31-08-2018 | EYE ON GREECE | EU

31-08-2018 | EYE ON GREECE |

Friday, August 31, 2018

Greek government seeking to reverse slide

With the Greek government eager to push the reset button and reverse its slide in the polls, senior officials hinted again Thursday that pre-agreed pension cuts in January could be scrapped.

http://www.ekathimerini.com/232161/article/ekathimerini/news/greek-government-seeking-to-reverse-slide

Wiedmann says ‘job is not done yet’ on Greek reforms

The completion of Greece’s third and final adjustment program on August 20 is not the end of the road for the country’s reform efforts but a “milestone on a long way to recovery,” the governor of Germany’s central bank, Jens Weidmann, told a banking event in Athens on Thursday.

http://www.ekathimerini.com/232160/article/ekathimerini/business/wiedmann-says-job-is-not-done-yet-on-greek-reforms

Twitter hoax via account using new Greek minister’s name to announce (fake) death of director Costa Gavra

The first day on the job of new culture minister Myrsini Zorba coincided with a major Twitter hoax, as an account bearing her name and likeness was used to announce the death of well-known Greek-French movie director Costa Gavra – a report that clashed with the fact that the latter was alive and well at his Paris apartment.

https://www.naftemporiki.gr/story/1386459/twitter-hoax-with-account-using-new-greek-minister-name-to-announce-fake-death-of-director-costa-gavra

SEV calls for fiscal discipline in post-bailout period

Greece’s post-bailout recovery will require “a greater sense of responsibility” from the country’s political leadership than that exhibited during the adjustment period of the last eight years, as Greece will lose the financial safety net provided by its creditors, the Hellenic Federation of Enterprises (SEV) said on Thursday.

http://www.ekathimerini.com/232153/article/ekathimerini/business/sev-calls-for-fiscal-discipline-in-post-bailout-period

Greek banks Alpha, Eurobank post weak Q2 results

Greek banks Alpha and Eurobank posted weak second-quarter results on Thursday, with Alpha swinging to a loss and Eurobank barely profitable as both focus on shrinking their bad debt load.

http://www.ekathimerini.com/232151/article/ekathimerini/business/greek-banks-alpha-eurobank-post-weak-q2-results

Greek industrial PPI up 8.2% in July 2018 (yoy)

Greece’s independent statistics authority reported that the industrial producer price index (PPI) for July 2018 increased by 8.2 percent, compared to the same month in 2017.

https://www.naftemporiki.gr/story/1386327/greek-industrial-ppi-up-82-in-July-2018-yoy

ATHEX ends lower on bank share sell-off

Turmoil in emerging markets caused by economic woes in Turkey and Argentina, and a strain on Greek bonds after Italian government paper came under selling pressure, pushed the Athens Exchange lower on Thursday.

http://www.ekathimerini.com/232152/article/ekathimerini/business/athex-ends-lower-on-bank-share-sell-off

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KATHIMERINI:  New cracks in the EU due to migrants

ETHNOS:  The State transforms

TA NEA:  Pre-election tricks linked to pensions

EFIMERIDA TON SYNTAKTON:  Liars, blunderers and speculators

AVGI:  Slander campaign based on fake news

RIZOSPASTIS:  The EU is ready for new imperialistic action eyeing the Balkans and the Middle East

KONTRA NEWS:  Lavrentiadis accused of new felony; he owes Public Gas Corporation (DPEA) 115 million Euros

DIMOKRATIA:  The negative proposals of the industrialists’ association surpass even Schaeuble’s statements

NAFTEMPORIKI:  The alleviating measures to be announced by the PM at the Thessaloniki International Fair are being finalized

STATE OF THE UNION: What a crazy, crazy job I have, texting people in a room where European commissioners are meeting in the middle of the night in Genval. Here’s a tour de table of what the commissioners, who spent time in their home countries over the summer, reckon are the most pressing issues for President Jean-Claude Juncker to address in his next State of the Union speech.

What they brought up: Populism; the EU’s “economic and political situation”; global trade in general and Donald Trump in particular (more on him below); subsidiarity; migration; values; and the rule of law. Some commissioners also complained that only three out of the 13 proposals for the Capital Markets Union have been adopted and brought up the “international role of the euro” (that’s a plea for an EU finance minister, and perhaps a job application).

Summertime update: There was also “a passionate debate about summertime,” a participant told Playbook, with Valdis Dombrovskis and Violeta Bulc the most outspoken proponents for making the summer hours permanent. (YAY! Imagine an extra hour of daylight in the Brussels grayness, and excuse the personal bias.) The results of the public consultation on the matter will be published today, but you, dear readers, already knew that.

GOOD MORNING. “I am already writing a letter to Mr. Oettinger,” said Jochen Haußmann, president of the German Harmonikaverband. “I’d like to ask him if he would like to participate in getting young people interested in music. The doors are open for him.”

That’s perhaps not quite the job offer Oettinger wanted when he told Playbook he’d like to start over in the private sector after his current term ends. (If he waited any longer, he said, there might be nothing left for him to do but to become president of the accordion association of North Württemberg.) But don’t worry, said Haußmann, why not both? “As far as Mr. Oettinger is concerned, a function in the harmonica association can be a wonderful balance alongside a position in the private sector.”

IN BRUSSELS TODAY … is U.K. Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab, for talks with the EU’s negotiator Michel Barnier. The BBC’s Adam Fleming reports the two are scheduled to meet for six hours. Oh the humanity!

VIENNESE WALTZ

FROM THE JOKES-THAT-WRITE-THEMSELVES FILE: “I would like to thank our Austrian hosts for their outstanding hospitality. I take the liberty to joke that the only thing we are missing today is Mr. Putin’s dance,” said Lithuania’s Raimundas Karoblis at a meeting of defense ministers in Vienna, a source in the room told our own Jacopo Barigazzi.

BUYING TIME: Diplomats tell us that defense and foreign ministers at their Thursday meeting tried to keep Italy on board with the Sophia naval mission in the Mediterranean — at least until an informal summit of their bosses in Salzburg later this month. That would give those who actually have the power to reform the EU’s asylum system the opportunity to attempt to reach a compromise with Rome. The Austrian presidency, a “bridge-builder,” as the government likes to refer to itself, wasn’t in a position to bridge any gaps.

BALKAN DILEMMA: Faced with the desire of the presidents of both Serbia and Kosovo to break the taboo and agree on border changes, and with the Trump administration’s willingness to back such a move, EU officials and diplomats have decided they cannot dismiss the plan out of hand — at least not right now. “No one much likes it but no one seems willing to torpedo it either,” write Jacopo Barigazzi and Andrew Gray, reporting on the Vienna meeting of foreign ministers.

PLAYBOOK INTERVIEW 

BUSY MINISTER: Elisabeth Köstinger, a 39-year-old from the Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP), will have a busy fall. The Austrian minister for “sustainability and tourism,” as the current government renamed the agriculture ministry, will preside over no less than four Council formations, from farming and fisheries to energy and environmental affairs. I sat down with the minister and former MEP this week for an interview that marks her rentrée to politics after she took the summer off for the best of reasons: She gave birth to baby Johannes in July.

Clash of the ministries: Agriculture and environment ministers often have conflicts. Think of the German glyphosate drama-slash-stalemate, or France’s Nicolas Hulot’s recent resignation. How does Köstinger deal with the diverging interests of farmers and environmentalists? “I have to resolve those conflicts with myself,” she told me. “This combination doesn’t make it easier, but sometimes it opens new paths. The conflicts of interest are all concentrated here in one ministry — but of course, that way, I can also exert more pressure to get things done.” Actually, the concentration of power — and the chance to pursue a single policy line horizontally — was what sparked her interest in the job, she said.

Climate protection is her top issue, said Köstinger, who is a close ally of Chancellor Sebastian Kurz. “The general theme of the Austrian presidency is a ‘Europe that protects.’ For me, climate protection is at the top of the agenda. My political goal is that climate protection becomes a concern of citizens, not only in Austria, but throughout Europe.” As a result, Austria wants to finalize the clean energy package by the end of the year. “That’s the big one,” Köstinger said, which will require artful compromise-building.

A heavy lift: But Köstinger also wants to leave a mark on the EU’s agriculture policy — politically, a much heavier lift. “Since agriculture is one of the major [industries] affected by climate change, it is high time that we also discuss climate protection in the course of the reform of the common agriculture policy (CAP),” she said. “It’s very important for me to discuss which agricultural model of the future we want: Is everything to be produced at the cheapest price, or does agriculture also perform better in terms of environmental protection, climate protection and soil protection? Shouldn’t politics focus on that?”

Köstinger wants farmers to be environmentalists. “I consider soil protection to be something very central. Fertile soils are the basis for farming. And the EU will have to address the issue of food security and food sovereignty … Climate change has an enormous impact on food security through drought, heat and erosion.” This summer should have taught everyone that lesson, Köstinger said. “The challenge is the same everywhere, see the wildfires in the north and in the south. We have the chance to reform the CAP; we should discuss this ruthlessly and make decisions.”

Imperial surroundings: The informal meeting of agriculture ministers at Schloss Hof, a castle built for Prince Eugene of Savoy in Lower Austria, will later this month be the venue where Köstinger gets the discussion going. She has invited German celebrity chef Sarah Wiener to speak to ministers about the two women’s mutual belief that the “quality and diversity” of European food, as well as its “uniqueness,” are “indispensable, and that political decisions have massive influence on it.”

Does that mean we should pay more for food? “Every consumer makes a decision as to which agricultural model they want,” Köstinger said. “And if we don’t want it to be at the expense of climate and environment, then food will have a price in the future. There’s no such thing as cheap. Somebody always pays.”

No, I don’t want no cuts! It might be the Austrian government’s position that the next EU budgetary framework has to shrink — but not at the expense of the agri budget, Köstinger insists. “It’s the wrong approach to cut across the board,” she said, calling for farmers to “create added value in terms of environmental and climate protection.” That requires money: “The question of whether we can fulfill this task with a reduced budget is actually a very easy one to answer,” Köstinger said. “Agriculture ministers will make very good points as to why we need a good agricultural budget.”

TROLLING TRUMP 

EXHIBIT A: Three former NATO chiefs have called for the alliance’s new Brussels headquarters to be named after the late John McCain, writing in a letter that “despite his being a U.S. senator, across Europe we all felt that John McCain III was one of our own. Whether advancing the cause of freedom across the former Soviet states of Eastern Europe or defending the multilateral international order at a time of skepticism, his work was a beacon for all of us who believe that transatlantic unity is the only means of ensuring peace.”

Meanwhile, as Washington mourns McCain, Trump leaves town.

EXHIBIT B: Former U.S. President George W. Bush was named an honorary citizen of Vilnius, Lithuania, in recognition of his support for the Baltic state. “If we look at Lithuania’s achievements over more than 10 years, it is obvious that changes that took place after we joined the EU and NATO were essential,” Vilnius Mayor Remigijus Šimašius said.“And looking back at whose steps, whose position was decisive at that stage, then we see that George W. Bush was the person, the U.S. president whose position was key.”

THY WILL BE DONE? It’s a big day today for U.S. President Donald Trump. After Mexico agreed to his new terms and conditions for trade between North American countries earlier this week, the deadline for an agreement with Canada ends today. Though the Washington Post argues Trump’s push to get a deal with Ottawa by today “is a negotiating tactic and attempt to move something before the new Mexican president takes office.”

Meanwhile in Europe: The Commission is seeking to reinvigorate its discussions (Brussels insists the appropriate term isn’t quite “trade talks”) with the States. Extending an olive branch, Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström offered to scrap tariffs on all industrial products, including cars, on Thursday. “We said that we are ready from the EU side to go to zero tariffs on all industrial goods, of course if the U.S. does the same, so it would be on a reciprocal basis,” she told the European Parliament’s trade committee. “We are willing to bring down even our car tariffs down to zero … if the U.S. does the same.” She added that “it would be good for us economically, and for them.”

That goes beyond what was agreed in July by Trump and Jean-Claude Juncker. Their joint statement only mentioned eliminating tariffs, non-tariff barriers and subsidies for “non-auto industrial goods.” Hans von der Burchard has more.

Side note: U.S. trade official appear to have done the math on who would win and who would lose if tariffs on cars were brought to zero, and declined the gracious offer at a meeting just last week. Speaking of which …

TRUMP TROLLS BACK: In his latest big interview, Trump told Bloomberg the EU’s offer to scrap tariffs on cars was “not good enough.” He added: “Their consumer habits are to buy their cars, not to buy our cars.” He also took aim at the World Trade Organization. “If they don’t shape up, I would withdraw from the WTO,” he said, adding that the agreement establishing the body “was the single worst trade deal ever made.”

BRITONS IN THE HEADLINES 

NIGEL WHAT? Nigel Farage is mulling a run for mayor of London, one of the most open cities in the world, with one of the coolest and hippest metropolises. Maxime Schlee has more.

BORIS WHO? The president of Kenya appeared to forget Boris Johnson’s name during a press conference with Prime Minister Theresa May. Uhuru Kenyatta said: “Last year if you recall the foreign secretary — then Boris, erm, Boris, Boris Johnson — the bicycle guy — Boris Johnson was here with ambulances.”

BRITS CUTTING EUROPE’S CHEESE: The EU’s legal protections for gourmet foods are holding up Brexit talks, Hans von der Burchard and Jacopo Barigazzi report. Brussels insists iconic food names such as Coppa di Parma and Roquefort be protected as geographical indications. Now the Brits have cottoned on and are using GIs as a bargaining chip.

Denmark sets up bad Brexit rainy day fund.

ALEX SALMOND SPLITS SCOTTISH SEPARATISTS: Accusations that the former first minister and Scottish National Party (SNP) leader sexually harassed two women during his time in office have highlighted a potential split in the party that could change the course of the Scottish independence movement, writes Andrew Collier.