Athens Digest 02.02.2018

• FYROM: UN seeks Easter breakthrough but rally by opponents keeps talks on edge

• Tsakalotos sees post-bailout surveillance easing slowly

• IMF praises work on debt relief but still remains unchanged on participation

• Larco loses appeal on illegal aid repayment


# Greek organizers of Sunday’s rally in Athens opposing a compromise with FYROM, renewed their pledge to draw a million people to the event, and political leaders continued their public spat on how best to handle the negotiations.
But a U.N. envoy said that the Balkan neighbours could resolve their differences as early as Easter. “I am very optimistic. There is a window of opportunity,” envoy Matthew Nimetz said after talks in Skopje. “I think we should go forward quickly and move to a solution in the next couple of months.”

# Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias also told Reuters in an interview that he expected the long-standing name dispute to be settled by June.
While negotiations remain confident in public, officials in Athens said they were disappointed by remarks by Nimetz and Nikola Dimitrov, FYROM’s foreign minister, regarding FYROM’s national identity. “No one, not our Greek neighbours, or anyone else in Europe can in the 21st century deprive us of our right to be Macedonians and speak the Macedonian language,” Dimitrov said.
Back in Greece, opposition leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis, kept up his attacks on the government while on a tour of the Peloponnese. “When you go into a negotiation, the first thing you check is whether the other side can deliver on what they are offering. That didn’t happen,” Mitsotakis said. “The government has made unforgivable mistakes.”

# Post-bailout Greece will seek a gradual easing of international supervision of its finances, while the tax burden on the middle class will also be reduced slowly, Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos said in a television interview. “I want to be frank. We expect that surveillance will slowly turn into surveillance-oversight for our targets,” he told private Alpha TV. “We have agreed on a clean exit and there is no need for a precautionary credit line.”
Tsakalotos spoke after Declan Costello, the European Commission’s mission chief in Greece, was quoted as saying in a briefing to Dutch lawmakers that Greece would require another decade of major structural reforms to ensure sustainable growth. “What Costello says, exists. But there are many in the Euroarea who say… enough with the austerity” Tsakalotos claimed.
Referring to remarks by the former Eurogroup president Jeroen Dijsselbloem and the former president of the Εuroworking group Thomas Wieser that only recently and during the second Syriza government, the Greek Authorities took the ownership of their programme, the Greek MinFin said: “When they say things were easier with us, they mean that after our agreement we implemented what we promised without playing tricks.”

# The IMF has not changed its position on joining Greece’s programme but is encouraged by technical work on debt relief, a spokesman said. “The conditions for activating the IMF programme have not changed. You’ll remember we have an agreement in principle on a program which is not yet activated,” spokesman William Murray said. But he added: “The January Eurogroup statement has accelerated technical work on the discussion on debt relief. We are working with our partners to arrive to at a positive outcome that will credibly alleviate Greece’s debt burden.”

# Greek metal producer Larco has lost an appeal at the European Union’s Court of Justice against an EU order to return EUR 136 million in state aid.
In the ruling, the judges rejected arguments made by the Larco General Mining & Metallurgical Company, and ordered it to pay legal costs.
The repayment order follows an investigation that ended in 2014 that concluded that the aid had given the company an unfair advantage and violated state aid rules. The company, the largest ferronickel producer in Europe, has been in financial trouble for years. But the EU investigation concluded that the money it received could not be considered as being part of a restructuring plan.



On our radar: University crime probe
A senior prosecutor has launched a preliminary investigation into reports of rife criminal activity on state university campus grounds.
The investigation is expected to concentrate on alleged drug trafficking and other offences at campuses, where police can only gain access under Greek law after receiving special permission from academic authorities.
Campus crime, and the use of university grounds by violent demonstrators has for years been a topic of heated political debate, with the conservative opposition promising to allow police greater access.