Daily Update

25-01-2019 | EYE ON GREECE 

Friday, January 25, 2019

Vote for Prespa pact ratification on Fri.

Α crucial vote for ratification of the Prespa agreement has been bumped to Friday at 2:30 p.m. local time, with debate on Thursday to expected to end after midnight, due to the numerous MPs that requested to speak on the subject.


Costas Karamanlis on Prespa agreement: ND’s criticism ‘powerful and fully documented’

Former Greek prime minister Costas Karamanlis (2004-2009) on Thursday removed any doubts over his stance regarding the contentious Prespa agreement, which comes up for ratification in Greece’s Parliament later in the evening.


Opinion poll: 62% of respondents say Prespa agreement ‘negative’ for Greece; double-digit lead for ND

A large majority of respondents, 62 percent, consider the Prespa agreement as “negative” for Greece, according to results of an opinion poll unveiled on Thursday, as debate continued in Parliament the same day over ratification of the bilateral accord.


Brussels warns Greece to reduce Athens pollution levels

The European Commission on Thursday sent a formal notice to Greece, warning authorities over pollution levels in Athens and saying that they need to take action “to ensure good air quality and safeguard public health.”


Minimum wage hike to top 8 pct

The increase of the minimum wage looks likely to be just over 8 percent, or 50 euros per month. The ministerial decision, which will be signed next week, is expected to lead to pay adjustments for more than 400,000 employees who receive the minimum monthly wage.


ATHEX: Fifth straight day of gains for the main stock index

The benchmark of the Greek stock market was spared ending in the red by the closing auctions again on Thursday, reversing its earlier losses and leading to a fifth consecutive day of gains.







KATHIMERINI:  Prespes accord to be voted, but the division will remain

ETHNOS:  New page in the history book

TA NEA:  The seven challenges of the next day with North Macedonia

EFIMERIDA TON SYNTAKTON:  The “fighters for Macedonia” have been revealed to be naked

AVGI:  Historical day for Greece

RIZOSPASTIS:  ‘No’ to the Tsipras-Zaev agreement and NATO’s plans – ‘Yes’ to friendship, peace and solidarity between the people

KONTRA NEWS:  Tsipras and Zaev should get the Nobel Peace Prize

DIMOKRATIA:  FYROM PM Zaev to George Soros: Ave, Caesar!

NAFTEMPORIKI:  Agony for 4,2 million debtors extended

GOOD MORNING from Davos, one last time. And wishing you all a great weekend ahead. Should you not hear from me Monday, blame Switzerland’s beauties.

We’ve saved the best for last: POLITICO’s editor-in-chief, John Harris, on the populist wave casting its shadow over Davos, and how the old guard are desperately trying to improvise a response. The global elite has money, entourages and commanding views, “both literal (from mountain chalets here) and metaphorical (from government offices and CEO suites back home),” writes John. “That doesn’t mean they have a clue.” More on their “toboggan ride to hell” here.


HUGE THREAT, CREDIBLE ANSWERS: NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the Alliance will come up with “credible deterrence and defense” should Russia continue to breach the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, the agreement that since 1988 has banned all land-based missiles with a range of 500 to 5,500 kilometers. “We have asked all our military authorities, our commanders to look into different options and consequences,” Stoltenberg told Playbook when we sat down for an interview in Davos Thursday.

What might a response look like? “We will make a measured, proportionate and defensive decision.” What exactly? “I will not speculate … because that would add to the uncertainty we are faced with,” Stoltenberg said. But, he added, “if we allow Russia to [continue to breach the agreement] without any consequences, it will undermine the respect for not only the INF Treaty but for all other arms control treaties.”

IT’S SERIOUS … “The INF Treaty has been for 30 years the cornerstone of arms control. The treaty not only reduced the number of missiles but actually banned a whole category,” Stoltenberg said, referring to intermediate-range weapons. “This has served us all well — I think especially in Germany where we really saw the dangers related to these weapons in the ’70s and ’80s. This treaty has been extremely important.”

Russia, he went on, “has developed and is deploying new missiles” that are “mobile, hard to detect, nuclear capable” and can reach European cities “with little warning time.” That also means the threshold for any use of nuclear weapons in a conflict is “reduced,” he said.

… AND DANGEROUS FOR EUROPE: The collapse of the INF Treaty most immediately creates grave new risks for Europe, especially because Russia already has its new missiles in place and any response by the West would likely hinge on the U.S. deploying new weapons on the Continent. Given transatlantic tensions, it’s far from clear that protecting Europe is high on U.S. President Donald Trump’s list of priorities.

DIPLOMACY FIRST: NATO ambassadors will meet with Russia today in a special NATO-Russia council, the main purpose of which, according to Stoltenberg, “is to discuss the INF Treaty and for NATO allies to be able to call on Russia to come back into compliance of the treaty in a verifiable and transparent way.” Stoltenberg said Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov will attend.

“I welcome that he will be there,” Stolenberg said. “I’m glad because I strongly believe in dialogue with Russia especially when times are difficult as they are now. And then it’s even more important that we sit down and try to find political solutions because we don’t want the new arms race. We know we don’t want a new Cold War.”

Are Russia’s new missiles clearly within the scope of the treaty? “Absolutely,” he said, adding: “All allies agree that this is in breach of the INF Treaty. There are no new U.S. missiles in Europe but there are new Russian missiles in Europe.” Russia insists its new missile is not in breach of the obligations stemming from the treaty. The U.S., dismissing those claims, has threatened to pull out of the treaty starting February 2 if Russia does not back down.

What are the chances of the U.S. sticking to the INF Treaty? “The U.S. has also made it clear that if Russia continues to violate the treaty then it will start the withdrawal process … Then there will still be six months before the treaty is terminated. So there is still a possibility for Russia to come back into compliance.”

The bottom line: NATO has to prepare for “a world without the INF Treaty,” according to Stoltenberg. Playbook’s translation: At the moment, there’s still no Plan B.

IN BRIGHTER NEWS: NATO turns 70 this year, and Stoltenberg said the Alliance’s 29 leaders will have an opportunity to come together for a toast: A foreign ministers’ meeting in Washington in April, and “a leaders’ meeting later in the year to mark the 70th anniversary.”

There’s a lot to celebrate: “We are 29 allies. We have different views on many issues. There are sometimes disagreements on issues like trade, climate change and burden-sharing. But the strength of NATO is that we have been able again and again to unite around a core task that is to defend and protect each other. By doing so we prevent war because the main purpose of NATO is to preserve peace, is to prevent war and conflict. As the old Romans said: If you want peace you have to plan for war.”


GEORGE SOROS ATTACKS CHINA: Artificial Intelligence can do a great deal of harm to societies when in the wrong hands, the Hungarian-American philanthropist slash investor said over dinner Thursday. And by wrong, he meant Chinese. “China is not the only authoritarian regime in the world but it is the wealthiest, strongest and technologically most advanced,” said Soros. “This makes Xi Jinping the most dangerous opponent of open societies.”

Soros, as always, had strong opinions and harsh words for the enemies of open societies, his erstwhile opponents. And, as every so often, he was the one on Thursday to encapsulate the general consensus on the biggest issue at Davos week. And yet, there was no word on Hungary, or its prime minister, Viktor Orbán — perhaps, at 88, he’s come to think there are bigger fish to fry.

GLOOMY GUTERRES: “If I have to select one sentence to describe the state of the world, I would say we are in a world in which global challenges are more integrated, and the responses are more and more fragmented. And, if these are not reversed, it is a recipe for disaster,” U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres told Davosians. “The relationship between the three most important powers, Russia, the U.S. and China, has never been as dysfunctional as it is today and this is true for the economy, and also true in the paralysis of the U.N. Security Council.”

AKK ON FIRST FOREIGN MISSION: Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, the new leader of Germany’s Christian Democratic Union, may have been in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s shadow on her trip to Davos — and was not to be found on the official program — but, well, Merkel did leave her a few issues to tackle, including Brexit.

“It is not clear what the U.K. wants,” Kramp-Karrenbauer told Bloomberg. “Once we have Brexit, there will be a European border between Ireland and Northern Ireland and we will need to have an agreement which has some kind of backstop.”

Backdoor argument for Brexiteers: If it’s really about the backstop, think twice before voting down a deal: “With or without agreement, Brexit imposes a safety net for Ireland,” French Europe Minister Nathalie Loiseau tweeted. “As part of the Withdrawal Agreement, this backstop has little risk of ever being activated. If there is no agreement, it is inevitable.”

VARADKAR’S ALLEGIANCES: “Ireland has obligations to protect the single market,” said Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar during a Davos panel debate. “The United Kingdom would have a responsibility to abide by World Trade Organization rules, and both the United Kingdom and Ireland would have responsibilities to honor the Good Friday Agreement and the peace process.

What would happen in case of no deal? “So I think we’d end up in a situation whereby the EU and Ireland and the U.K. would have to come together and in order to honor our commitment to the people of Ireland that there would be no hard border, we would have to agree on full alignment on customs and regulations.”

Is there a Brit in the room? The audience would have loved to hear U.K. Chancellor Philip Hammond’s view — alas, he pulled out of the panel discussion at the last minute.

“We all know no deal won’t work”: In the coatroom line outside the British business lunch at Davos’ Belvedere Hotel, fellow Davosman Ryan Heath overheard a senior British finance executive say to another U.K. executive: “I just saw [Liam] Fox and I lost the plot completely. I said you’ve got to get out of your fact-free fantasy world. You know no deal won’t work. We all know no deal won’t work.”

THE ART OF DISAGREEING: “One must be allowed to disagree with Germany on migration policies,” Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz told a Davos audience. A quick look at the relevant legislation, EU treaties and international law shows: There is no rule that would forbid someone of holding a different opinion to Angela Merkel. (Even some Germans disagree with her, according to polls.)

A more interesting dispute: Brussels vs Vienna. The Commission has opened an infringement procedure against Austria’s new measures to adapt (read: cut) family benefits for EU citizens working in Austria whose children live in another EU country. The amount cut will dependent on the living costs in that other country. Austrian Family Minister Juliane Bogner-Strauß told APA newswire the government believes “that the solution we have chosen is compatible with European law.”

Brussels bites back: “Any reduction of family benefits solely because the children reside abroad, breaches the EU rules on social security as well as the principle of equal treatment of workers,” the Commission said in a statement.

POLITICO PODCAST: Ryan Heath brings you two podcasts in one from the World Economic Forum — our final daily Davos Confidential show also doubles as your regular weekly EU Confidential. Ryan talks to Dutch Finance Minister Wopke Hoekstra about Brexit, what worries him about the EU and why people should vote in May’s European Parliament election. Ryan also speaks to Sarah Kate Ellis, president and CEO of GLAAD, an organization working to accelerate LGBTQ acceptance, including at the WEF. Listen in here, or on Soundcloud.


NOT SO FAST: The vote in the Greek Parliament on whether or not to allow its neighboring country to call itself Northern Macedonia was supposed to take place Thursday night but has been postponed until today, due to the large number of MPs who want to speak during the debate.

SOME UNSOLICITED ADVICE: If U.K. Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt could offer some advice to Donald Trump, he’d tell the U.S. president to take advantage of international alliances, because “America has a lot of friends all over the world that share American values,” Hunt told POLITICO in an interview Thursday. More from Nahal Toosi here.

BRUSSELS WOBBLES ON VENEZUELA: A host of countries (and officials, including European Parliament President Antonio Tajani) have followed the U.S. president in recognizing Venezuela’s parliamentary chief, Juan Guaidó, as interim president — but not the EU, which on Thursday frantically avoided answering the question of who it considers to be in charge in Caracas. While some countries like Spain prefer negotiations between regime and opposition to avoid the risk of a civil war, there’s also a recognition that Europe’s influence as a mediator has been Trumped, Hans von der Burchard and Jakob Hanke report.

AACHEN, WITH A TWIST: France and Germany’s Euroskeptics weren’t too pleased, to say the least, to see their leaders, Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel, pledge greater cooperation and more European integration in Aachen on Monday. Now the far-right parties have found common cause and are moving into an alliance of their own, writes Maïa de la Baume.

CZECH PIRATES, AHOY! The Czech Republic’s anti-establishment party — a political start-up that’s now the third-largest party in parliament — looks poised to win at least four seats in the European Parliament election in May, making it the most successful member of the European Pirates, an association of like-minded parties across Europe. Siegfried Mortkowitz in Prague looks at its meteoric rise.

AMERICA, YOU’VE JUMPED THE SHARK: “Whatever happened to the old writer’s adage that compelling characters should never be wholly good or wholly bad? It’s becoming increasingly difficult to believe this Machiavellian character could still be in office.” Populism expert and author Yascha Mounk charts his falling out of love with the mad-cap TV show — “America” — that he used to love.

SALVINI IN HOT WATER: A court in Sicily ruled Thursday to start legal proceedings that could see Italy’s interior minister stand trial for “aggravated kidnapping,” as he stopped nearly 200 rescued migrants from disembarking at a port last summer. “If this is my guilt, if this is my crime, I declare myself guilty,” Salvini told his Facebook followers. Judith Mischke has more.

EX-UKRAINIAN LEADER SENTENCED: Former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich was sentenced in absentia Thursday to 13 years in jail on treason charges. His lawyers have said he’ll appeal the decision. More here.