Athens Digest 20.02.2018

• Inspectors return but disbursement delayed

• Tsakalotos has “vivid discussion” with Draghi but makes no statements

• PM’s aide says Novartis scandal won’t lead to early election

• Power utility under pressure over lignite plant

# Creditor missions will return to Athens next Monday to start work on Greece’s final bailout assessment, but the latest installment was again held up due to delayed implementation of payment conditions. Eurozone finance ministers did not sign off on the EUR5.7 billion payout, citing delays in the Hellenikon coastal development project and adoption of online property auctions across the country.
Klaus Regling, managing director of the European Stability Mechanism, said the disbursement would not take place before the second half of March. New Eurogroup chairman Mario Centeno, however, praised Greece’s progress, noting that negotiations for a debt relief package will consider tying repayment terms to Greece’s growth rates.

# Despite the praise for Greece, the country’s finance minister Euclid Tsakalotos was reportedly seen at the meeting having a heated exchange with Mario Draghi, the ECB president. Officials played down the incident. Centeno told reporters: “We have sometimes very vivid discussions in the Eurogroup. Nothing special happened today.” Tsakalotos was reacting to pressure from Draghi to speed up property e-auctions, according to multiple reports, citing European and Greek officials. The “vulnerability” of the Greek bonds came on the table, too. Tsakalotos made no statements after the meeting.

# A close aide to Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras says the alleged Novartis bribery scandal will not lead to a snap general election. Alekos Flambouraris, a minister of state in Tsipras’ cabinet, told Nea Selida newspaper that elections would be held in 2019, adding that the ruling Syriza party would not necessarily renew its coalition partnership with the right-wing Independent Greeks. He made the remarks ahead of Wednesday’s vote in parliament on whether to proceed with allegations against senior politicians including EU Home Affairs Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos over the Novartis investigation. Opposition parties have increased the number of regional appearances in recent weeks, anticipating that Tsipras could go to the polls after Greece exits the bailout programme in August.

# Greece’s Public Power Corporation is facing mounting pressure to act on the future of a major coal-fired power plant in northern Greece after European authorities turned down a request to extend operating hours at the site. The decision leaves PPC to mull options on who could finance the modernisation of the 600-megawatt Amyntaio plant, expected to cost EUR110 million. Industrial group Mytilineos was the latest company to express interest, as part of a proposed long-term supply deal, following a similar move by GEK Terna construction. Without an upgrade, the plant will in violation of EU environment rules and have to close next year.

On our radar: Farmers’ funding
Agriculture Minister Vangelis Apostolou says his government is opposed to the co-funding direct payments under the Common Agricultural Policy, arguing that it would fuel internal competition within the EU.
His statements were made against the backdrop of yesterday’s Ministers of Agriculture Council which focused on the future of Food and Farming including direct support, environmental aspects and rural development.