26-07-2018 | EYE ON GREECE | EU

26-07-2018 | EYE ON GREECE |

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Frantic efforts continue to locate dozens of people missing after deadly wildfire; death toll at 81

The exact number of missing persons in the wake of a deadly wildfire in eastern Attica prefecture – east of the greater Athens area – remains unknown as of Wednesday morning, while the wildfire-related death toll rose to 81, many of which are children.


Greek govt announces financial aid for wildfire-ravaged areas

The Greek government on Wednesday afternoon announced urgent relief measures for the survivors of Monday’s deadly wildfire in eastern Attica prefecture.


Bulgaria warns Greece, Turkey of floods

Bulgaria has warned its southern neighbors Greece and Turkey they could face floods as heavy rains are expected to swell the Arda and Maritsa rivers flowing into their territories.


German finance ministry calculates recent Greek debt relief measures at 34 bln€

Germanys finance ministry calculates the most recently extended Greek debt relief measures as totaling 34 billion euros, according to a report on Wednesday by the financial daily FAZ.


Strong activity among bidders for PPC plants

Contacts between candidate buyers of Public Power Corporation’s coal-fired plants are increasing ahead of the July 31 deadline for the submission to the European Commission of the consortiums to enter the second stage of the tender.


Greek bank deposits rise in June for fifth month in a row

Greek bank deposits rose in June for a fifth consecutive month, increasing by 1.3 billion euros ($1.52 billion), central bank data showed on Wednesday.


ATHEX: Index halts four-day losing streak

Greek stocks continued to move in a narrow range for another day yesterday, with the majority ending lower again, but the benchmark at Athinon Avenue put an end to its four-day losing streak and posted a moderate rise, mainly assisted by the fresh drop in Greek bond yields. The only thing that seems to pique investor interest these days is listed firms’ general meetings.







KATHIMERINI:  The nightmare of the next day

ETHNOS:  Shocking stories from the wildfires

TA NEA:  Time for liabilities to be investigated

EFIMERIDA TON SYNTAKTON:  The great ‘whys’ of the catastrophe

AVGI:  The power of solidarity

RIZOSPASTIS:  Solidarity and mobilization

KONTRA NEWS:  Brave measures within 48 hours for those hit by the wildfires

ΤO PONTIKI:  Oh, poor and burned Greece!

DIMOKRATIA:  Too late for tears

NAFTEMPORIKI:  Taxes and consumption eat up bank deposits

JUNCKER ON THE PHONE: “We negotiated for three and a half hours. It’s good what we’ve managed to agree on,” Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker told Playbook over the phone on the way to the airport after his meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump. What was the big win for the EU, according to Juncker? “He has agreed to not increase tariffs on cars as long as we are on negotiating terms.”

How did it go, Mr. President? “Talks were alleviated by the fact that we get along well, surprisingly,” Juncker told Playbook. Trump “appreciates that I challenged him twice at G7 meetings, hard at it but polite in tone. He doesn’t like those who beat about the bush.”

It’s love: Channeling Brezhnev, Juncker kissed Trump, and Trump tweeted about it, saying that “obviously” the EU and U.S. “love each other.”

DEALMAKERS-IN-CHIEF: We may have witnessed a defining career — or legacy — moment for Juncker. He returns to Europe having averted new tariffs on EU car exports to the U.S., which are worth some €50 billion a year. “I came for a deal; we made a deal,” Juncker boldly declared at a joint Rose Garden appearance with Trump after the meeting — before leaving Trump’s hand hanging and walking off.

Get up to speed: 1) Read the joint EU-U.S. statement2) Watch the press conference here3 ) Read about what happened overnight; 4) Read Juncker’s declaration of victory at a subsequent think tank appearance.

The sticking points …

Cars: Existing car tariffs on both sides aren’t included in the assessment of “existing tariff measures,” a participant of the meeting told Playbook, as “tariff measures” refer to Trump’s trade-war salvos only. That’s because Trump understands that removing car tariffs entirely would lead to more European cars on American streets, we’re told.

Agriculture: Juncker told Trump he doesn’t have a mandate to talk farming — with the notable exception of soybeans. That’s important for Trump because prices for American soybeans have recently tanked as a result of China’s tariffs, imposed in response to the U.S. trade war. The EU has zero tariffs for soy in place, and European farmers are now eagerly buying up cheap soy from the Midwest. What could go wrong, other than the Commission canteen having to adapt its menu?

Gas: The EU also has zero tariffs in place for imports of American liquefied natural gas. Juncker promised Trump that the EU would invest in new LNG terminals. In truth, this is also already happening, part of the long-established Juncker Plan and the EU’s strategy to diversify away from dependence on Russia. And while LNG from the U.S. isn’t currently competitive price-wise, the market price of natural gas has gone up recently. But there is one hurdle: American red tape, which prohibits selling to partners without having a trade agreement in place. One EU official told us this was brought up in the meeting.

Medical devices: Wondering why these were mentioned in the joint EU-U.S. statement? Juncker offered to aim for common standards. The fact that no such common standards exist, which acts as a trade barrier, was brought to Trump’s attention during Dutch PM Mark Rutte’s recent visit to Washington (he was accompanied by Philips CEO Frans van Houten).

Bottom line: To get what he wanted, Juncker promised Trump things that have already happened. Expect some noise from France (on agricultural products) and Germany (on gas), and perhaps some murmurings about the fact that Trump didn’t unconditionally surrender, but chalk this one up as a Juncker victory.

SHHH! NOBODY TELL TRUMP! The U.S. president may have made major concessions during a moment of weakness — Juncker arrived in D.C. at the perfect time, with Trump facing pressure over the way his tariffs had hurt farmers, and heat over his hostile dealings with old allies and cozying up to Moscow. A truce with Europe was in Trump’s interests. Andrew Restuccia has more on Trump’s abrupt shift, getting tough on Russia (and postponing the second Putin summit) and palling up to the EU.

But all this can quickly change. It was his economic adviser Larry Kudlow to whom Trump turned on Wednesday, not White House trade supremo Peter Navarro. (Despite there being 11 participants from each side, Navarro wasn’t even allowed at the table, according to a seating plan of the meeting that Playbook has seen.) “Today he trusted Larry; tomorrow, he can trust someone else,” we’re told.

There are no illusions on the EU side. With one tweet, the trade war could be back on.

HOW IT ALL CAME TOGETHER: Things started off rather well, given the circumstances. Juncker appeared to have struck the right note, reminding Trump that two massive trading blocs were sitting alongside one another. “We are close partners, allies not enemies; we have to work together,” Juncker told Trump. “We represent half of the world trade between us, so we have to talk with one another and not at one another and I think that’s what we do today.”

Trump responded in kind (after calling Juncker  “a very smart guy and a very tough guy.”) “As Jean-Claude said, together, as a union, we make up actually more than 50 percent of the world trade. That’s a big number. So we expect something very positive to take place,” he said.

“Trump wanted a deal,” one participant of the meeting told us. It was the U.S. president who proposed the unexpected press conference after the meeting, while the EU insisted on issuing a joint statement too — the idea is that if it’s all down on paper, it’ll be more difficult for an errant tweet to dispute what was agreed.

Behind the scenes: Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström did a hell of a lot of the shoe-leather diplomacy in Congress, appealing to both Republicans and Democrats. She also met with the Trump administration between Juncker’s arrival on Tuesday and the White House meeting on Wednesday. The Commission’s Secretary-General Martin Selmayr was also involved, Larry Kudlow told Fox News, saying that he met with EU senior staff, “including Juncker’s right-hand man, for a long time yesterday. He added: “They have a positive attitude; so do we. Expectations are so low, people may be very surprised by the outcome.”

Now read this: The White House denied access to a CNN reporter for the Juncker-Trump press conference, accusing her of asking “inappropriate” questions earlier in the day.


Wednesday was a busy day at the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg. Here’s a rundown to help you catch up.

RULE OF LAW IS ANY EU CITIZEN’S RIGHT: Ireland can refuse to extradite an alleged drug dealer to Poland over concerns that he may not receive a fair trial, according to Wednesday’s most political court ruling. The judgment paves the way for Ireland’s judiciary to deliver a big blow to Poland’s legal system — if Irish courts block the European Arrest Warrant, they will in effect be deciding that Poland’s judiciary is subject to “systemic failures.” Bottom line: The ECJ just allowed European countries to protect EU citizens from the legal systems of other countries in the Union. Maïa de la Baume and Magdaline Duncan have the details.

The impact of the ruling is huge, politically. The ECJ’s decision is probably worse for Poland’s PiS government than any naming and shaming it has faced from peers.

The pressure’s on not only on Poland, but, according to Green Bundestag member Franziska Brantner, also on Hungary. “The problem is not only a legal one, but also a political one that goes beyond Poland,” she told me when we chatted about the ruling. “In Hungary, too, European values are in massive danger. Therefore Manfred Weber must finally define clear red lines and exclude the Fidesz from the EPP.”

GMO RULING SHOCK: It turns out that new plant breeding techniques are in fact genetically modified organisms. In handing down that verdict, the ECJ made a rare departure from the prior opinion of its advocate general. Our food and agri team tells us the ruling essentially means companies will struggle (and most likely fail) to get any products borne from new plant breeding techniques onto the market. Read the full story here.

ENERGY REGULATION IS DUST-BAG NEUTRAL … This ruling ends a battle by British manufacturer Dyson, which claimed competitor BSH advertised its vacuums as being more efficient than they really are. Dyson argued that vacuums that use dust bags become less efficient the more full they get, which should be reflected in testing and, eventually, on energy efficiency labels. The court disagreed. “The lack of reference to a vacuum cleaner’s testing conditions is not capable of constituting a misleading omission,” it said. More info here for our Sustainability and Energy and Climate pros.

…WHILE COPYRIGHT LAW IS AGNOSTIC ON TASTE:  You cannot copyright the taste of cheese, or indeed any other foodstuff, the EU’s highest court was advised by Advocate General Melchior Wathelet. The dispute between two Dutch cheesemakers was over two spreadable, white things that — according to the claimant — tasted the same. “The flavor of a food product cannot be compared with any of the ‘works’ protected” by copyright legislation, Wathelet wrote, “and, to my knowledge, no other provision in international law protects, by copyright, the flavor of a food product.” Kait Bolongaro has more.

… AND ECJ GIVES KIT KATS THE FINGER: The ECJ also struck down Nestlé’s years-long attempt to hold onto an EU trademark for the four-fingered shape of Kit Kats, inviting the European Union Intellectual Property Office to re-examine the appeal. Details here.

THANK YOU, BUT NO POPULAR FOREIGN LANGUAGES NEEDED: Advocate General Eleanor Sharpston sided with Spain, which contested a 2016 recruitment round for drivers for the European Parliament. Drivers can’t be obliged to speak English, French or German as a second language, she argued. It’s enough for them to know any two EU languages — even if they’re Irish and Maltese.


BRITAIN, DON’T BE A B: “I’m happily married. But I think if you b*tch a little every day over 30 years, you end up divorced. How could people think differently, that it’s no good?” — Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, speaking of Brexit. (Pardon our prudishness — we include the * so your spam filter doesn’t decide Playbook is something it isn’t.)

Speaking of unhappy marriages … it seems a loveless union isn’t grounds for divorce in the U.K. Go figure.


UK PREPARES TO WAVE THE BREXIT WHITE FLAG, BUT WOULD THERESA MAY SURVIVE THAT AS PRIME MINISTER? As U.K. MPs have left Westminster for the summer, “there is a growing sense that the only realistic option likely to be left open by the time they return in September will be total surrender to Brussels,” Tom McTague writes in today’s must-read Brexit story. “That would mean staying in the EU’s single market for the softest of Brexits to avoid either a ‘no-deal’ scenario, likely to be impossible to get through the House of Commons, or a customs border being erected between Northern Ireland and the rest of the U.K. — the only other option the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator has said he will accept … Capitulating to Brussels’ wish to see the U.K. stay in the EU’s single market may yet prove to be the U.K.’s best chance of avoiding a crisis, at least as a temporary solution, according to two government ministers who spoke on condition of anonymity.”

MACRON SEEKS TO REIN IN SILICON VALLEY — FROM BRUSSELS: French President Emmanuel Macron wants to impose tougher rules on the world’s biggest tech companies. And he plans to use next year’s European election to move his agenda forward, a minister and top officials told Joanna Plucinska.

Meanwhile, police have raided the Élysée: Or rather, the Élysée office of Macron’s disgraced former aide Alexandre Benalla. More details from France24.