Athens Digest 15.02.2018

• Efforts to ease tension in Aegean. “I am strictly against the behaviour of Turkey” says Juncker

• FYROM says compromise on name within sight

• Greece posts strong January surplus, but bankers concerned

• Parliament drops income probe into Stournaras

• Notary association lashes at auction activists

# Two days after a Greek coast guard vessel was rammed in the east Aegean Sea, Greece Defence Minister Panos Kammenos said he had informed alliance officials of the “provocative behaviour of Turkey that went beyond the limits of tolerance.” Turkish PM Binali Yildirim said the two countries are working to de-escalate tension.
The European Union continued to press Ankara over its Mediterranean patrolling. “I am strictly against the behaviour of Turkey,” EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said. Greek officials welcomed the clear position taken by the EU, expressing hope that other allies, notably NATO and the United States, would follow as there is no such statement by them until now. The U.S. Ambassador to Greece Geoffrey Pyatt is heading to Ankara today to meet traveling Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. A spokeswoman for the Russian foreign ministry, meanwhile, expressed concern at Turkey’s ongoing naval blockade of attempts to start exploratory natural gas drilling off the coast of Cyprus. The island republic last night issued navigational notices for international naval exercises in the region.

# After the meeting of foreign ministers Kotzias of Greece and Dimitrov of FYROM in Vienna, along with U.N. mediator Matthew Nimetz, the prime minister of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia Zoran Zaev said talks with Greece have resolved three out of seven hurdles, including the proposed new name. He said FYROM would accept renaming the republic to add a “geographical qualifier”, likely adding ‘North’ or ‘Upper’ (Gorna). Zaev said unresolved issues remained the proposed renaming of his country’s language and a possible constitutional revision.In Greece, meanwhile, protest groups opposing a compromise on the name issue are planning a rally in the city of Patras on March 4, but it was not immediately clear whether the event would go ahead.

# Greece has posted a primary state budget surplus of EUR 1.88 billion in January, easily beating the target of EUR 722 million and last year’s monthly figure of EUR 1.02 billion, according to figures issued by the Finance Ministry.
Despite the latest positive data, senior bankers have expressed concern at government optimism, during a dinner with central bank chief Yannis Stournaras.
The bankers said the number of online property auctions was highly unlikely to meet the level set in bailout compliance guidelines. Further anxiety was expressed at post-bailout borrowing plans, with the country’s credit rating likely to linger in junk status for some time.

# A parliamentary committee has closed an investigation into income declarations submitted by Bank of Greece governor Stournaras, after finding no wrongdoing.
The probe was launched late last year following a press report that alleged Stournaras had not made a full declaration of his property while serving in his previous position as finance minister. Yesterday’s conclusion was announced as the 61-year-old governor faced a fresh investigation over his alleged involvement in the Novartis pharmaceutical bribery scandal, allegations that he has emphatically denied.

# A notary public association for greater Athens sharply criticized activist groups who routinely disrupt online property auctions and protest at court.
The association said that the activist groups, who are supported by political groups that broke away from the ruling Syriza party, had falsely stated that auctions planned on Wednesday concerned so-called primary properties (mortgage holders with no other property assets). The protests have led to repeated auction delays and strikes held by notary public associations across Greece.

On our radar: (Honorary) PhD for Putin
A Greek university says it will award Russian President Vladimir Putin an honorary doctorate next week. The University of the Peloponnese said the Putin will be honored by its Department of History and Archaeology at a ceremony on February 22 in the southern city of Kalamata. Putin, who will not attend, will be represented by the Russian ambassador to Greece.