27-07-2018 | EYE ON GREECE | EU

27-07-2018 | EYE ON GREECE |

Friday, July 27, 2018

Minister says ‘serious indications’ of arson behind deadly wildfire

In what was seen as a bid Thursday to minimize the political cost of the natural disaster in eastern Attica, government officials did not rule out the possibility of arson.


Over 1,280 buildings deemed unfit for use after fire

Almost 2,500 inspections conducted on Tuesday and Wednesday found that half of all the buildings that were damaged by Monday’s deadly fire in east Attica are unfit for use.


Govt hastily withdraws amendment lifting salary cap for top execs at state-run enterprises, utilities

A midsummer night’s draft amendment that would have excluded the presidents, CEOs and managing directors of various state-owned entities – and their subsidiaries – from a monthly salary ceiling of 4,631 euros was hastily withdrawn by the leftist-rightist coalition government on Thursday after a firestorm of criticism.


Govt coalition parties ‘boycott’ media outlet amid sharp criticism over wildfire destruction, deaths

The two parties comprising the current Tsipras coalition government, radical leftist SYRIZA and its small junior partner, the right-wing AN.EL party, on Thursday reacted to fiery press criticism in the wake of Monday’s deadly wildfire by “boycotting” Athens broadcaster Skai – among its most vocal media critics.


Draghi rules out QE and waiver extension for Greece

European Central Bank President Mario Draghi on Thursday put a definitive end to any hopes of Greece’s inclusion in the bond-buying program (QE) and the extension of the waiver that allows Greek debt to be accepted as collateral for regular auctions of ECB cash, despite the junk rating of Greek bonds.


Moody’s: Greece’s credit profile supported by recent debt relief, euro area support

Moody’s refers to a need for greater investments in order to maintain economic growth in Greece over the medium term, while also adding that the country’s debt is “manageable” over the next 10 years. In a report released on Thursday, Moody’s primary scenario – a Greek debt of 180 percent of GDP – will begin to decrease as of 2019 and afterwards, and will remain high for the next few decades.


ATHEX: Happy end to a session with little action

The selling spree observed during the first few hours of trade on the Greek stock market on Thursday was reversed as the session went along, and the benchmark eventually recorded a second consecutive day of gains, although turnover remained below the 20-million-euro mark.







KATHIMERINI:  The government abdicates all responsibilities

ETHNOS:  The two sides of the same coin

TA NEA:  The government is incompetent and provocative

EFIMERIDA TON SYNTAKTON:  Following the trails of the arsonists

AVGI:  Strong indications for arson

RIZOSPASTIS:  There is no absolution for the crime

KONTRA NEWS:  We need bulldozers in Attica before we mourn any more victims

DIMOKRATIA:  Oh, my God! The things they had to live through!

NAFTEMPORIKI:  Roadmap for tax-incentives

SPELLING IT OUT: Jean-Claude Juncker and Donald Trump agree that they agreed to a deal. But what that deal actually includes — or, crucially, doesn’t — is murkier territory (more on that below).

Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström will lead efforts to flesh out the details on the EU side, alongside Europe’s ambassador to the U.S. David O’Sullivan and Director-General for Trade Jean-Luc Demarty, according to EU officials briefed on the plans. All of three were at the table in the White House’s Cabinet room on Wednesday. The idea, we’re told, is for the composition of the working group to vary according to what is on the agenda. U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer will lead team Trump. No date has been set but the aim is to start talks “immediately.” We’ll get into the new transatlantic love in a minute, but first…

SALZBURG! ZAUBERFLÖTE! Politics happen in some unexpected places, and so it’s a Salzburg premiere of Mozart’s Zauberflöte that will act as the backdrop for a get together between Theresa May, her host Sebastian Kurz, Jüri Ratas from Estonia and Andrej Babiš from the Czech Republic. Talks, then opera, is the plan. The Magic Flute is, for good reason, Mozart’s most popular opera as it’s one of the easiest to follow — it works for everybody, really! — and the most difficult to sing.

GOOD FRIDAY MORNING. A week of political conversions is almost behind us. Let’s recap: Donald Trump now loves the EU, which was a “foe” only last week. U.K. Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab, who issued a “war cry” Thursday morning and suggested Britain not pay its Brexit bill, was quick to say an “agreement on the financial settlement” was reached with his EU counterpart in Brussels later in the day. And Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini has discovered his Catholic side and wants to make crucifixes in public buildings mandatory.

Germany’s Horst Seehofer — whose conservative CSU party, by the way, has had some unlucky experiences with a very similar proposal — appears to have converted to trilateralism, telling FAZ in an interview in today’s paper he’d be “crazy” to repeat threats to unilaterally close Germany’s border to Austria. He said talks between Italy, Austria and Germany were well underway and predicted results in early August.

Emmanuel Macron also got in on the action, and now appears to have changed his position on the press, which he blamed for blowing his summer scandal out of proportion. In January, he had a slightly different take: “You have never heard me being disrespectful toward the press, and you never will.”

These days, flip-flopping politicians might not be all that surprising. But another change of heart, this one at Brussels’ Pizzeria Nona, truly was. Playbook overheard diners praising — in plain Neapolitan — their pizzas as tasting just like they do at home and concluding they’ll “need to come to Brussels again.”

You might also want to look up at the sky: Tonight, this century’s longest “blood moon” coincides with Mars’ closest approach in 15 years. The moon will be in total eclipse at 9.30 p.m. Brussels time, and visible for close to two hours. You can watch it all live here — or go outside.


OPERATION TRUE LOVE: Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and his team — who landed in Brussels Thursday afternoon on a commercial flight, connecting from Washington via Frankfurt — were perhaps only half-jokingly disappointed there was no crowd to welcome them home as heroes for clinching a deal that avoided a fully-fledged trade war. Operation True Love started with a gift from Juncker: a photo of American soldiers liberating Luxembourg in WWII and the grave of U.S. General George Patton, who is buried in Luxembourg. “To Donald, we have history in common,” Juncker wrote.

So who won? Here’s a quick rundown of who’s happy and who isn’t, who has the upper hand and who might not yet have realized it’s not about them for once. This is how things stand on Day Two.

WHO’S HAPPY: Austria’s Chancellor Sebastian Kurz and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte; German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas and German Economy Minister Peter Altmaier, who was among the first to react. In the European Parliament, Manfred Weber from the European People’s Party, Udo Bullmann from S&D, and Reinhard Bütikofer, chairman of the European Green Party. Basically, most everyone in Europe, unless they’re French, ill-humored or policy nerds. ALDE leader Guy Verhofstadt‘s enthusiasm was slightly dimmed.

Why the praise? The two leaders avoided escalation, meaning there’ll be a pause in new measures for now and exports worth €50 billion a year escaped new tariffs. (That’s 100 hamburgers from a certain American global chain for every single EU citizen, if you’re in the mood for a silly comparison.) American tariffs on EU steel put in place earlier this year will be reassessed too. And, crucially, reason appears to finally be playing a role in trade talks between the U.S. and the EU — perhaps for the first time since Trump took office.

LESS HAPPY: France’s Emmanuel Macron set out a few conditions to the joint Juncker and Trump approach: France doesn’t want a big deal, let alone for TTIP talks to be resumed; agriculture must be left out of any negotiations; and public procurement in the U.S. should be opened up to European companies. It also wants to see a signal of good will from Trump at some point, in the form of a decision to scrap those steel and aluminium tariffs.

Why the reluctance? Questions of credibility: Macron promised not to negotiate under threat. Not to mention France doesn’t have much to gain (or lose, for that matter) from Juncker’s deal.

SAVED, AND SCREWED: Team Juncker averted new tariffs for the European car industry (for now), so you’d expect there to be fireworks and glowing press releases. But Juncker and Trump also set in motion a process to reduce to zero tariffs on industrial goods — with the explicit exception of cars and car parts. In another change of heart, Trump now appears to adhere to the popular belief that if car tariffs were scrapped to zero — and products were to compete on merit — that would not necessarily mean fewer Mercedeses and BMWs on American roads but, heaven forbid, possibly even MORE.

Poor carmakers: For once there’s a deal not entirely designed to meet their needs.

FOR THE LINGUISTS AND PHILOSOPHERS: Can you really call it a “concession” when you avoid something — say car tariffs — that was not much more than a future possibility, even if you thought it might be an imminent one? Can the EU really call maintaining the status quo a success? And can resolving a problem for farmers Trump himself created really be chalked up as a victory for the U.S.?

All good questions, in normal times. Folks, these aren’t normal times. Normal people don’t go from “foe” to “love” within days. And very few people understand global trade in such literal terms that having a deficit means “we lose.” The top priority for any holder of public office is typically to mitigate risk. Trump, and the way he functions, is himself a not-negligible risk to the prosperity of the rest of the world.

WIGGLE ROOM? How long will the deal hold? Trade Secretary Wilbur Ross made a first attempt to sneak the whole agriculture sector into the scope of the agreement (rather than only soy beans), as did Lighthizer: “Our view is we are negotiating about agriculture,” Lighthizer said at a Senate Appropriations subcommittee hearing on Thursday. “That’s part of the project.”

The exact program will be agreed in an “Executive Working Group of our closest advisors” set up by Trump and Juncker. Still, an EU official briefing reporters said agriculture was “not part of the scope of the talks,” adding that it was “clear” the U.S. would have liked it to be. “Mr. Ross can say what he wishes but it doesn’t correspond” with the joint statement, which by the way, was read “in its integrity by Trump in the press conference, so there is no ambiguity in this regard,” the official noted.

That was, as Playbook reported, the reason Juncker why insisted on having a joint written statement in the first place — to make it tweet-proof. It has worked so far, for a whole 30 hours, and maybe there’s a pattern here: At the NATO summit earlier in July and at Wednesday’s trade talks in Washington, Trump was offered a face-saving way out of a dead-end of his own making with the chance to sell the other side’s supposed concessions as a big win.


WASHINGTON FALLOUT: Britain won’t be too happy with the D.C. deal either, writes David Herszenhorn: “What’s bad for May in the Brexit context is that Juncker pulled off his unexpected deal by sticking hard and fast to EU principles and priorities … Juncker not only did not cross or redraw any EU red lines, he didn’t even tiptoe up close to one. Instead, he took out his red magic marker, and went over all the lines a few extra times to brighten and clarify: The EU is the world champion of rules-based international free trade, it opposes tariffs and wants to strengthen the World Trade Organization. And it doesn’t back down.”

Point in case: The EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, wasn’t in the mood for niceties and quite brutally shot down Theresa May’s sophisticated (to the point it’s hard to understand) post-Brexit customs plan: “The EU cannot — and the EU will not — delegate the application of its customs policy and rules, VAT and excise duty collection, to a non-member who would not be subject to the EU’s governance structures,” Barnier said. David again, here.

A NEW DARK AGE: Efforts to “modernize” and integrate Muslim populations across Europe in the name of security unfairly target immigrant communities and threaten to undermine religious freedom, Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt writes in an oped for POLITICO. “In our blind mistrust of religious differences, we are returning to the Middle Ages, when the only model for integration was the forced conversion of the minority religion to the majority.”

BEWARE THE TROJAN HORSES: European Commissioner Johannes Hahn sounded the alarm about China’s role in the Western Balkans, warning that Beijing could turn countries in the region into Trojan horses that would one day be EU members. “I think this will be one of the great challenges of Europe,” he told POLITICO. More here, and on POLITICO’s EU Confidential podcast.