Athens Digest 30.01.2018

• US Ambassador warns of Aegean ‘accident’

• Government safe from coalition bust-up

• Macedonia talks facing more hurdles

• Court begins review of Athens coastal development plan

• Amid bidder dispute, metro extension shortlist due in March

# The U.S. ambassador to Greece, Geoffrey Pyatt said he fears continued tension between Greece and Turkey in the Aegean Sea could trigger a military “accident.”
“Our concern, my worry is about an accident. As long as you have these lethal, complicated, military systems operating in close proximity with each other, there is always the risk of a terrible accident,” Pyatt told private Skai television.
He added that such an event would obviously have “major implications” for the relationship between the two countries.

# Defence Minister Panos Kammenos pledged continued support for Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’ government despite a public disagreement on how to handle the Macedonia issue. He made the remarks ahead of talks in Athens today between the government and the U.N. special envoy for the Macedonia issue, Matthew Nimetz.Nimetz will meet Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias and will also meet the foreign affairs spokesman for the conservative New Democracy party, George Koumoutsakos.
A junior coalition partner in the Tsipras government, Kammenos insisted he would not pull out of the coalition first formed three years ago between the left-wing Syriza party and his nationalist Independent Greeks.
“Regarding our participation in this government, the Independent Greeks have an honest agreement with Syriza and Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras. We will serve this agreement until the end of its mandate, a four-year mandate,” Kammenos said after meeting his MPs.
The statement calmed nerves but did not end speculation about what will happen if Tsipras asks parliament to ratify a composite-name solution, given the ongoing disagreement between the coalition partners. Before Kammenos’ remarks, analysts had been mulling the possibility of a Tsipras government propped up by the Socialists without new elections, a scenario the opposition party was quick to rule out.

# Prime Minister Zoran Zaev of the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia renewed his pledge to work with Greece to try and find a solution, as more obstacles appeared. His coalition partner, the ethnic Albanian DUI, publicly opposed the idea of holding a referendum on the proposed deal.
And in Greece, momentum gathered for Sunday’s rally in Athens against a compromise on Macedonia. Renowned composer Mikis Theodorakis, 92 and in poor health, was added to the list of speakers at the rally. No opposition party has backed the Greek prime minister’s initiative, but the Socialist Movement for Change (former Pasok) said it supported a composite name formula, such as North Macedonia.

# A high court has begun reviewing the delayed Hellenikon development project in greater Athens, viewed by Greece’s rescue creditors as a litmus test on the government’s willingness to push through major privatisation projects. The Council of State, the top Greek administrative court, began reviewing the legality of a presidential decree to give a consortium led by Lamda Development permission to create a park and a coastal luxury resort on the grounds of the old Athens airport and mostly delipidated 2004 Olympic sports complex. The venture is facing multiple legal challenges, an unresolved dispute over its archaeological importance, and had initially faced hostility from ministers in the current government. Several other 2004 Games venues also remain underused or abandoned.

# The final short-list of four bidders to build a new metro line serving some of Athens’ most populated neighbourhoods will be announced in March.
The EUR 1.45 billion deal, assisted with funding and loans from the European Union and the European Investment Bank, to build ‘Line 4’ by 2027 will connect areas of the city that include Zografou, Exarcheia, and Kypseli.
Theodoros Papadopoulos, managing director of state-owned subway operator, Attiko Metro, told the Reuters news agency that delays in finalising the short-list were in part due to disputes between rival bidders over criteria of the tender.
Named bidders so far include: GEK Terna-Vinci-Siemens, J&P Avax-Ghella-Alstom, Aktor-Hitachi Rail Italy, and FCC-Archirodon-Mytilineos.

On our radar: Moscovici due as Greece races with review loose ends
Pierre Moscovici, the EU finance commissioner, is due in Athens next week, as Greece races to wrap up details of its third bailout review and prepare for 2018’s first bond launch. The French commissioner is due to speak at a finance conference in Athens, next Thursday (February 8). The government is hoping to have completed remaining prior actions by, allowing for the disbursement of EUR5.7 billion, followed by an additional EUR1 billion.
Shares on the Athens Stock Exchange have continued their steady climb throughout January, helped by banks, as investors appear confident that the government will provide little resistance to reform demands as the bailout programme nears it August cut off.