Athens Digest 19.02.2018

• Athens to-do list unfinished as lenders decide on pay out

• Greece announces gas grid offers ahead of Eurogroup

• Novartis scandal: All eyes on parliament

• PM Tsipras visits fighter pilots with message for Turkey

# Eurozone finance ministers will review Greek progress at today’s Eurogroup meeting, with at least two prior actions set for the next loan disbursement still pending as of last night. This makes the approval of the EUR5.7 billion disbursement unlikely. Greek officials have argued that delays in broadening the number of online property auctions and legal obstacles to the coastal development at Hellenikon are primarily technical issues. But until yesterday it remained unclear whether Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos’ colleagues were in agreement.
The government was buoyed by the latest sovereign upgrade from Fitch (B- to B), which however kept Greek bonds below investment grade despite the government’s intention to make a full return to the markets this year.

# Greece’s privatisation agency (HRADF) says it has received two binding offers for a 66 percent stake in gas grid operator DESFA, a key prior action set by rescue creditors for an upcoming loan disbursement. The agency said offers were made by Italian natural gas infrastructure firm Snam joined in a consortium by Spain’s Enagas and Belgium’s Fluxys. The three companies are part of the Trans Adriatic Pipeline shareholding.
Spanish Reganosa and Romania’s Transgaz, a firm which had previously attempted to enter the acquisition process, made the second offer. The two partners secured a last-minute support from the EBRD, estimated at over 30 percent, raising Greek government’s hopes that the sale could exceed the EUR400 million mark offered by the Azerbaijani SOCAR back in 2016.
State-owned Dutch firm Gasunie pulled out of the Snam-led consortium a day before the deadline, in an action linked to perceived reluctance by the newly formed coalition government to proceed with the investment.

# Greek lawmakers are bracing for Wednesday’s 13-hour debate in parliament that could see ten of the country’s senior politicians face criminal prosecution at a special court. More than 50 people will speak during the marathon session on whether to formally proceed with corruption allegations made against former PM Antonis Samaras, Bank of Greece governor Yannis Stournaras, EU Home Affairs Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos, and others. Lawmakers will vote in ten separate ballot boxes. Five of those facing the allegations are still MPs but all of the accused will be allowed to address parliament. Avramopoulos will not be present at the debate. All ten have denied the allegations that they received bribes from Swiss pharmaceutical firm Novartis or benefitted from the payment of others. Although the main opposition conservatives officially back parliament proceeding with the case, they have demanded that lawmakers be permitted to interview confidential witnesses who are key to the allegations. They also oppose to the ten ballot procedure, claiming than only one should be used instead.

# Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has visited fighter pilots on the island of Skyros, as the government warned Turkey that it would respond to any further military provocation in the Aegean Sea. Tsipras was joined by Defence Minister Panos Kammenos on his visit to the 135th combat group, ending a week that saw a spike in tension between Athens and Ankara after a Greek coast guard vessel was rammed by a Turkish patrol boat near the disputed islets of Imia.

On our radar: de Guindos tο get Greek nod?
They have had a fair share of disagreements in the past, but Athens is warming to the idea of supporting Spanish Economy Minister Luis de Guindos as the next vice president of the European Central Bank. The Spaniard, who was often seen as hawkish in Greece during the country’s bailout negotiations, is facing a challenge for the position from Irish central bank governor Philip Lane.