Athens Digest 05.02.2018

• Macedonia rally draws huge crowds but estimates vary wildly

• Time to test the markets

• Government tries to head off highway blockades

• Campus used for fundraiser party to help suspect in terror attack against former PM Papademos

# A rally in central Athens against a proposed compromise with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) drew huge crowds. Police issued a crowd estimate of 140,000 while the organisers are claiming that it attracted almost ten times more. Mikis Theodorakis was the main speaker. The 93-year-old composer, speaking from a wheelchair, urged members of parliament to defy their parties and prevent an agreement on the name issue. He claimed that if the government brings a solution with a composite name for FYROM including the term Macedonia, then a referendum will have to take place.

# The controversy quickly spilled over into a political dispute, as the prime minister’s office accused the conservative opposition of making a failed attempt to exploit the rally to try and topple the government.
“As expected, thousands attended the rally in Syntagma Square, but it was not the political earthquake attended by millions that the organisers and (conservatives) had dreamt of,” a statement from the office of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said.
Nikos Kotzias, the foreign minister, mocked opponents in a tweet: “Millions of Greek patriots made their choice (and stayed away). So I will continue negotiations, with a sense of responsibility and a clear conscience, for the good of the nation.”
New Democracy fired back that government was attempting to belittle a “display of national pride attended by hundreds and thousands of citizens.” The rally, party leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis said, resulted from the lack of public trust in the government to handle foreign policy issues effectively.
During the past week Syriza MPs and members tried to attribute the rally exclusively to extreme-right representatives; in terms of communication, the effort was not quite successful. On the other hand, Mitsotakis tried to keep the unity of his party as its right wing was in favor of the rally. Several MPs and members including the former PM Samaras attended the rally.

# Greece is expected to return to bond markets this week, taking note of investor interest, favourable conditions in the market, and need to build trust, and cash buffers, in a timely way before the bailout ends in August.
The seven-year issue is expected to have a EUR3 billion cash target, and be followed up by two more issues, a 10-year and three-year bond auction before the rescue cut-off. Greek authorities are hoping for high demand of the seven-year bond and an interest rate of 3.4-3.5 percent.

# Agriculture Minister Vangelis Apostolou meets today with representatives of protesting farm associations, in an effort to prevent a threatened campaign of motorway blockades. Protesters say they will decide on their action after the morning meeting in Athens. Eighteen different associations are threatening blockades and have lined their tractors along the emergency lanes of Greece’s main road arteries, a tactic that has frequently been used over the past 20 years.
Farmers are seeking relief from taxes and other measures linked to Greek bailout commitments. Apostolou has insisted that there is room for minor concessions, and has promised to scrap a tax hike on wine production after the bailout ends in the summer.

# Supporters of a suspect in last year’s parcel-bomb attack against former prime minister Lucas Papademos, have used campus grounds to hold a fundraising party to help pay his legal bills.
Academic authorities at the Athens University of Business and Economics confirmed that they had not sanctioned the event held in support of suspect, Constantine Giatzoglou, an alleged member of the armed militant group Conspiracy of Fire Nuclei, which claimed responsibility for the blast inside Papademos’ car that left him injured and hospitalised for weeks.

On our radar: Parties told to get finances in order
A parliamentary audit committee has issued a warning to the country’s political parties that they must provide clarification of compliance with spending rules or face sanctions. In a report, the committee reminded parties that were required to provide fully itemised spending records when involving public funds used for research and election campaigning.
Party finances are a highly politically-charged topic in Greece, with multiple revelations of poor management emerging after the country sank into financial crisis.
Funding has been suspended for the extreme right Golden Dawn party after its leadership was accused of using the party to run a criminal organisation. The party’s leader and many senior members remain on trial.