28-08-2018 | EYE ON GREECE | EU

28-08-2018 | EYE ON GREECE |

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Dijsselbloem now optimistic over Greece’s prospects; says Varoufakis negotiations in 2015 catastrophic

Former Eurogroup president Jeroen Dijsselbloem, one of the protagonists in the 2015 Greek crisis that engulfed the Eurozone, on Monday expressed optimism over Greece’s future, speaking on an Athens television station’s live prime-time newscast.

https://www.naftemporiki.gr/story/1385215/dijsselbloem-now-optimistic-over-greeces-prospects-says-varoufakis-negotiations-in-2015-catastrophic

Interior minister to serve as new ruling SYRIZA party sec’t

The up-until-now interior minister, Panos Skourletis, has been appointed as the new secretary of ruling SYRIZA party’s central committee, a decision by Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras that more-or-less serves as a precursor for a Cabinet reshuffle in the coming days.

https://www.naftemporiki.gr/story/1385179/interior-minister-to-serve-as-new-ruling-syriza-party-sect

Review ordered into release of power executive from jail

Labor, Social Insurance and Social Solidarity Minister Efi Achtsioglou instructed umbrella social security fund EFKA to conduct a sworn administrative inquiry into the issuing of a disability certificate to Aris Floros, who was sentenced to 21 years in prison in 2017 for his involvement in a multi-million euro embezzlement scam.

http://www.ekathimerini.com/232034/article/ekathimerini/news/review-ordered-into-release-of-power-executive-from-jail

Mati wildfire death toll reaches 97

The death toll from a catastrophic wildfire that tore through the coastal Mati settlement in eastern Attica late last month has reached 97, after a 76-year-old man hospitalized in a burn unit for more than a month died on Sunday.

https://www.naftemporiki.gr/story/1385170/mati-wildfire-death-toll-reaches-97

Three men remanded over student’s death

Three men accused of the murder of a student during a mugging on Athens’ Philopappou Hill on August 15 have been jailed on remand after appearing before investigating magistrates.

http://www.ekathimerini.com/232037/article/ekathimerini/news/three-men-remanded-over-students-death

Power, water supply restored on Hydra after more than 24-hour blackout; operator apologizes

Greece’s electricity distribution network operator, DEDDHE, on Monday said power supply to the popular Saronic Gulf island of Hydra was restored in the afternoon, after a nearly 36-hour outage that also knocked out the water supply.

https://www.naftemporiki.gr/story/1385125/power-water-supply-restored-on-hydra-after-more-than-24-hour-blackout-operator-apologizes

ATHEX: Banks lead rise at Athens Exchange

Banks recorded robust gains on Monday, leading the benchmark at the Athens stock market higher in the first session of the week.

http://www.ekathimerini.com/232052/article/ekathimerini/business/athex-banks-lead-rise-at-athens-exchange

www.enikos.gr


www.protothema.gr

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KATHIMERINI:  Shameful summer incidents

ETHNOS:  The ‘stock market’ of the university entry exams

TA NEA:  Surprising grade-thresholds for popular university schools

EFIMERIDA TON SYNTAKTON:  Battle positions for the [upcoming] three elections

AVGI:  Tsipras announces left-leaning measures ad solutions

RIZOSPASTIS:  No compromise! Fight against the policies that turn the people’s lives into ashes

KONTRA NEWS:  The PM pledges the reduction of ENFIA real estate tax by 30%, large tax-exemptions, salary increases and the support of the financially weak

DIMOKRATIA:  Protesting barbarian migrants tore Greece into two by blocking the national highway

NAFTEMPORIKI:  Deregulation of the energy field ‘heats up’

END OF AN ERA: China is paving the way to ending its family planning policies. More from Reuters.

RIGHT WINGERS CROSS PARTY LINES: Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán will meet Italy’s Interior Minister Matteo Salvini in Milan today to find common ground on migration. The 5Stars’ Luigi Di Maio, meanwhile, reiterated in an interview with La Stampa that Rome wants Brussels to ensure EU countries take their fair share of refugees from Italy. (The Italian government has threatened all sorts of consequences if it fails.) We’re guessing that’s probably not something Salvini will be asking Orbán to do.

Playbook’s 3 takeaways on the meet and greet …

1. Xenophobia doesn’t just run in party families. Reminder: Orbán belongs to the European People’s Party (EPP), which defines itself as center-right, with an accent on the center.

2. It’s quite a stretch for Di Maio to argue his party, with its leftist roots, has not yet completely followed the League to the far right.

3. The whole thing exposes the center of gravity in Italy: It’s not the state, it’s not the government — it’s Salvini.

Jacopo Barigazzi and Lili Bayer outline the four things Salvini can learn from the Hungarian prime minister.

NOT A HAPPY CAMPER: Back to Di Maio, who also wasn’t happy about what Günther Oettinger told me in Monday’s Playbook. He accused the EU’s budget commissioner of not showing appropriate respect to the great Italian nation and said Oettinger’s comments demonstrated “what consideration they have of our country.” And he warned in a Facebook post, again: “If the immigration situation does not change soon, a veto [of the next budget framework] will be certain.”

 THE SPITZEN RACE IS ON   

OETTINGER BACKS WEBER: EPP group leader Manfred Weber has a friend and mentor in fellow German Brusseleir Günther Oettinger.

“The application process starts on September 6, so there are no applicants today,” Oettinger told Playbook in Alpbach the other day, speaking about the process of choosing the European People’s Party’s top candidate for next year’s EU election. That being said, “I consider Manfred Weber a credible and competent candidate and I am ready, within my limited possibilities, to promote and support him within the CDU [Germany’s conservative Christian Democratic Union].”

With that, Oettinger has opened the months-long circus of coalition building, endorsements and intrigue that will span from now until the EPP congress in November, where the conservatives’ Spitzenkandidat — aka “lead candidate” — will be elected. Whoever wins that race has a fair chance of getting the Commission presidency next year. But while the nomination is crucial, there’s no guarantee it’s more than a first step, Oettinger warned. “The whole process is now about to formally begin and will end only in the summer of next year.”

Tough tasks: Weber needs senior proponents within the CDU’s leading circles — like Oettinger — to convince Chancellor Angela Merkel that the job should be his, despite the fact he is a deputy leader of the Bavarian CSU, the CDU’s “sister” party, which has made Merkel’s life difficult in the past few months over migration. She’ll need to back him over another much-whispered-about would-be candidate — Economy Minister and Merkel loyalist Peter Altmaier. On a European level, Merkel will need to convince her EPP partners that it’s a good idea to have a German leading the group’s campaign for the Commission presidency next year.

WHY A GERMAN? Here’s Oettinger’s argument: “What is important is that there has never been a window of opportunity in which so many positions of the very first row of Europe have to be decided,” he told me. “We need to make sure that Europe will be able to act at the beginning of 2020. The chancellor, as head of government and party leader of the largest member party of the EPP — and in consultation with the CSU — has to decide what contribution she can make. This is not so much to represent German interests as to support Europe’s capacity to act when it comes to this personnel package.”

Empty chairs: Indeed, the personnel carousel has a few more empty seats this time around. Council President Donald Tusk’s term ends in late 2019 and Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has declared he isn’t interested in another term in office. There’s also the parliament presidency as well as the EU high representative’s job. The ECB presidency is also up for grabs, which happens once every eight years, and there are more top jobs at the bank to fill between now and next year. “In addition to that, I reckon that at least 20 commissioners will not come back,” said Oettinger.

Too many Germans? Berlin isn’t over-represented at the top EU tables, Oettinger argued. “No German was Commission president since the first one; no German was ECB president ever. It is not the number of inhabitants and not GDP that count” when it comes to influence in Brussels — “for example, in the Commission I am only one amongst 28, with one vote each.”

But in a notable dig at Merkel and her government, Oettinger called for a German contribution on substance, not only on personnel affairs. The EPP congress will have to decide on its lead candidate, sure “but also about which program we want to pursue,” Oettinger said. “I hope there will really be a fresh start for Europe — the first chapter of the German coalition agreement is not currently being made visible.”

Job offers welcome: Oettinger, who is 64, said that two terms as a commissioner are enough. “I decided some time ago that this will be my last term in office. I feel very comfortable in the office, and I am also neither quietly crying nor on the retreat. But I think it’s legitimate to say, after 10 years, ‘Let others do it,’” he said. “There’s one main reason: I’m healthy and motivated to do something new in the private sector. If I did another five years, I could at most still head the Harmonikaverband of Nord-Württemberg.” (Take that as shorthand for a meaningless honorary post.) “If I want to start over, it’s now or never.”

ALPBACH LATEST

FRIENDS OF THE BALKANS: Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz vowed to help Belgrade and Pristina sell a potential peace deal to the rest of Europe. “When Serbia and Kosovo can peacefully agree on a border change, Austria will certainly not oppose this,” he said at the Alpbach forum on Monday (where he celebrated his 32nd birthday). Read: Kurz will try to convince Merkel not to oppose any border changes in the Balkans. (One argument might be that the EU wouldn’t look like a reliable partner, given neither the U.S. nor Russia have signaled they’d oppose any potential agreement.)

Balkan trip: “For us — as Austria — it is particularly important to provide support for the Balkan states and also to send clear signals. Which is why I return to the region again in September,” Kurz said, adding that the EU “is not complete without our Balkan neighbors.” He urged reform, but said “the goal must be very clear for all of them to become members of the European Union.” Watch Kurz’s speech at the Alpback forum here.

Sidenote: Kurz said ] Europe should be proud of what it has achieved, what it is, and what it may be able to do in the future. Emmanuel Macron on Monday called for greater European defense cooperation and warned that the U.S. can no longer be relied upon for the Continent’s security. The two statements sound similar, but the concepts are entirely different. Macron called for a deeper integration of the willing; Kurz — the current holder of the Council presidency — called for a Continent-wide reassembly around a smaller denominator, which is sheer size in geopolitical terms.

Opinion — Redrawing Balkan borders would be a fatal mistake: Adnan Ćerimagić from the European Stability Initiative think tank argues in an op-ed for POLITICO: “On a stage with the presidents of Kosovo and Serbia at the weekend, I appealed directly to both of them not to make a fatal mistake and destabilize the whole Balkan region. I spoke not just as a policy analyst but in personal terms as a citizen of the Balkans, telling the story of how my birthplace in Bosnia and Herzegovina was destroyed by war but reborn as a multiethnic community once again … Sadly, I fear my appeal has so far fallen on deaf ears.”

DEMOCRACY WITH CHINESE CHARACTERISTICS: Try this on for size. Speaking on an Alpbach Forum panel about global power shifts, Wu Hailong, China’s assistant minister of foreign affairs, told the audience his country is a democracy, reports Ryan Heath. When that was met with murmurs on-stage and laughter in the audience, Wu doubled down and described democracy as a “core value” for Beijing. That proved too much for moderator Sebastian Ramspeck and other panelists (Vladimir Putin’s dancing partner and Austrian foreign minister, Karin Kneissel, was among them), prompting Wu to clarify “it’s our own democracy with Chinese characteristics.”

A VERY PRIVATE THING: Kneissl admitted in an interview that she hadn’t followed protocol when she invited Putin to her nuptials. “I didn’t go to see the federal president [Alexander Van der Bellen] to say ‘I will invite the Russian president to my wedding,’” she told Der Standard, and claimed she didn’t think Putin would actually show up. Asked whether the episode had been embarrassing for Kurz’s government, she replied: “You’re completely right, seen from a protocol point of view.” Alpbach presented Kneissl, she said in the interview, with the first opportunity to speak to Kurz after her genuflection.

(As a side note, guess who was invited to the wedding and actually didn’t come? President Van der Bellen.)

NEWS UPDATE   

GERMANY GETTING ITS PRIORITIES STRAIGHT: While the Saxonian city if Chemnitz appeared to be overrun by neo-Nazis Monday, the German region’s minister-president, Michael Kretschmer from the CDU, was worried about the “image.” Far-right rioters “hunted down” foreigners in the city in the aftermath of a fatal stabbing.

POLAND DECLARES IT WILL ‘IGNORE’ ECJ: Warsaw “will probably have no choice” but to “ignore the European Court of Justice as contrary to the Treaty of Lisbon and the whole spirit of European integration” if judges decide to suspend a new Polish law that forces the early retirement of older Supreme Court judges, according to Poland’s Deputy Prime Minister Jarosław Gowin. Michał Broniatowski has the story.

If that’s the government’s line, it is about to enter unchartered territory. But of course, Warsaw has “no choice,” Gowin said, because — fasten your seat belts as you get on board the irony express — “if the tribunal in Luxembourg considers itself competent to support a position of a small group of Polish judges, it will be fuel for Euroskeptic communities across Europe.”

EU CALLS TRUMP’S WTO BLUFF: The EU is launching a last-ditch plan to save the World Trade Organization just as U.S. President Donald Trump shows increasing signs that he is out to kill it, report Jakob Hanke and Hans von der Burchard.

FRANCE WORKING ON NO-DEAL BREXIT CONTINGENCY PLAN.

FRANCE VS. AIRBNB: Paris lawmakers are championing a new law that would make Airbnb liable for thousands of unregistered listings on its site, reports Zachary Young. “The stakes are high: France is the world’s most-visited country, and Paris is reportedly Airbnb’s single-biggest city market worldwide.”

COPYRIGHT RENTRÉE: Publishers and journalists’ groups wants the European Parliament, when it votes on copyright reforms on September 12, to stick to existing wording on how publishers should be remunerated. Here’s the statement.

CATCHING UP WITH AL GORE: Matthew Karnitschnig sits down with the former politician for this delicious profile. “Al Gore spent a year in divinity school as a young man, but he was well into middle age by the time he found his calling as a climate preacher.”

GREEK PM TSIPRAS RULES OUT EARLY ELECTION, SIGNALS RESHUFFLE.