23-01-2018 | EYE ON GREECE | EU

23-01-2018 | EYE ON GREECE | EU

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Greece wraps up third review at Eurogroup

The Eurogroup on Monday gave a conditional go-ahead for the release of 6.7 billion euros to Greece and for the start of technical talks for debt relief after the other 18 eurozone finance ministers said on Monday that the country had implemented almost all the prior actions to conclude the third review of its third bailout.

Regling: Upcoming bailout tranche to Greece in two instalments; second tranche depends on e-auctions

European Stability Mechanism (ESM) Managing Director Klaus Regling on Monday said a pending loan tranche to Greece – worth 6.7 billion euros – will be divided into two sub-tranches, with the first (5.7 billion euros) disbursed with the implementation of remaining “prior actions” demanded by creditors from Athens.

http://www.naftemporiki.gr/story/1314170/regling-upcoming-bailout-tranche-to-greece-in-two-instalments-second-tranche-depends-on-e-auctions

Closely watched Tsipras – Zaev meeting on Wed.

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’ office on Monday announced the latter’s itinerary for the World Economic Forum in Davos, beginning on Tuesday, with Wednesday meeting with his counterpart from the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (fYRoM), Zoran Zaev, drawing most of the attention – at least by local media.

http://www.naftemporiki.gr/story/1314150/closely-watched-tsipras-zaev-meeting-on-wed

State of emergency declared in western Lesvos after heavy rain

Torrential rainfall on Sunday evening caused landslides and extensive flooding for the second time in a week in the western part of the island of Lesvos, authorities said on Monday.

http://www.ekathimerini.com/225141/article/ekathimerini/news/state-of-emergency-declared-in-western-lesvos-after-heavy-rain

Greek current account deficit shrinks in November, tourism revenues rise

Greece’s current account deficit shrank in November 2017 compared to the same month a year earlier on the back of a lower trade gap, the Bank of Greece said on Monday.

http://www.ekathimerini.com/225124/article/ekathimerini/business/greek-current-account-deficit-shrinks-in-november-tourism-revenues-rise

Greek short-dated bond yields tumble after S&P lifts Greece’s ratings

Greece’s short-dated government bond yields fell on Monday following a decision by S&P Global Ratings to upgrade Greece for the first time in two years.

http://www.ekathimerini.com/225127/article/ekathimerini/business/greek-short-dated-bond-yields-tumble-after-sp-lifts-greeces-ratings

ATHEX: S&P sends index near to three-year highs

Greece’s credit rating upgrade by Standard & Poor’s from B- to B, with a positive outlook, continued to bolster the local stock market on Monday, sending the benchmark to highs unseen in almost three years. The Eurogroup meeting was seen as a mere formality and did not affect proceedings at Athinon Avenue.

http://www.ekathimerini.com/225147/article/ekathimerini/business/athex-sp-sends-index-near-to-three-year-highs

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KATHIMERINI: Government maneuvers after the large protest on the name-dispute with Skopje

ETHNOS: Main opposition party New Democracy resembles the Tower of Babel

TA NEA: 130,000 auctions to take place in the next four years

EFIMERIDA TON SYNTAKTON: A far-right ghost haunts main opposition New Democracy party

RIZOSPASTIS: Join the Communist party in the fight against capitalistic governments and imperialistic plans

KONTRA NEWS: Former PM Karamanlis is ready to intervene in order to save main opposition party New Democracy

DIMOKRATIA: The large protest on the name-dispute with Skopje terrified the government!

NAFTEMPORIKI: The talks on the restructure of the Greek debt have begun

MEET DEFEATIST DAVOS MAN

Life without helicopters sucks, doesn’t it? By not leaving themselves enough time for anything other than a seamless private journey, the global elite missed their own party in Davos Monday. Here’s Playbook sketch of the first day at the Forum. Among the lucky few who actually made it up the mountain, many had simply given up — in very un-Davos-like fashion — and retreated to their rooms or the nearest bar (those that weren’t stuck in gondolas or evacuated due to avalanche risk, that is.)

If it continues, today may be the first time in history Canada’s Justin Trudeau faces a half-empty room. Listen to our Davos Confidential podcast previewing the day’s action here, featuring interviews with International Trade Centre’s Arancha González, and Brett Solomon of Access Now.

AROUND THE EU INSTITUTIONS

COMMISSION — AUSTRIA TO SUE EU OVER HUNGARY’S PAKS NUCLEAR PLANT EXPANSION: Vienna is preparing a complaint against Hungary’s state aid for the Paks II nuclear power project in the European Court of Justice, it announced on Monday. The Commission authorized the state aid in March 2017, and appeals are due by February 26. “We’ve agreed that a complaint on the European level against state aid, which the European Commission greenlighted, is possible and legally enforceable,” Sustainability Minister Elisabeth Köstinger said. “The Commission will defend its decision in Court,” said Commission spokesman Ricardo Cardoso. The Hungarian prime minister’s office stressed in an emailed statement that Paks II will guarantee that the country’s electricity remains “cheap, dependable and safe” in the long-term.

COMMISSION — EU PENSION FUND DILEMMA: Current and former Eurocrats beware: The Commission like many organizations faces potential pension funding gaps. Pension liabilities have already been an issue in the Brexit debate, with Brussels wanting to be sure the U.K. covers its share of the eventual liabilities. German newspapers also reported that a former EU pensions fund could empty out by 2026. In the worst case scenario, EU tax payers would be on the hook for €362 million.

TODAY IN PARLIAMENT…

Brexit and the 73 MEP question: Guy Verhofstadt and Danuta Hübner from the European Parliament’s Brexit steering group will update the constitutional affairs committee on the state of play of Brexit negotiations. The committee will then vote on reducing the assembly’s size and introducing transnational MEP lists for the European election in 2019. POLITICO’s Maïa de la Baume reports that “the fight over transnational lists has effectively been postponed, with MEPs coalescing around a formula that redistributes 27 seats while keeping the others in reserve.”

Foreign affairs: MEPs will hear from the EU’s External Action Service about the situation of Myanmar’s Rohingya minority, and from Leo Hoffmann-Axthelm, a representative of International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, which won the Nobel Peace Prize, as well as Austrian Ambassador to the EU Political and Security Committee Alexander Kmentt.

Trade: MEPs will debate foreign investment screening, and Commissioner Cecilia Malmström will update the Parliament on the finalization of the EU-Japan Economic Partnership Agreement. In recent weeks, the EU’s trade momentum has run up against fears that some Asian governments, including in Vietnam, aren’t doing enough to stamp out sweatshops. “Workers are hired and laid off without any security, working times are not respected and workers who fight for fairer conditions have been fired,” Bernd Lange, the committee’s chairman, told POLITICO’s Jakob Hanke, referring to conditions in smartphone factories in Vietnam.

Watch the live streams here.

EUROGROUP — MÁRIO CENTENO’S FIRST DAY: In a generally positive statement the Eurogroup said Greece was progressing toward the end of its bailout but continued to miss some key milestones.

EUROGROUP — HANS VIJLBRIEF TO RUN WORKING GROUP: The Dutchman, formerly the chairman of the board of directors of the European Financial Stability Facility, will take over from Thomas Wieser as head of the Eurogroup working group (EWG) on February 1. The EWG prepares the Eurogroup’s meetings and includes representatives from member states of the Economic and Financial Committee, the European Commission and the European Central Bank. Vijlbrief will also serve as president of the Economic and Financial Committee, which prepares the ECOFIN Council and promotes policy coordination among EU members.

COUNCIL — FOREIGN AFFAIRS CONCLUSIONS: The EU’s foreign ministers imposed sanctions on seven Venezuelan politicians and 18 North Korean nationals on Monday. They also met the U.N.’s Special Representative for Libya, Ghassan Salamé, signed off on a new strategy for Iraq, and put out a statement in support of elections in Zimbabwe. An attempt by President Mahmoud Abbas to secure their support for the recognition of Palestine was rejected, reports POLITICO’s Jacopo Barigazzi.

COUNCIL — POLISH CHARM OFFENSIVE: The new Polish government’s attempt to mend fences with Brussels is well under way. Both President Andrzej Duda and Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki will be on stage in Davos this week. Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz met with Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans Sunday before shaking hands with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and foreign ministers from seven EU member countries on Monday.

COUNCIL BY THE NUMBERS — 50: The number of pages of questions EU governments have about the Commission’s planned reforms to agriculture policy (mostly the CAP subsidy system). Read them here.

COUNCIL — FINANCE MINISTERS GET TOGETHER: Finance ministers from all 28 EU countries will discuss the development of the eurozone, as well as the problem of non-performing loans in the banking sector (the Commission plans to launch more measures in coming months).

Greek funds: Eurozone finance ministers gave the green light for funds worth €6.7 billion to be disbursed to Athens. “We welcomed the adoption of nearly all agreed prior actions and mandated the [Eurogroup working group] to check the completion of the remaining ones in the coming weeks,” said newly-installed Eurogroup President Mário Centeno.

Eurogroup cut down to size: Christoph Schmidt observed that without former Eurogroup chief Jeroen Dijsselbloem, all the EU institution presidents are basically the same height.

DIGITAL POLITICS

SHERYL LEANS IN: As part of Facebook’s new PR and policy charm offensive, COO Sheryl Sandberg will meet Commissioners Andrus Ansip, Vĕra Jourová, Dimitris Avramopoulos and Mariya Gabriel today before she heads to Davos. Here’s a headline Facebook probably doesn’t want the commissioners to read before they meet: “Cambodia’s Leader Shut Down Democracy — With A Little Help From Facebook” by Buzzfeed’s Megha Rajagopalan.

GOOGLE BEWARE: First EU antitrust officials sanctioned Google’s shopping business. Now Yelp wants them to turn their attention to the way the search giant displays results for local queries ranging from restaurants to doctors. In Yelp’s telling, Google caused a significant fall in their traffic and hurt consumers who are not shown the best answer to their queries — resulting in them announcing the closure of their European operation in 2016. Nicholas Hirst has the full story for POLITICO’s Tech Pros.

EU NATIONAL NEWS

GERMANY — COALITION TALKS TIMELINE: Formal negotiations between Angela Merkel’s conservatives and the Social Democrats begin this week. Merkel wants them concluded by Rose Monday (February 12). If SPD members approve the deal, which is far from certain,  she could be appointed chancellor a month later, the week of March 12.

SPAIN — COURT REJECTS CALL TO REACTIVATE ARREST WARRANT: Spain’s Supreme Court rejected a request to reactivate a European arrest warrant for exiled former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont, who was in Denmark to give a speech on Monday.

BULGARIA — WOMEN’S RIGHTS CONVENTION: The Council of Europe’s human rights commissioner, Nils Muižnieks, sent a letter to Bulgarian lawmakers urging them to vote in favor of the Istanbul Convention on preventing violence against women. The Bulgarian Orthodox Church said doing so could lead to “moral decay.”

Defense minister wades into Macedonia feud: The party of Krasimir Karakachanov, Bulgaria’s defense minister and one of Prime Minister Boyko Borisov’s far-right deputy prime ministers, accused Greece of trying to “usurp” the name “Macedonia,” siding with Skopje in the dispute over the country’s name.

ITALY — BERLUSCONI TO ‘RESPECT’ DEFICIT LIMIT: Silvio Berlusconi on a trip to Brussels claimed he would respect the EU’s three percent deficit rule. The Forza Italia leader was in town to meet Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker and European People’s Party Secretary General Antonio López-Istúriz White. His comments put him at odds with European Parliament President Antonio Tajani, who said over the weekend that the policy wasn’t “dogma.” Meanwhile, Luigi di Maio, leader of Italy’s 5Star Movement confirmed he had backed away from a referendum on Italy’s membership of the eurozone as he launched his party’s manifesto.

From the outside, the protagonists in Italy’s election on March 4 seem obvious. But in the parlors and political parties of Rome, a different game is playing out. POLITICO’s Jacopo Barigazzi has the seven official and unofficial contenders to watch.

ROMANIA — CRIMINAL SUSPECTS CAN ENTER GOVERNMENT, SAYS PSD LEADER: Liviu Dragnea — who has a suspended jail sentence for election fraud — said Monday that individuals under criminal investigation could still serve as ministers in the government.

BREXIT 360°

MEET MATTHEW HANCOCK, TECH ALLY IN THE BREXIT STORM: He’s the man at the forefront of one of the few policy debates other than Brexit to make headlines in the U.K., reports POLITICO’s Annabelle Dickson.

FRANCE HIRES CUSTOMS OFFICIALS: France will hire an extra 95 customs officers this year in a fast-track procedure to cope with the consequences of Brexit on its borders, according to Reuters.

BEYOND EU

WASHINGTON — SHUTDOWN ON PAUSE: Congress has until February 8 to strike another deal or the government closes again. And the parties remain far apart on spending and immigration, reports POLITICO’s Rachael Bade.

WESTERN BALKANS — WRONG STRATEGY: The European Commission’s new blueprint for EU enlargement is ambitious but misreads the threat to democracy in the region, writes Toby Vogel for Balkan Insight.

RUSSIA — COURT SHUTS DOWN NAVALNY FOUNDATION: A Moscow court ruled to shut down the foundation of opposition leader Alexei Navalny, just a week after authorities first pressed charges against it.

TURKEY — ANKARA INTENSIFIES SYRIA ATTACK: Turkey’s military operation in Afrin against a U.S.-backed Kurdish force will continue “until the last terrorist is neutralized,” General Hulusi Akar said Monday. Germany’s Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel is under growing pressure to halt arms sales to Ankara.