Daily Update

18-2018 | EYE ON GREECE 

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Council of State judges say scrapping of bonus pay unconstitutional

A section of the Council of State has issued a decision in favor of public sector employees who challenged the constitutionality of an austerity measure introduced in 2012 that scrapped a special bonus paid out on the Christmas, Easter and summer holidays.

http://www.ekathimerini.com/235787/article/ekathimerini/news/council-of-state-judges-say-scrapping-of-bonus-pay-unconstitutional

Investigators focusing on cameras, burnt car for evidence on Skai bomb blast

Greek counter-terrorism officers are focusing on footage from security cameras around the building housing Skai TV station and Kathimerini for evidence on the perpetrators of the bomb blast early Monday morning, as well as the car they may have used to carry out the attack.

http://www.ekathimerini.com/235784/article/ekathimerini/news/investigators-focusing-on-cameras-burnt-car-for-evidence-on-skai-bomb-blast

Journalists union, media regulator condemn TV station bomb attack

Greece’s broadcasting regulator, the National Council for Radio and Television (ESR) and the Athens Journalists’ Union (ESHEA) condemned on Monday a bomb attack against the headquarters of Skai TV station and Kathimerini newspaper which they said targets pluralism and democracy.

http://www.ekathimerini.com/235781/article/ekathimerini/news/journalists-union-media-regulator-condemn-tv-station-bomb-attack

Public sector union staging rally on Tuesday during budget debate

Public sector union ADEDY has organized a demonstration in downtown Athens on Tuesday to coincide with a vote in Parliament on the 2019 budget.

http://www.ekathimerini.com/235729/article/ekathimerini/news/public-sector-union-staging-rally-on-tuesday-during-budget-debate

Greek revenue auditors given easier access to bank safety deposit boxes as of Jan. 1, continuing ‘tax safari’

Greece’s tax authorities and auditors will gain easier access to individuals’ safety deposit boxes in domestic banks as of Jan. 1, 2019, after measures aimed to simplify the legal procedure for such court-ordered action takes effect, as “N” reported last month.

https://www.naftemporiki.gr/story/1425232/greek-revenue-auditors-given-easier-access-to-bank-safety-deposit-boxes-as-of-Jan-1-continuing-tax-safari

Greece lags OECD peers in export growth, concedes market share

In the years since the financial crisis began in Greece, exports have been considered one of the few lifelines for Greek enterprises and the economy in general. However, rival countries have progressed much more as Greek exports have lost market share.

http://www.ekathimerini.com/235796/article/ekathimerini/business/greece-lags-oecd-peers-in-export-growth-concedes-market-share

ATHEX: Stocks seen heading to year-end slide

The negative mood among domestic and foreign investors alike saw Greek stocks posting fresh losses at the start of the week, with the decline accelerating when European bourses headed south. The rather unexpected jump in Greek bond yields also contributed toward the stock drop.

http://www.ekathimerini.com/235793/article/ekathimerini/business/athex-stocks-seen-heading-to-year-end-slide

www.enikos.gr

www.protothema.gr

www.newsbomb.gr

www.cnn.gr

www.newsbeast.gr

KATHIMERINI:  We respond to violence with our work

ETHNOS:  Scrapped salary bonuses for public sector employees become new retroactive paymentss

TA NEA:  Green light for the return of salary bonuses for public sector employees

EFIMERIDA TON SYNTAKTON:  Polarization explodes

AVGI:  Dangerous bomb and ‘grey’ speculation

RIZOSPASTIS:  ‘No’ to the anti-popular budget which brings about a tax-heist and further cuts

KONTRA NEWS:  Destabilization games with 10 kilos of explosives

 

DIMOKRATIA:  Scrapped salary bonuses for public sector employees must be given back

NAFTEMPORIKI:  New exit to the markets under conditions


BREXIT TOGETHERNESS: In her Monday afternoon speech to the House of Commons, U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May appeared to appeal to the opposition to think again and back her Withdrawal Agreement in a vote that she announced would take place during the third week of January. That’s less than 1oo days before Brexit Day. May emphasized that it was now time to put the interests of the people above party politics. I counted six mentions of the need to do this “together” across benches in parliament.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn wasn’t wild about the proposal and riffed on the theme of a “shambolic” government. He landed a blow when he said “there were some warm words drafted” ahead of last week’s EU summit — but “the prime minister managed to negotiate them away.” Labour submitted a motion of no confidence in Theresa May (but not her government — which makes a big difference). The motion, which could be debated and voted on Tuesday, would not force May to resign even if it won the backing of a majority of MPs.

All that leaves May dreaming of a Brexmas miracle, Charlie Cooper writes.

GOOD MORNING: POLITICO’s newsroom was filled with cheerfulness and merriness during our viewing of May’s speech and the ensuing debate. Turns out British parliamentary customs are spectacular in the eye of any beholder, be they British or otherwise. This morning, we’ll dive deeper into Brexit, and then on to other business.

BREXIT TAKEAWAYS

1) May isn’t buying the second referendum idea as a Plan B. May urged MPs to “not break faith with the British people by trying to stage another referendum,” which she argued “would do irreparable damage to the integrity of our politics, because it would say to millions who trusted in democracy, that our democracy does not deliver.” And another vote “would likely leave us no further forward than the last.”

2) She’s going back for more talks … but is anyone listening? May said that “discussions with my EU partners … have shown that further clarification following the Council’s conclusions is in fact possible. So discussions are continuing to explore further political and legal assurances.” The reality: A European Commission spokesperson confirmed that “no further meetings are foreseen” with U.K. officials.

3) The threat of no Brexit is becoming May’s best weapon. May presented MPs with a choice: “Avoiding no deal is only possible if we can reach an agreement or if we abandon Brexit entirely,” she said. Which is at least as much an appeal to Brexiteers to back her deal as it is to Remainers — if not more so.

It’s elementary: Paul Taylor asks: How would Sherlock Holmes have solved the Brexit mystery? “If May’s deal seems impossible, no alternative deal is on offer, and almost no one wants to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel just to see what happens, that should logically leave no Brexit as the remaining solution, however improbable,” Paul writes. “But it’s not quite so elementary, my dear Watson.”

NOT THE ONLY CRISIS  

CRUNCH DAY IN BELGIUM YET AGAIN: Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel could face a vote of no confidence later this week in the federal parliament if the Socialist faction triggers the procedure today. The Dutch-speaking sp.a party said it would call for a vote on Michel’s rule, after the PM lost his parliamentary majority due to a Flemish-nationalist walk-out nine days ago.

Michel is in trouble. He needs to find allies in parliament soon if he wants to pass the 2019 budget and keep his minority government intact, our own Laurens Cerulus writes in to tell us. But the New Flemish Alliance has raised the stakes. After leaving government over Belgium’s pledge to sign the U.N. migration pact, it’s now linking its political support in parliament to weakening the commitment to the pact, to opening up the constitution for a reform of the federal state after 2019, and to other political hot-button issues.

Talks are ongoing, but they’re not going well. Either Michel reaches a deal that would haunt him until federal, regional and European elections in May, or he folds and Belgians head for an early federal vote. Most embarrassing for Michel would be if he loses the no-confidence vote — which could take place as early as Thursday — forcing the Liberal head of government out of office. Every hour counts for Michel if he is to avoid that fate.

ITALY FINDS MONEY IN THE COUCH CUSHIONS: The Commission’s services are looking into Italy’s new proposals on how the government plans bring the budget deficit down to just above 2 percent of GDP next year. Rome’s plans foresee cuts to the pet projects of both governing parties — the 5Star Movement’s basic income and the (undoing of a previous) pension reform that is so dear to the League. And, as La Stampa reports, the government has somehow managed to find a few billion euro “in the folds of the budget” and is hoping that will be enough to make Brussels happy.

FRANCE LOOKS FOR MONEY ELSEWHERE: The French government also hopes to find money to alleviate the increasing deficit that’ll stem from measures taken to assuage the Yellow Jackets protesters. A national tax on digital giants including Google and Facebook will enter into force on January 1, 2019, Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire announced Monday. The government, which lobbied unsuccessfully for a pan-European “digital tax,” hopes the levy will bring €500 million per year into state coffers. France’s tax will be modelled closely after the European Commission’s proposal, which was heavily influenced by Paris.

Friends in unlikely places: “I may have criticized Emmanuel Macron,” wrote EPP group leader Manfred Weber in his latest column for l’Opinion. “One thing is very clear to me, however: the French president has given our Continent a reform momentum and he deserves our support in this regard.”

NO PRESSURE! The Swiss government now has six months to greenlight a framework agreement it negotiated with the European Commission — or it will lose the equivalence of its financial services regulations with EU law, which has been recognized for years. The Commission’s ultimatum has little to do with whether the Swiss have substantively changed their rules and a lot to do with giving Switzerland a nudge to get its act together on a new relationship agreement.

Delivery now please: “We don’t negotiate in order to practice, but because we want a result,” said Commissioner Johannes Hahn. “But it is clear that in recent months the appetite among member states for any special treatment has fallen sharply.” If Switzerland fails to ratify the Institutional Framework Agreement, Hahn said, there won’t be any new deals on single issues, or adaptions of existing ones.

Bottom line: For the EU, the free movement of people is intrinsically linked to any agreement on access to the European market. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? “There can be no new negotiations or renegotiations,” Hahn said.

IT’S GETTING PERSONAL  

TRANSATLANTIC, ER, ISSUES: U.S. Ambassador Gordon Sondland’s interview last week with POLITICO in which he called the EU regulation-obsessed and “out of touch” and accused it of stalling trade negotiations with Washington, raised some eyebrows among the diplomatic community in Brussels. I’ve been collecting the reactions over the past few days, and here are the best lines from three diplomats from three different EU countries.

Great expectations: “When Ambassador Sondland arrived in Brussels, he was received with a lot of goodwill,” one EU diplomat told me. “People in Brussels were looking forward to working with him constructively on improving EU-U.S. relations and bridging the widening transatlantic gap.” Another envoy said they had “great hopes” in engaging with Sondland, who seemed to be a less controversial choice than self-nominated would-be Trump envoy Ted Malloch. But sometimes hope dies first.

Frustration level: super high. “As someone with neither diplomatic nor political experience, [Sondland] has difficulties understanding the EU and the inner workings of the U.S. administration,” one of the diplomats said, adding that Trump’s envoy “doesn’t seem to have a network in the White House and doesn’t seem to wield any measurable influence within the U.S. administration.” Diplomat No. 3 added that Sondland “doesn’t seem to have close access to President Trump and doesn’t understand our EU procedures.”

Who’s out of touch here? Sondland wasn’t in the room when Juncker and Trump struck an agreement about soybeans, LNG and more in July. “We came to realize that he is out of touch with reality in both Washington and Brussels, damaging his credibility on both ends,” one diplomat said. Case in point: The U.S. side “doesn’t seem to involve him in the transatlantic trade talks between Commissioner [Cecilia] Malmström and [United States Trade Representative Robert] Lighthizer, probably the most important EU-U.S. issue at the moment.”

Corporate view: “Even American companies are now avoiding talking to Sondland, because they see him as destructive. He wants to destroy the relationship more than he wants to fix it,” an EU industry source said, adding that Sondland’s approach “was not yielding results and that you don’t get things done by making an enemy out of the people you are dealing with.”

Right of reply: A spokesperson for the U.S. mission to the EU reminded Playbook in response to the comments that in terms of Sondland’s political experience, “he was a senior advisor under former President George W. Bush’s administration” for many years, and that “in terms of EU workings, the ambassador understands all too well how the EU works.” According to the spokesman, his boss has a “strong understanding that the EU enjoys a favorable position in trade relations that they don’t want to lose.” The spokesperson assured me that “everything that the ambassador says and does is closely coordinated with Washington. He has a weekly, if not daily contact with the absolute highest level of the administration.”

FRIENDS IN AWKWARD PLACES: Ankara and Caracas may be separated by 10,000 kilometers, but Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his Venezuelan counterpart Nicolás Maduro are developing increasingly close ties — much to the irritation of Europe, the U.S. and Canada. Zia Weise has more.

WORTH A READ: Former Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek’s interview with Hospodářské noviny, in which he recalls a very tense G20 meeting in London in 2009, when Topolánek was at the helm of the Czech presidency of the Council. Topolánek claims he made French President Nicolas Sarkozy “look like a clown when the meeting discussed the issue of tax havens. In front of all G20 bosses, most important statesmen in the world.” The French finance minister at the time, Christine Lagarde, “had to hold” Sarkozy back, Topolánek says, “otherwise he would have jumped on the table.” (H/t Ondřej Houska)

SAVING EUROPE: Author Jérémie Gallon argues in an op-ed for POLITICO that Europe is slipping into irrelevance, but it’s not too late to save it.

CO2 DEAL: European Parliament and Council negotiators reached an agreement late Monday to cut carbon dioxide emissions from cars by 37.5 percent by 2030. Reuters has more.

JOURNALISM UNDER THREAT 

The Commission’s press room held a moment of silence Monday for Antonio Megalizzi and Bartek Orent-Niedzielski, two colleagues killed while reporting on what was supposed to be an ordinary plenary session in Strasbourg last week. There are more victims of terror attacks and deliberate aggression to mourn.

NEW SAD NUMBERS: Eighty journalists were killed this year, 348 are currently in prison and 60 are being held hostage, according to an annual report on violence against journalists released this morning by Reporters Sans Frontières (RSF). The report highlights “an unprecedented level of hostility towards media personnel,” according to a statement by RSF. The murders of Saudi columnist Jamal Khashoggi and the Slovak reporter Ján Kuciak are part of a wider threat to press freedom, with more than half of the journalists killed in 2018 deliberately targeted, RSF said.

GREECE BOMB ATTACK: “A powerful bomb exploded in the early hours of Monday morning, targeting the offices of leading TV/Radio station SKAI in Faliro, Athens and its affiliate most-read daily newspaper Kathimerini,” Giannis Kantelis from SKAI wrote in to tell us. “The blast took place at 2:37 a.m. local time, following a couple of anonymous warning calls to local media outlets. An improvised explosive device was placed in a narrow alleyway close to the SKAI building by at least two suspects who fled the scene. Police and security staff evacuated employees from the building in time, so no one was injured. The bomb contained about 8 kilograms of explosives and caused extensive damage, with windows smashed from the first to the sixth floor and offices destroyed.”

Opposition leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis visited SKAI to express his support. Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras in his statement called the blast an “attack by cowardly and dark forces against democracy itself.” SKAI group said in a statement: “Terror is not going to daunt us. We cannot be blackmailed or terrorized, as we have proven throughout the years.” Giannis sent through footage of the devastation. Watch here.

MEANWHILE, IN HUNGARY: Hungarian opposition MPs were assaulted on Monday after going to the headquarters of a state broadcaster and demanding less fawning coverage of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s government. The New York Times has a write-up, and Freedom House’s Zselyke Csaky has a good Twitter thread with videos.

AND IN THE US: Reports for the Senate Intelligence Committee show Russia mounted a sweeping effort to sow divisions and support Trump in the 2016 U.S. election. More from Cristiano Lima.

CONSTITUTIONAL OVERHAUL: Malta said Monday it would implement constitutional reforms after international experts found the independence of the judiciary was not guaranteed and the prime minister’s role was too powerful. Experts from the Venice Commission, a Council of Europe body, launched an examination of the rule of law in Malta after investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia was killed by a car bomb in October last year.

The Venice commission said it could not judge the effectiveness of the investigation into the reporter’s death, which her family complains was flawed and failed to uncover who ordered the killing. But the commission found a series of shortcomings in a general examination of the rule of law in the country. The government launched an overhaul of the constitution, dating back to 1964 (which was given to Malta by the U.K.). Jacopo Barigazzi reports