and balanced European diet — not all pan-fried veal (or not only toughness on refugees) — in Europe’s next six months under the Austrian presidency: “I’m a big fan of Wiener Schnitzel. I had it across the world, but we need a bit more than just Wiener Schnitzel in the house now,” Juncker said in Strasbourg.

Juncker also reminded Austria’s young chancellor, Sebastian Kurz, who had proudly presented a “paradigm change on migration” to the European Parliament, that the Commission (under José Manuel Barroso) had proposed a European border guard back in 2008 and that “several German speakers” had voiced their opposition. “We would have spared ourselves many problems,” had the issue had been resolved at the time, he quipped. That’s a dig at both Germany and Austria, and their role in today’s predicament. Kurz, we might add, was 21 at the time and can’t be blamed personally.


THREE QUESTIONS on Germany’s migration deal.

1. What is it really about? Is the fudge that kept Interior Minister Horst Seehofer in office after Angela Merkel’s CDU and the Bavarian CSU struck a late-night agreement Monday more than… a fudge to keep Horst Seehofer in office? Or, is it a major change in Germany’s migration policy?

Given the earnest frenzy about how to name the “transit centers” where asylum seekers would be held while their requests are processed, as laid out in the “compromise,” suggests that no, it isn’t.

But look more closely: Last week in Brussels, leaders wrote into their conclusions that they wanted to create “closed centers” to process asylum requests that would require applicants be forced to stay put. The problem: Nobody sitting around the table wanted to host these centers.

Now look what happened: Bavaria just volunteered to do so, via the German deal. Now, perhaps, the problem is that they seem not yet to know that’s what they did. But isn’t that true European spirit?

2. What about the SPD? Don’t forget there’s another coalition partner. Will the Social Democrats be able to accept the chancellor’s concessions to her Bavarian brawlers?

The coalition’s top people sat together again Tuesday evening and didn’t see eye to eye. The SPD won’t agree to transit centers, said party leader Andrea Nahles, who took a swipe at the “AfD copy cats from Bavaria” for waging “buzzword campaigns.” The party’s general secretary, Lars Klingbeil, told broadcaster ARD the party wouldn’t draw “any red lines,” but wouldn’t wave anything through either. Merkel’s compromise with Seehofer may have helped to save the Union, but it won’t solve the dispute over Germany’s migration policy, he added. Another coalition meeting has been set for Thursday.

3. Is Germany breaking the rules? Is the CDU/CSU agreement an unfriendly move toward its immediate neighbors, and is it in accordance with the summit conclusions?

The summit conclusions — I’m talking about the relevant section on so-called “secondary” migration” within the EU — reflect EU law, aka Dublin 3: They stipulate that it’s the country where migrants first enter the EU that is responsible for processing requests for asylum or shelter. The European Court of Justice in July 2017 confirmed that Merkel’s 2015 decision to not close the country’s borders to refugees didn’t imply a system change (or a breach of the law): Countries can let people in voluntarily, and that doesn’t stop the EU’s Dublin regulations from being applied — meaning migrants can also be brought back — the ECJ ruled.

What the European Council backed: Bilateral reverse transaction agreements on an administrational level. Merkel’s CDU and the CSU vowed to strike such an agreement with Austria before rejecting people who have already been fingerprinted in another European country at the three border control posts currently in place. And that seems fine (for now), says Juncker: “I’m not aware of an agreement at the level of the federal government; I’m aware of an agreement of two parties. I have not studied it in detail but at first glance, and I have asked the legal services to look at it. It seems to me to be in line with the law,” he said at a press conference in Strasbourg.

But let’s put the legalese aside for a moment, as everybody knows this is a political, not a legal fight. Other EU countries are baffled and don’t quite know what to make of the deal. That’s no doubt why they’ve felt free to interpret it in the way that plays best with their own electorate. Austria called for urgent clarification (which may or may not arrive Thursday when Seehofer comes to Vienna to ask for that bilateral agreement.) The Austrian government said preemptively it would introduce border controls too; as, later, did Italy. More on the domino effect of the CSU’s insistence for action — and Merkel’s acquiescence — from Jacopo Barigazzi and Matthew Karnitschnig.

Takeaway: Germany has consumed a lot of its political capital with its friends around the Council table over the past days. EU leaders are starting to realize their all-nighter at last week’s summit was spent trying to resolve issues in German, or even Bavarian, domestic politics — and keeping Horst Seehofer in office.

Vladimir Putin is “very, very happy” — and not only because Europe’s biggest country is consumed in an internal fight that may paralyze the EU along with it. Read Tunku Varadarajan’s latest on why the World Cup has the Russian president smiling.


CONSTITUTIONAL CONFLICT: Polish President Andrzej Duda told Małgorzata Gersdorf that her term as head of the Supreme Court is now up under a controversial new law. But Gersdorf plans to show up for work today anyway, Michał Broniatowski reports from Warsaw. “As concerns my status, it hasn’t changed after my conversation with the president. I will show up at work tomorrow,” Gersdorf told the Sejm, Poland’s lower house of parliament. “The constitution gives me a six-year term, and I have to act in accordance with the constitution.”

DOMBROVSKIS WEIGHS IN: Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis will speak on behalf of the Commission at today’s Parliament plenary debate (on “the future of Europe”) with Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki. Playbook got a glimpse of what he’s expected to say.

Poles have chosen to be part of the EU, and that means something: “As we look to our future, Poland’s place should be firmly at the heart of our Union. This was the choice made by almost 80 percent of Poles in a referendum almost exactly 15 years ago. That day, the Polish people made a free, clear and decisive choice. They chose peace and democracy. And they chose the values and fundamental rights that define our Union and define the people of your great country. And at the heart of that lies the respect of the Rule of Law,” he’ll say, according to a draft of his speech.

Poland’s rule of law issue isn’t just national: “The law is our best tool to defend our freedoms … The justice system is the guarantor of our democracy and our fundamental rights … So where the separation of powers is weakened in one country or where the independence of the judiciary is challenged in another, this becomes a European issue which affects our whole Community.” Some progress has been made, he’ll say, but although “we always remain open for dialogue, so far it has not been enough.”

Poland can’t let down its citizens: Dombrovskis will appeal to the prime minister’s leadership to solve the issue of the controversial replacement of Supreme Court judges and to push for real change. Poland will have the EU’s backing if he does. “Europe will never turn its back on Poland or on the Polish people,” he’ll say. “The Commission will always stand up for them and our hand will always be outstretched to the Polish government.”

It’s personal, too: He’ll praise Poland where it acts as a constructive EU member, defend the Commission’s proposal for the 2021-2027 budget (Poland will still be the biggest net recipient, despite cuts) and refer to his own Polish ancestors: “Poland is a country I have a close affinity to. I say this partly because I have some Polish roots myself. My surname is in fact a Latvian version of Dąbrowski, a name so synonymous with your country, your history and even your national anthem.” That’s a referral to Polish general Jan Henryk Dąbrowski, Poland’s big hero in its struggle for the right to exist as a nation and country.

What Morawiecki will say: In defiance of critics who claim these latest judicial reforms spell the end constitutional democracy in Poland, Morawiecki will say that “constitutional pluralism” means each EU member country “holds the right to shape its own legal system, in accordance with its traditions.” Ryan Heath has seen his notes for the speech and has the full story.

Also happening today: My London colleague Jack Blanchard hosts a breakfast event with U.K. Digital Minister Matt Hancock today on Britain’s digital future and its vision for AI and digital skills. You can follow along at 9:30 a.m. (8:30 a.m. London time) with our livestream.


CHÂTEAU KLAUS: Parliament’s governing body on Monday evening agreed to delay a decision to spend up to €400 million until after the next European election, meaning this plenary won’t end up taking a decision about the fate of its main Brussels building, named after EU founding father Paul-Henri Spaak.

Next steps for now: Parliament’s administration will launch an architectural competition, the outcome of which will be presented “in the second semester of 2019,” according to an internal note from Parliament Secretary-General Klaus Welle to the Bureau, which this time was accepted without debate by the 15-member group that includes Parliament President Antonio Tajani and his deputies, according to people in the room. Playbook has obtained a copy of the 18-page note.

‘Possible nuisances’: The note lists — again — the advantages and disadvantages of four scenarios, from doing nothing to the biggest intervention. But this time around, the note includes disadvantages to the most expensive option — a completely new building — including the “possible reputational risks any demolition would bring” and “possible nuisances to the immediate neighbourhood” due to the works; not to mention the fact that it’s the “most expensive option.”

Here is the synopsis Bureau members had on the table at their June meeting, and here is Monday’s version. Reminder: In June the group rejected a too-obvious push for the pricy demolish-and-rebuild option.

Parliament’s ‘real ambitions’: Welle wrote in his latest note that among the perks of a new building would be that “it reflects the real institutional ambitions of the Institution.”

Inter-institutional takeaway: Ambitions are one thing, but it’s for politicians to take decisions. Parliament has long fought for the right to manage their own building budget — and now is now reckoning with how uncomfortable this can be: MEPs may have to bear “reputational risks” of sorts themselves, with no one else to blame.

TRANSPARENCY, NOT SO FAST: The same Bureau rejected a reform to make MEPs’ expenses more transparent. Under the proposal by a number of Bureau members, MEPs would have had to keep their receipts (something any business or organization has to do for tax reasons, if nothing else), as well as undergo an independent audit and pay back unused money. Instead, the Bureau decided (by a thin majority) that the monthly lump sum (roughly €4,000) MEPs receive — called the General Expenditure Allowance — will need to be transferred to a separate bank account (MEPs currently receive the money on their personal accounts).

Anuška Delić, the founder of the MEPs Project, suggests in an opinion piece for POLITICO that if the allowance is what it appears to be — a second income —  it should be treated and taxed like one.

LABOR ACTION: Parliamentary proceedings were off to a bumpy start, when interpreters escalated a dispute over working conditions with the help of a handful of MEPs, Maïa de la Baume reports from Strasbourg. The group blocked access to technical booths so no microphones could be turned on, forcing a delay to proceedings (and Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov’s wrap-up speech of his country’s Council presidency) of around 40 minutes.

Juncker took the floor after Borissov and chastised MEPs for the interruption and a lack of respect: “This is not normal. Full stop,” he said, suggesting that it’s a bit of a cheap to pick a day when two smaller countries were supposed to have their moment: “That would never have been done with Mr. Macron or Mrs. Merkel.”


TARIFFS (AGAIN): “I’d like to kill ’em” — Republican Senator and Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, from Utah, a close Donald Trump ally, referring to the administration’s ever-expanding list of tariffs.

The U.S. President “is now at full-scale war over trade policy with some of the Republican Party’s staunchest allies in big business, including executives at iconic American brands such as General Motors and Harley-Davidson who previously shied away from criticizing an often irascible president,” Ben White and Megan Cassella report from Washington and New York.

Happy independence day: A growing group of Americans abroad who call themselves “accidentals” want the president to free them of the burdens tied to their passport, including tax-filing obligations. But abandoning a U.S. passport is also costly and excessively bureaucratic — and that’s what a Frenchman representing Americans across the Continent wants to change. Zach Young in Paris has the story.


EUROPE’S BREXIT CONCERNS: Council President Donald Tusk doesn’t share British optimism about the state of play: “The 27 leaders shared one concern … some key aspects still need to be agreed,” he said when debriefing Parliament on last week’s summit. The main point of tension: Ireland. “Put simply, we cannot make progress unless a solid backstop is presented by the U.K. and accepted by our Irish friends.”

Juncker’s warning:  The Commission president told (mainly Austrian) reporters in Strasbourg on Monday that British Prime Minister Theresa May “hinted last Thursday” she would make the rounds of the 27 capitals with a government white paper on the future relationship that is expected next week. Juncker warned EU countries not to open to any divide et impera attempt: “I have strongly urged the 27 not to enter into individual agreements now” to avoid blurring the line between an EU country and an ex-EU country, Juncker said. “Brexit means Brexit, that must be clear.”

Selmayr’s doomsday prep: With talks between London and Brussels virtually at a standstill, the Commission is preparing for any outcome, a wild no-deal Brexit included. In addition to practical contingency planning, officials — who report to Secretary-General Martin Selmayr — are racing to develop legislation to close potential legal gaps, Maïa de la Baume reports from Strasbourg. One legal question in particular angered, or scared, Britons a few weeks ago: A Commission regulation on the EU’s visa policy for third countries would need to be amended so as to “place the U.K. on either the visa required list of third countries or the ‘visa free’ list.”

Blijf bij ons: Will the Brits really be able to resist this Dutch charm offensive? #loveactually #makelovedontbrexit.