21-09-2018 | EYE ON GREECE | EU

21-09-2018 | EYE ON GREECE |

Friday, September 21, 2018

Plan to transfer thousands of migrants in works

Greek authorities are planning the transfer of thousands of migrants from overcrowded facilities on the Aegean islands to centers on the mainland, sources said on Wednesday as Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras held talks with visiting European Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos about a new burgeoning refugee crisis.


IMF stands by position that pending social security cuts in Greece necessary

The IMF reiterated on Thursday that a scheduled social security spending reduction in Greece, set for January 2019, will improve the country’s prospects and send a “strong message” to investors.


Tension mounts between foreign minister, ANEL

Cracks with the ruling coalition appeared again on Thursday, with junior partner Independent Greeks (ANEL) taking issue with Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias over his remarks that the Macedonia name deal should be ratified by the present Parliament.


Parliament approves bill to expedite rise of minimum wage

Greek parliament on Thursday voted to speed up a process to increase the minimum wage next year – a pledge heralded by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras in late August.


Latest Pulse opinion poll gives ND 10.5% pt lead over SYRIZA; margin slightly narrower from June

Main opposition New Democracy (ND) party is given a 10.5-percentage point lead over ruling SYRIZA in the first opinion poll released after the summer by the Athens-based Skai broadcaster.


Retailer Media Markt denies it’s de-investing in Greece

MediaMarktSaturn Retail Group, a subsidiary of Germany’s Ceconomy AG, this week aimed to douse growing speculation in Greece that the electronics and white goods retailer was a reduced presence in the country. The retailer said Greece is a significant market for Media Markt, and that no de-investment scheme is envisioned.


ATHEX: Clouds gather over credit stocks again

The messages coming from the 13th Annual Greek Roadshow in London appeared to take a toll on bank stocks on Thursday, as they were hit with fresh losses, while investors will be keeping an eye out during September’s triple witching on Friday as it is considered a key indicator regarding the market’s course over the medium term.







KATHIMERINI:  The IMF increases pressure on the pensions issue

ETHNOS:  The government is now running to remove archeological spaces from the privatizations fund

TA NEA:  The government is staging… a guerilla war on the pensions issue

EFIMERIDA TON SYNTAKTON:  High surpluses, new dividend

AVGI:  Minimum wage to increase

RIZOSPASTIS:  The Communist Party event was crowded by youngsters

KONTRA NEWS:  Polling distance between New Democracy and SYRIZA at 5,2%

DIMOKRATIA:  The IMF is thirsty for blood

NAFTEMPORIKI:  IMF ‘freezes’ talks on the suspension of pensions’ slashing


IT’S THE MIGRATION: EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier sent a memo to EU leaders asking them to “de-dramatize” the Irish border issue. That didn’t happen. Instead, the actual de-dramatizing — fragile though it may be — at the Salzburg leaders’ meeting on Thursday happened on migration, the issue that has divided the EU far longer than Brexit.

Here’s the wrap-up …

1. Collaborating with Egypt is the new “disembarkation platforms,” which were effectively declared dead by Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz when he said they “are not essential to solve the problem of illegal migration.” Kurz praised Egypt for being “efficient” and “exemplary” in dealing with illegal migration — which is of course a much easier task for a military dictatorship.

Side note I: Kurz stopped short of denying that he was the biggest advocate for returning migrants rescued at sea to Africa (via whatever you want to call the new methods), but said that “one has to be careful with the strange word creation of the ‘disembarkation platforms.’ We still haven’t found out who invented the word.”

Side note II: Does pushing migration processing offshore actually work to stem arrivals? In a new policy brief, Open Society Foundations looks at the examples of Australia, Tunisia, the U.S. and Spain — and reckons not.

2. German Chancellor Angela Merkel is on the retreat, as the idea of “flexible solidarity” among EU countries gains traction. That means, for instance, governments pouring money into the new border guard instead of taking in refugees. Juncker told Austrian media that he “made a proposal that I do not like myself: Countries that do not accept refugees should become more involved in other areas, such as funding border protection. Those who do not take refugees should at least provide for unaccompanied minors. I don’t believe that this would lead to protests on the streets in Hungary or Poland.”

To underline that new stance and make sure some sort of contribution does eventuate, French President Emmanuel Macron threatened at his post-summit press conference that “countries that don’t want more Frontex or solidarity will leave Schengen. Countries that don’t want more Europe will no longer touch structural funds.”

3. The welcome for the Commission’s proposal to beef up the EU’s border guard was warm enough to count as a success of sorts. Some leaders, though, made clear that they won’t give up national sovereignty to deal with a migration crisis that they themselves claim is Europe’s biggest challenge, despite falling arrival numbers. European Council President Donald Tusk said there is a “a shared determination to take forward the Commission’s proposal for a strengthened European Border and Coast Guard as a priority. At the same time, as the chancellor [Sebastian Kurz] underlined, it is also clear that there are issues regarding sovereignty and the size of Frontex that will have to be further discussed.”

Now if that’s not de-dramatizing, we don’t know what is. Look at it this way: Leaders are admitting that it’s really not the arrivals — dramatically down since 2015, and reaching pre-crisis levels this summer — that they were fighting about for the past three years.

OPINION — EUROPE’S TWO-FACED MIGRATION REALITY: “Like free trade and finance, migration creates winners and losers,” Miguel Otero-Iglesias, a senior analyst at Elcano Royal Institute and professor at the IE School of Global and Public Affairs, writes in an op-ed for POLITICO. “If Europe’s political elite doesn’t come up with ways to compensate low-skilled native workers who feel threatened or displaced by migrants, the anti-immigration wave will continue to surge.”


THERE’S CONSISTENCY IN POLITICS! Playbook promised you a Salzburg drama and you got a Salzburg drama, starring British Prime Minister Theresa May. The PM was pushed to choose between three evils: an existence as a full rule-taker; a mere trade deal with the EU (which would still mean Northern Ireland remains in the single market and customs union when push comes to shove); and no deal at all. As we know, it’s mostly not the heroine of a tragedy who gets to decide how the story ends.

ACT I: Don’t pretend you’re surprised. The EU on Thursday repeated what it has been saying over and over again since the morning of June 24, 2016 — it is as inflexible and unbendable on the most urgent open Brexit questions as it always has been. EU27 leaders in Salzburg once more insisted that Britain’s proposals on how to resolve the outstanding Brexit issues are welcome — as long as they’re identical to the EU’s ones.

May’s Chequers plans? “Everybody shared the view that while there are positive elements in the Chequers proposal, the suggested framework for economic cooperation will not work,” said Donald Tusk. The pronouncement came after he offered full solidarity with Ireland when saying that leaders “reconfirmed that there will be no Withdrawal Agreement without a solid, operational and legally binding Irish backstop.”

Brexiteers are ‘liars’: That message came from Emmanuel Macron. “In a very clear manner, I also want to say that the proposals as of today are not acceptable, in particular the economic aspects,” the French president said. He then took an implicit dig at David Cameron, saying Brexit was “the choice of the British people, a choice pushed by those who predicted easy solutions … they are liars, they left the next day so they didn’t have to manage it.”

Call it Chequers or something else, but will the Brits get access to some areas of the single market? Nope, per Angela Merkel. “We all agreed today that there can’t be compromise when it comes to the single market,” the chancellor reiterated.

(Will the German industry, at least, come to Brexit Britain’s rescue? Don’t bet on it. “We shouldn’t set up a complex customs system that wouldn’t work in practice only to ensure that hardliners in Britain do not lose face,” said VDMA, the mechanical engineering association, calling for the U.K. to rework its proposals.)

ACT II: Jacob Rees-Mogg has some advice. “Chequers now has no supporters at all. I doubt even the Downing Street cat is any longer backing the Chequers plan,” the Tory über-Brexiteer told the BCC. He noted that “so far in the negotiations, every time the EU has dug its heels in, it’s got what it’s wanted,” and that the auspices clearly point to a free trade agreement and nothing more. “But if we leave on World Trade Organization terms, that’s not the end of the world.”

Enter May, appearing annoyed. “I believe there is willingness to do a deal,” the PM insisted. But: “Let nobody be in any doubt, as I’ve always said, we are preparing for no deal, so that if we get to the position where it is not possible to reach a deal then the British people can be confident that we will have done what is necessary to ensure we make a success of leaving the European Union, regardless of the terms on which we do so.”

Backstage, Poland prepares to come to her rescue: Warsaw, meanwhile, made an attempt to break ranks with the rest of the EU at a ministerial meeting on Brexit on Tuesday, suggesting that the bloc’s negotiating guidelines may need to be “rewritten” in October if a Brexit deal is still out of reach, Jacopo Barigazzi reports. But all is not quite as it seems. Some diplomats say they don’t believe Warsaw will actually seek to escalate the situation, but is rather seeking to send a public signal to Britain because of the roughly 1 million Poles living there.

Hungary gallops in too: Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said Britain shouldn’t be “punished,” because “it’s a great nation.”

ACT III: That one’s yet to be written. “We need a positive conclusion and we need it in October,” said Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker. Tusk said the “moment of truth” will be the October 18-19 summit — and he’ll only consider adding an extra meeting in mid-November if there’s an agreement next month. So May just needs to survive her Tory party conference September 30 to October 3 before starting real talks with the EU.

ENTER STAGE LEFT — A CHANGE OF HEART? “We would like the almost impossible to happen … that the U.K. has another referendum,” Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said on Thursday. Andrej Babiš, from the Czech Republic, also said he is “very unhappy” that the U.K. is leaving the bloc and he would like to see the country hold another referendum that might overturn the result.

No no no no: “I know that for many of you, Brexit is not something you want, but it’s important to be clear: There will be no second referendum in the U.K.,” May told leaders. Also, “We all recognize that time is short but delaying or extending these negotiations is not an option.”

FURTHER READING: David Herzsenhorn and Jacopo Barigazzi have the full wrap-up of what was a rocky mountain summit here. Tom McTague looks at where the two sides now stand on the seemingly intractable Irish border issue. And tune in this morning when POLITICO reporters discuss the Salzburg summit and more at 11 a.m. on Facebook Live.

THE REAL SALZBURG DRAMA: You may think Brexit and migration were enough, but as David and Jacopo reveal, the real drama happened behind the scenes. First, there was no coffee. Then, “security lines backed up as television journalists argued with guards who wanted to confiscate creams, make-up and shaving kits.” That wasn’t all. “The Wi-Fi crashed. The media center was far too small for the 1,000 journalists in attendance and, thanks to a glass roof and unseasonably warm September weather, it effectively turned the building into a sauna. The breakdowns continued until the very end, when the audio feed failed during German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s closing news conference.”

Deep breath. “One EU ambassador and one nation’s Europe minister, seeking a bathroom and a glass of water, were blocked from even entering the Felsenreitschule, where leaders ate their Wiener schnitzel.” Still, Donald Tusk was impressed. It was a “remarkable summit,” he said, “truly impressive; the hospitality, the logistics, and it is not an empty compliment. It is one of the best political performances I ever experienced.”


WILL TRUMP LOSE PATIENCE WITH EU TRADE TALKS? Paris is worried that Donald Trump may lose patience with the recently launched trade talks with the EU and renew his threat to impose tariffs on European autos, according to French Ambassador to the U.S. Gérard Araud. “We’re not sure that the president, your president, has the patience really to wait” for a deal that could take a while to negotiate, Araud told reporters at a breakfast organized by the French embassy, Doug Palmer reports for POLITICO Trade and Agriculture and Food Pros. “So the coming months will be critical — whether we have a sort of virtuous negotiation starting between the U.S. and Europe and we forget the tariffs, the threats, the trade war, or whether actually we go back to a trade war.”