07-03-2018 | EYE ON GREECE | EU

07-03-2018 | EYE ON GREECE | EU

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Athens stays calm over soldiers, PM complains to UN

Fearing that the arrest of two Greek soldiers last week who inadvertently crossed the Turkish border in bad weather could lead to an extended and messy legal procedure, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras appealed to United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Tuesday to mediate for their swift release and return.

http://www.ekathimerini.com/226482/article/ekathimerini/news/athens-stays-calm-over-soldiers-pm-complains-to-un

fYRoM PM proposes int’l treaty on ‘name issue’, rather than constitutional change

The prime minister of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (fYRoM), Zoran Zaev, on Tuesday proposed the signing and ratification of an international treaty for a possible “name issue” resolution, rather than a change in his country’s constitution.

http://www.naftemporiki.gr/story/1327429/fyrom-pm-proposes-intl-treaty-on-name-issue-rather-than-constitutional-change

Centeno warns of Greek vulnerability

Greece remains vulnerable to domestic and external shocks, the head of the Eurogroup, Mario Centeno, warned on Tuesday. The Portuguese finance minister also told the Athens-Macedonian News Agency that restoring its credibility in the credit market will be a gradual and not automatic process for this country.

http://www.ekathimerini.com/226485/article/ekathimerini/business/centeno-warns-of-greek-vulnerability

US Ambassador stresses importance of ensuring Greece will exit crisis in 2018

The US Ambassador to Greece Geoffrey Pyatt said yesterday that it was important “that this really is the year that Greece turns the page on the crisis period.”

http://www.ekathimerini.com/226466/article/ekathimerini/business/us-ambassador-stresses-importance-of-ensuring-greece-will-exit-crisis-in-2018

Anti-terrorism operation targets alleged neo-Nazi group

An operation by police’s anti-terrorism unit was underway in the greater Athens area and at least one provincial city, beginning in the early morning hours yesterday, and targeting what initial reports cited as members of a neo-Nazi terrorist gang.

http://www.naftemporiki.gr/story/1327249/anti-terrorism-operation-targets-alleged-neo-nazi-group

Trainose submits binding offer for rolling stock maintenance company

FSI-controlled Trainose, the dominant and previously state-owned rail operator in Greece, on Tuesday submitted a binding offer for the 100-percent acquisition of another state-controlled entity that provides rolling stock maintenance and railroad availability services.

http://www.naftemporiki.gr/story/1327419/trainose-submits-binding-offer-for-rolling-stock-maintenance-company

ATHEX: Index fails to retake 800 pts despite gains

There was something of a reaction on Tuesday at the Greek stock market to the recent selling spree, but the containment of gains during the closing auctions kept the benchmark below the 800-point mark for a second day in a row.

http://www.ekathimerini.com/226484/article/ekathimerini/business/athex-index-fails-to-retake-800-pts-despite-gains

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KATHIMERINI: US presence in Cyprus’ EEZ

ETHNOS: The Neo-Nazis are looking for new recruits

TA NEA: The people of Evros claim that the two Greek servicemen were ambushed by Turkish military forces

EFIMERIDA TON SYNTAKTON: The Greek side is armed with calmness

AVGI: Fatal blow against Neo-Nazi nest

RIZOSPASTIS: No rest! Competition in the Balkans and the Aegean Sea sounds the drums of war

KONTRA NEWS: Turkey’s bullying in the Mediterranean Sea will end

DIMOKRATIA: Trump is sending the US fleet to Cyprus

NAFTEMPORIKI: The EU responds to Washington with a political message and targets US exports worth 2,8 billion Euros

AROUND THE EU INSTITUTIONS

COMMISSION — TARIFF TIT FOR TAT: That’s the name of the game today, but don’t get too excited. Playbook’s Commission trade policy source says that for all the bluster, “Trump will definitely not be scared by the EU’s plan,” which you can read about here. The total value of the targets — which range from bed linen and lipsticks to ladders and kidney beans — is €2.83 billion. Commissioners will today discuss the counter-measures, which will be rolled out if Trump’s tariffs go ahead.

Trump 1, Sweden 0: The EU’s White House rescue mission, led by Swedish PM Stefan Löfven, produced this at a joint press conference after talks between the two leaders: “The European Union has been particularly tough on the United States,” Trump said. “They make it almost impossible for us to do business with them.” That comment won’t make much sense to anyone familiar with EU-U.S. trade, so Playbook won’t pretend to decipher it. The upshot is that steep tariffs on EU-made cars are increasingly likely.

EPP takes a stand: Today Manfred Weber, chairman of the EPP group, will meet with representatives of the European steel industry to discuss the possible economic impact of, and reactions to, Trump’s move in terms of jobs, investments and prices in Europe.

Credit is a double-edged sword: Weber’s team was keen (can you hear election bells ringing?) to point out that the EPP was the first political group in the European Parliament to request a debate on the issue for next week’s plenary. Tread lightly folks! The Greens are also claiming credit for being the first to call for a plenary debate next week … into the EPP’s own Martin Selmayr being made European Commission secretary-general (details below).

COMMISSION — #SELMAYRGATE KEEP HUMMING ALONG 

Commission rules out extending new perks to ex-commissioners: Responding at 11:45 p.m. to a question from Playbook, Commission deputy spokesman Alexander Winterstein rejected another element of Jean Quatremer’s story about possible reforms to the financial and in-kind support given to commissioners after leaving office. Winterstein said the Commission is not considering offering offices, drivers or assistants to ex-commissioners. He previously rejected reports of increased financial payments. A recent European Parliament study found that taxpayers handed over €61 million in payments to ex-EU office-holders between 2011 and 2016.

Commissioners had no warning; no one opposed Selmayr’s appointment: Employment Commissioner Marianne Thyssen, speaking at a Playbook Lunch Tuesday, confirmed that Selmayr’s sudden appointment as Commission secretary-general came as a “surprise” to those in the room when the decision was taken. “We didn’t know it beforehand,” Thyssen said. Watch the interview here.

Though the commissioners were given no time to reflect, Thyssen said there was “a consensus” in favor of Selmayr’s appointment because of his skills, and no commissioner spoke out against the plan. While Selmayr’s appointment process was unusual, Thyssen urged the audience to remember he is not doing a “typical job.”

Read the Commission’s internal briefing on how Selmayr was appointed. h/t David Carretta.

Dutch MEPs, Financial Times and Der Spiegel join the Blitzkrieg: Nearly all Dutch MEPs told their national broadcaster NOS they want Selmayr gone. The Financial Times has a leader article insisting his appointment must be revisited; given the FT is where Selmayr’s spokespeople love to dump Commission documents, that stab will land close to the bone.

Der Spiegel takes the Selmayr pile-on to Europe’s ruling class in German, in a rehash of Quatremer’s earlier stories (author Peter Müller may have reason to join the fray: Selmayr was accused of threatening to punch him in the face in 2017).

Next stop London: Quatremer’s new platform promises to be the Spectator. The good news for Selmayr is that no one in the real world cares yet — a petition calling for him to go gathered just over 100 signatures as of 6 a.m. this morning.

Spotted: Quatremer enjoying his favorite place, the moral high ground. The French journalist was not pleased to be caught up in extra security checks while attempting to enter Commission headquarters Tuesday (journalists face bag and belt checks, officials can wave a badge and breeze by security). He wasn’t afraid to make his feelings known.

COUNCIL — NORTHERN EXPOSURE ON ECONOMIC AND MONETARY UNION: POLITICO’s Bjarke Smith-Meyer reports that Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands and Sweden have banded together to deliver a unified position on EMU reform in a two-page document. The Northern Europeans want all EU countries in the discussions, not just eurozone members, and they believe governments should reduce financial risk within their own countries before further risk-sharing can continue across the bloc.

COUNCIL — ‘HISTORIC’ FIRST PESCO FORMAT OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS COUNCIL: Defense ministers met in “PESCO format” for the first time Tuesday, meaning that all EU ministers were present, but only those from countries that joined the EU’s permanent defense cooperation system spoke and voted in adopting legal acts. The PESCO “implementation roadmap” (it seems to be more of a timeline) is here. Overview of the first 17 PESCO projects here.

ECJ — COURT OUTLAWS BILATERAL INVESTMENT TREATIES WITHIN EU: Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström declared them illegal in 2017; the European Court of Justice agrees. In theory, 196 separate agreements are illegal now, and may affect state aid offered from one member state to another.

PARLIAMENT — MORE THAN 400 SIGN ANTI-HARASSMENT PETITION: Organizers of a petition demanding an external audit of Parliament’s harassment procedures and support systems say more than 400 staff have signed up in the first 24 hours of the campaign. You can sign by emailing your details to metooeu@gmail.com before noon on Monday, March 12.

GERMAN MARSHALL FUND — BRUSSELS FORUM PREVIEW: The theme of this year’s German Marshall Fund foreign policy gathering (starting today with a young professionals event) is “strategies for a time of distrust.” The speaker line-up includes Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, Georgian President Giorgi Margvelashvili, former leader of Alternative for Germany Frauke Petry, World Bank CEO Kristalina Georgieva, NATO Deputy Secretary-General Rose Gottemoeller, U.S. Permanent Representative to NATO Kay Bailey Hutchison, U.S. Senator Chris Murphy, Microsoft Vice President John Frank, Médecins Sans Frontières co-founder Bernard Kouchner, the CIA’s Michael Morell, Mayor of Hamburg Olaf Scholz (who is expected to be Germany’s next finance minister) and U.S. Special Representative for Ukraine Kurt Volker. European commissioners attending include Federica Mogherini, Andrus Ansip and Cecilia Malmström.

DIGITAL POLITICS

MOSCOVICI DISCUSSES DIGITAL TAX: Tax Commissioner Pierre Moscovici today meets representatives of Google, Amazon, Netflix and homegrown competitors including Spotify, booking.com and the FacilityLive B2B search engine, to discuss new digital tax proposals due to be launched later this month. Here’s a open letter from many of the CEOs to the EU.

ITALIAN ELECTION LATEST

Italy’s howl: “What we’re witnessing looks like nothing more than a nihilistic obliteration of the old system in a blind flight toward an uncertain future,” writes Giuliano Ferrara for POLITICO. “The real question about Italy is when and how the country will begin the painstaking task of reconstructing a solid political order, one that guarantees true political representation — not the celebration of nihilism.”

Matteo Renzi stays on for negotiations: The hyperactive former prime minister isn’t ready to leave the stage yet. He’s determined to stop his PD party joining or supporting a 5Star-led government, his party colleagues told Playbook.

League wants closer relations with Russia: Lorenzo Fontana told CNBC that he sees Russia as a “normal and natural partner with Europe” with which “we are keen to have closer ties.”

Italy’s first black senator is Toni Iwobi, of Spirano in Lombardy, who belongs to the anti-immigration League.

EU NATIONAL NEWS

SPAIN — CORRUPTION LIVES ON AFTER 4 DECADES OF DEMOCRACY: Guy Hedgecoe writing for POLITICO explores Spain’s flawed judiciary system and the legacy of fascism that infiltrates the culture of Spanish political parties. Did you know that over barely the course of a recent calendar year, 1,378 officials and politicians from across the spectrum faced trial on corruption charges?

CYPRUS — GAS PROBLEM: Normally the discovery of a gas field is good news in a resource-poor country. In Cyprus, thanks to Turkish complications, the resource curse comes to Europe, POLITICO’s Zia Weise reports.

HUNGARY — UN RIGHTS CHIEF SLAMS ORBÁN: In an astonishing response to the Hungarian government’s demand that he resign over comments he made about Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s immigration policy, the UNHCR Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein did quite the opposite. “I did call the increasingly authoritarian — though democratically elected — Viktor Orbán a racist and xenophobe,” he writes. “And no, I will not resign … it is time to stand up to the bullies of Mr. Orbán’s ilk. Hatred is a combustible force; and it will not win — not in Europe; and not today.”

BREXIT 360°

Today’s key events …

1:15 pm: European Council President Donald Tusk press conference in Luxembourg, followed by technical briefing for journalists.

2:30 pm: Chancellor Philip Hammond Brexit speech.

5:30 pm: Parliament President Antonio Tajani and Brexit coordinator Guy Verhofstadt press conference.

Cherry inflation doubles: While Guy Verhofstadt says an agreement on citizens’ rights is close, according to the EU’s internal analysis of Theresa May’s recent Mansion House speech, which POLITICO has obtained, whatever the tone, the U.K.’s substance hasn’t changed to anything concrete. At one point the British PM is accused of “double cherry-picking.”

More cherries: European Parliament’s main political group leaders will today agree their draft position on the future relationship with Britain, and POLITICO’s Maïa de la Baume reports it won’t be pretty for Theresa May. Parts of the “uncompromising” 13-page document “read as a direct rebuttal of the vision of Brexit that Theresa May set out in her Mansion House speech.” The draft resolution states that any “deep and comprehensive” trade deal must entail “a binding interpretation role” for the European Court of Justice and “does not allow cherry-picking of sectors of the internal market.”

DUP leader Arlene Foster has slammed the Commission treaty draft as not a “faithful” or “fair legal interpretation” of the agreement reached between the U.K. and EU in December. She wants the U.K. to duke it out with the EU via a counter-proposal.

Vague is vogue: Bloomberg reports the EU will keep the final wording of the agreement on the future trade relationship vague and aim to publish a final text by summer.

Andrew Duff’s latest Brexit paper: The president of the Spinelli group and former U.K. MEP argues that the EU should hug Britain tight, and the U.K. would be wise to accept an EU association agreement similar to that obtained by Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova.

TRUMPLAND

STEVE BANNON ON DONALD TRUMP: I STILL LOVE THE GUY. The former presidential adviser was speaking in Zurich, and POLITICO’s Matthew Karnitschnig was there.

GARY COHN QUITS, WHITE HOUSE AIDES PANIC: Andrew Restuccia and Nancy Cook write that the announcement overnight that Gary Cohn is resigning as Donald Trump’s National Economic Council director amid a battle over tariffs has White House aides fearing a “disaster.” They write that Cohn “was seen as the rare Trump administration official who did a good job of navigating substantive policy questions as well as the sometimes opaque decision-making process in President Donald Trump’s White House,” and his departure, along with others in recent weeks, “leaves the president with fewer people around him who know how to get policy made, and how to stop Trump from moving ahead with unworkable ideas.”

US HEADS TOWARDS A DEMOCRATIC HOUSE: California is toxic for Trump and Republicans. That, combined with a redrawing of gerrymandered boundaries in Pennsylvania and Trump’s low approval ratings, have set this year’s mid-term elections on a Democratic course, reports Mike Allen.