Athens Digest 12.01.2018

• “EWG conducted in auspicious atmosphere” say MinFin sources

• Omnibus bill approved by parliamentary committees amid MP concerns over industrial action reform

• Greece – FYROM explore common ground over latter’s future name

• PM Tsipras de-escalates the tension with Church after Foreign Ministry officials’ comments

• ANEL leader Kammenos rejects the term Macedonia for FYROM’s composite name while New Democracy leader Mitsotakis accuses the government for secret diplomacy

• Six media groups applied for Greek TV station national licenses – Mega Channel did not submit a bid

According to Ministry of Finance sources “Thursday’s Euro Working Group was smoothly concluded and there was a positive evaluation of the ongoing implementation of the prior actions”. The approval of the 3rd review of the Greek ESM program will be the issue of another Euroworking Group meeting ahead of the January 22nd Eurogroup, since the omnibus bill has not yet been voted and the Institutions are also expecting ministerial decisions related to the prior actions. The Greek MinFin expects that the next instalment will be approx.EUR4.5 billion. The exact figure will be decided on the basis of the country’s cash needs during the February-June period -estimated at approximately EUR3 billion- with an additional EUR1.5 billion expected to cover public sector arrears.

The omnibus bill wrapping the 3rd review passed in principle by the parliamentary committees on Thursday and will be discussed in plenary today. Still, a provision of the bill making it more difficult for a union to call an industrial action (strike) has generated some controversy among government MPs. One Syriza MP. Giannis Theonas, expressed publicly his disagreement with this provision and said that it should not be approved, but also implied that he might reconsider his stance once he discusses the matter with government officials.

Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias met with his FYROM counterpart Nikola Dimitrov, in Thessaloniki. According to the Greek Foreign Ministry, they discussed “the framework concerning the name issue” and agreed to “take a more active role in discussions to overcome the name dispute”. The location and time of the meeting were not announced in advance by the Ministry. The two ministers met in “Macedonia Palace” hotel, owned by the Russian-bornGreek businessman Ivan Savvidis.

PM Alexis Tsipras sent a letter to Archbishop Ieronymos on Thursday, a day after Foreign Ministry officials commented that the Church of Greece is “aligning itself with the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party” regarding the name dispute with FYROM. Tsipras assured Ieronymos that the concerns of the Church, especially the ecclesiastical ones, will be taken into consideration during the negotiations with FYROM and asked him to contribute to the government’s efforts “in a spirit of unity”. Replying in a good spirit to the PM, the Archbishop highlighted that the name of the schismatic orthodox Church of FYROM should not include the term “Macedonia” and its derivatives.

Panos Kammenos, the leader of the junior coalition government party ANEL, stressed his opposition to a name that would include the term Macedonia and its derivatives. New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis accused the government of engaging in “secret diplomacy” and dividing the nation. “I ask the government to stop dividing Greeks and to stop identifying people who are particularly sensitive on the name issue with the far right” said Mitsotakis during a visit to Macedonia.

Existing private TV channels SKAI, STAR, ALPHA, ANT1 and E as well as a new firm called ‘Tileoptiki Elliniki’ applied for the seven licenses available for private TV stations of national coverage. Given that the number of bidders (6) is smaller than the number of available licenses, there will be no auction and the licenses will be awarded directly, at a price of EUR35 million each. Popular private TV station MEGA Channel did not submit an application and is thus expected to terminate transmission, with its employees protesting the decision by its owners to not apply for a license. The National Council for Radio and Television will review applications and will announce the bidders that qualify for a permit.

On our radar: Dimitris Koufontinas, convicted leading member of the “November 17” terrorist group, asked for a leave, 60 days after he was granted his first one. Back then, the decision by the authorities to grant him a 2-day leave was met with anger by the opposition and foreign embassies. Koufontinas is serving multiple life sentences at the Korydallos prison; the prison council will decide on whether to grant him a second leave.