13-09-2018 | EYE ON GREECE | EU

13-09-2018 | EYE ON GREECE |

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Govt source: Athens tables arguments to creditors to avoid new round of social security spending cuts

The Greek government, as expected, on Wednesday broached the issue of suspending a planned reduction in social security spending – set for of Jan. 1, 2019 – in the first official contacts with creditors’ representatives, who returned to Athens this week for the first time since the third bailout concluded on Aug. 20.

https://www.naftemporiki.gr/story/1390744/govt-source-athens-tables-arguments-to-creditors-to-avoid-new-round-of-social-security-spending-cuts

Expert says there was time to evacuate Mati

A study presented on Wednesday on eastern Attica’s deadly wildfires in July found that the hour and a half between when the blaze started on the slopes of Mount Penteli and when it reached Mati on the coast was ample to order the residents of the seaside town to go down to the seashore in an orderly manner.

http://www.ekathimerini.com/232561/article/ekathimerini/news/expert-says-there-was-time-to-evacuate-mati

Gov’t to finally cut contributions

The government’s recent announcement on the upcoming reduction of social security contributions constitutes a direct admission that the law introduced by former social security minister Giorgos Katrougalos has since 2016 served as a mechanism for confiscating up to 70 percent of the incomes of thousands of self-employed professional, mainly lawyers, engineers and doctors, say sector representatives.

http://www.ekathimerini.com/232568/article/ekathimerini/business/govt-to-finally-cut-contributions

Defense cooperation between US and Greece ‘expanding’

The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday reported that due to the rift in relations with Turkey, the US military is engaged in talks to expand its operations in Greece. This expansion will entail the use of more air and naval bases in the country.

http://www.ekathimerini.com/232554/article/ekathimerini/news/defense-cooperation-between-us-and-greece-expanding

Greek credit contraction speeds up in July

Total credit in Greece’s banking system contracted 2.5 percent year-on-year in July after a 2.4 percent decline in the previous month, Bank of Greece data showed on Wednesday.

http://www.ekathimerini.com/232551/article/ekathimerini/business/greek-credit-contraction-speeds-up-in-july

ATHEX: Another day, another drop for bank stocks

Losses sustained by Greek banking stocks banished early signs that the local market could head higher on Wednesday, with the benchmark losing all of its morning gains to end up in the red again.

http://www.ekathimerini.com/232557/article/ekathimerini/business/athex-another-day-another-drop-for-bank-stocks

www.enikos.gr


www.protothema.gr

www.newsbomb.gr

www.cnn.gr

www.newsbeast.gr

KATHIMERINI:  Juncker puts a stop to Athens’ intension not to cut pensions

ETHNOS:  Thessaloniki: An army pipeline infects the water

TA NEA:  Cold shower for pensioners

EFIMERIDA TON SYNTAKTON:  The district attorney is going to reexamine cases of precarious loans handed out to political parties

AVGI:  Mitsotakis reveals his true plans two days ahead of his visit to Thessaloniki International Fair

RIZOSPASTIS:  The people must organize a counter-attack alongside the Communist Party and turn its back to the scenery of submission

KONTRA NEWS:  50 executives of National Bank and Agricultural Bank are going to be prosecuted for felony

TO PONTIKI:  Brace your selves! New Democracy leader Mitsotakis has taken off!

DIMOKRATIA:  The Council of State ‘demolishes’ the newly-established unified social security fund EFKA

NAFTEMPORIKI:  The ‘recipe’ for the new real estate ENFIA tax

What everyone is talking about this morning: Was the vote of censure against Hungary, related to alleged breaches of fundamental law, legally valid? How embarrassing would it be if it wasn’t. More on that below.

GOOD MORNING. This week, Strasbourg witnessed a moment that could be a landmark in the rebirth of the European People’s Party — and its position as the center of gravity of European politics in its next cycle.

It started with Hungarian PM Viktor Orbán’s speech to the European Parliament on Tuesday and finished when voting concluded on Wednesday. In that period, two things became clear: With Jean-Claude Juncker’s swan-song State of the Union, the final stretch of policy-making for this legislative cycle is now underway. And the pre-election politics season has begun. We’ll analyze this special day in Parliament in four acts …

ACT 1: HUNGARY LOSES A VOTE  

PAYBACK DAY: For years, parties across Europe’s traditional political spectrum have taken beatings from nationalists and populists, triggering seemingly endless introspection about how to respond to the threat. On Wednesday, just over two-thirds of MEPs voted in favor of a motion declaring that Hungary is at risk of breaching the EU’s core values. That triggered the Article 7 disciplinary process that could in theory (but almost certainly won’t in practice — Poland has already vowed to oppose any sanctions) see Budapest stripped of its EU voting rights.

Viktor Orbán made clear in Strasbourg that he won’t back down in his pursuit of an “illiberal democracy.” And a majority in Parliament made clear they won’t back down in their defense of … well … actual democracy.

Here comes the irony express: Orbán’s government had a novel response to Parliament’s censure: For once, it has referred to the EU treaties to defend itself on a technicality.

In a letter to Parliament’s President Antonio Tajani, obtained by Playbook, Hungary’s ambassador to the EU, Olivér Várhelyi, presented a legal opinion arguing that abstentions should be counted when it comes to determining whether the two-thirds majority that is necessary for an Article 7 censure motion is reached. If abstentions were taken into account, things would be very different indeed on Wednesday, as 462 votes would have been needed for the motion to pass (versus the 448 that were cast). The ambassador asked for Budapest’s position to be taken into account and communicated to MEPs “before the plenary vote takes place.”

Parliament’s response: The institution’s legal services concluded in a note to Tajani, which Playbook has obtained, that Parliament needn’t count abstentions as votes cast, which is consistent with previous occasions when a two-thirds majority was needed. “No account shall be taken of abstentions when establishing whether the two-thirds majority of the votes cast … is met,” the Parliament’s lawyers concluded.

So who is right? When EU law leaves space for interpretation, it comes down to self-rule and precedent. In the end, this is probably a question for the European Court of Justice — where Várhelyi promised to go next, if necessary.

What it all means: Parliament may have triggered Article 7 for the first time, but that won’t make populism disappear. And the vote, legal or not, is unlikely to have any real consequences for the Hungarian government, though it did hurt politically, judging from the sensitivities in Budapest.

But that’s not the point.

The vote was a catalyst, or perhaps a parliamentary team-building exercise, or the foundation stone of the us-versus-them camp, or the manifestation of a European schism that has existed for a long time, or a first glimpse at what will become the next Commission president’s majority in the House. Or, of course, all of the above.

Guy Verhofstadt fires up: “Don’t say totally crazy things [about Europe being more disunited than ever] in a continent that saw 200 millions of death and victims because of nationalism and populism as you defend it today,” the ALDE group leader told PiS MEP Ryszard Legutko, co-chair of the ECR group. Worth watching.

Verhofstadt also rediscovered his recently lost federalist stamina when he asked Juncker to go all-in and propose putting all, not just a select few, foreign policy initiatives to majority votes (rather than unanimous ones). Hell, Verhofstadt wouldn’t mind if Juncker added taxation to the majority-verdict pile too. In a rare display of a politician explaining his long-serving tactics, the Hof advised: “In politics, always go for the maximum” — maximum risk included.

After Parliament slaps Hungary, what happens next? Maïa de La Baume and Lili Bayer explain the next steps for EU governments, who must decide how to respond to Parliament’s move; Europe’s main center-right grouping, which faces calls to expel Hungary’s ruling Fidesz party from its ranks; and Viktor Orbán’s government.

2. WEBER’S MOVES

PREPARING A MAJORITY: All this brings us to Manfred Weber. The European People’s Party group leader and its Spitzenkandidat hopeful (and so far the only contender for that role, at least until we hear from Alexander Stubb), appeared to lay the foundations for a bid for the Commission presidency by distancing himself from Orbán. Weber voted in favor of launching the Article 7 procedure against Hungary. (Meanwhile, his four colleagues from Germany’s CSU stood with Orbán— a headache for Weber.)

Weber’s move was unexpected for many, who would normally place him to the right of the Christian Democrats, and rightly so. But in politics, if you want the big prize, you don’t play the lottery — you hustle. Note that he wasn’t the only one to make an about-face: Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, Weber’s most fervent backer and a former close Orbán ally, paved the way.

Bottom line: Weber picked a good moment to chose Brussels over Budapest, writes Ryan Heath. It’s a case of head over heart — Weber opted for a move that gives him the best chance of assembling a sufficient number of votes in the next Parliament to win the Commission presidency over keeping an ally-slash-potential-liability close.

For Orbán, meanwhile, who unsuccessfully opposed Juncker for the Commission presidency in 2014, being in the minority in the EPP isn’t new. His case may be brought up at a special EPP summit around a leaders’ meeting in Salzburg next week, according to EPP officials.

3. COPYRIGHT AGREEMENT

POOR INTERNET: The rapporteur on the “Copyright in the Digital Single Market” proposal, the CDU’s Axel Voss, was the happiest man on Planet Strasbourg on Wednesday, after Parliament adopted his compromise reforms. The project hit a wall before the summer, with lobbying at fever pitch, but the EPP and S&D, and to a lesser extent ALDE, fell into line on Wednesday.

Call it a get-things-done approach, or perhaps an indirect response to Juncker’s line that voters are less impressed with what the Commission proposes than with what actually becomes law. Anyway, there was movement. Laurens Cerulus and Joanna Plucinska have more on the politics of this decision and a breakdown of the vote.

Internet on life support? Don’t forget to check whether the internet is still alive once the law comes into effect. Critics doubt it will be. One of the more stunning reactions came from the EU’s consumer lobby BEUC, which called for free beer for all (brewers be damned).

Money talks: The EU’s copyright reforms have been billed as a once-in-a-generation fight for the future of the internet, writes Mark Scott. But as always, it’s actually all about the cash. The debate comes down to a question about how a 21st century digital economy should be funded — should platforms like Google and Facebook pocket the lion’s share of online profits, or ought those who create the content for those platforms get a bigger cut?

Speaking of copyright: We stand corrected. Thanks to all those who wrote in — Junckerites and others — to set the record straight about who really came up with the “A Europe that protects” slogan. Juncker referred to a “Europe that protects, empowers and defends” in his 2016 State of the Union speech — before Emmanuel Macron was even elected. Way back in 2008, then French President Nicolas Sarkozy pronounced that “a Europe that protects is needed.” But predating even that, journalist Nicolas Gros-Verheyde discovered that during the Austrian Council presidency in 2006, Chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel’s slogan was, you guessed it: “A Europe that protects.”

Now that we’ve got that straight, let’s move on to Juncker’s speech.

4. THE STATE OF THE UNION 

THE KING’S SPEECH: There was some mild boasting about the Commission’s role in keeping the EU together when Greece was hovering on the brink of ejection from the euro club three years ago, but for the most part, Juncker’s speech on Wednesday was a humble one. (Read it in full here.)

He made a deeper point, but only for those reading between the lines: With the way he handled the Greek crisis, Juncker returned the Commission to the center of European politics, after years spent in the wilderness at crisis summit after crisis summit, when national leaders hold all the power.

Juncker lacked the rich rhetoric and flair of his best orations, as David Herszenhorn notes, but the Commission president provided three things in his speech …

1. Inspiration: Juncker lit a fire around which Europe’s regenerated center can gather in the next term, condemning “unchecked nationalism” as “riddled with both poison and deceit” and reminding the Parliament that the EU “is a community of law. Respecting the rule of law and abiding by court decisions are not optional.”

2. An olive branch: Juncker extended a hand to Orbán and his ilk, for whom migration is at the root of division. He insisted disunity must be overcome — “It’s time we put an end to the sorry spectacle of a divided Europe. Our continent and those who brought an end to the Cold War deserve better” — and spoke a well-known and unpleasant truth: On their own, most EU countries are too small to make their voices heard in the world.

3. A work program: Juncker will keep everyone busy in the months to come, presenting a long list of things he wants to conclude before next year’s European election. Chief among them: “We must have ratified the EU-Japan partnership agreement, for reasons as much economic as geopolitical.” And “By next year, we should also address the international role of the euro … It is absurd that Europe pays for 80 percent of its energy import bill — worth €300 billion a year — in U.S. dollar when only roughly 2 percent of our energy imports come from the United States. It is absurd that European companies buy European planes in dollars instead of euro.”

Also on the list …

fast-tracked bid to scrap daylight savings changes in 2019 … Majority voting in foreign policy … Stronger anti money-laundering rules … Migration and border reformsAfrica package … Measures to fight cross-border terrorism and deal with terror content online … Moves to protect elections.

Catch up on what you missed with POLITICO’s live blog.

IN OTHER NEWS 

BLACK CUBE INTRIGUE: We’ve previously reported on Viktor Orbán’s use of shady political intelligence firm Black Cube’s services. Belgian magazine MO dug deeper into Black Cube’s work in Europe and on Wednesday reported the firm has also allegedly been attempting to silence the former chief prosecutor of Romania’s Anticorruption Directorate, Laura Codruța Kövesi (who we wrote about in our report too). The moves are allegedly part of a coordinated campaign involving Liviu Dragnea, the leader of Romania’s ruling Social Democratic Party, Donald Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani and others with an interest in halting corruption investigations in Romania. Read the report here. H/t Laurens Cerulus

BREXIT NO-DEAL DAY: British PM Theresa May will convene a special meeting of her Cabinet this morning to discuss the government’s preparations for a no-deal Brexit, after which the U.K. will release the second batch of documents setting out government preparations and advice for different sectors of the economy. More details in this morning’s London Playbook, available from 8 a.m. Brussels time here.

No deal, no money: Ahead of all that, Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab published an op-ed in the Telegraph Wednesday night vowing that Britain would withhold divorce payments to the EU if an exit deal isn’t inked.

DANISH LEFT VEERS RIGHT: Naomi O’Leary reports that while Denmark’s right-wing government might once have expected pushback from the left on its new integration policy, it’s now on board. The reforms include compelling children who live in targeted areas to attend day care for 25 hours a week, punishing parents who take their kids back to their countries of origin for extended periods with prison sentences or deportation, levying harsher sentences for crimes committed in the neighborhoods, and demolishing buildings if deemed necessary.

KOZLOVSKA UPDATE: Ukrainian human rights activist Lyudmyla Kozlovska, who was expelled from the Schengen zone following a request from the Polish government, has been granted a two-week German visa on the grounds of “national interest,” our man in Poland Michał Broniatowski writes in to report. She will speak at the Bundestag this morning at an event on the rule of law in Poland and Hungary.

“I perceive it as a sign of solidarity with all those who struggle for the independence of the judiciary and European values in Poland,” Kozlovska told Michał about her German visa. “The Polish government must not be allowed to disintegrate the EU from within, taking advantage of the [Schengen Information System] to persecute its critics.” Last December, German authorities granted a Schengen entry visa to Ukrainian official Svyatoslav Sheremeta, whom Warsaw also sought to block from entering the EU.

LANDMINES IN UKRAINE: Since war broke out in eastern Ukraine in 2014, vast quantities of landmines and unexploded ordnance have killed more than 600 people, with at least 1,000 more suffering serious injuries, reports Jack Losh.

MEANWHILE IN RUSSIA: Pyotr Verzilov, Russian dissident and husband of Pussy Riot leader Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, is in a serious condition in a Moscow hospital after apparently being poisoned. More from the BBC.

LE PERSONNEL

LAGARDE OUT: “No, no, no no, no no … I am not interested in any of the European — ECB, Commission, da da da da da — jobs, no,” Christine Lagarde, the head of the International Monetary Fund, told the FT.