Athens Digest 21.02.2018

• Commissioner Avramopoulos blasts ‘conspirators’ on eve of corruption vote

• Tsipras-Merkel meeting focused on Turkey tension

• Switch to e-auctions set for next week, says notary association chief

• Thessaloniki Port sale set for swift approval

# Dimitris Avramopoulos angrily denied any involvement in the alleged Novartis bribery scandal in an interview broadcast on the eve of a vote in parliament on whether to further investigate the allegations. “The bastards who created this conspiracy will sit in the dock,” he told Skai television. “Let them check my associates, and if they find anything, send them to the firing squad.”
The EU home affairs commissioner will not attend today’s debate in parliament. He is one of ten politicians named in a judicial investigation into the alleged illegal payments made by Novartis to manipulate prices and its share of the Greek market. Parliament members will hold a 13-hour debate on the judicial investigation and are poised to proceed with the investigation required for politicians to face prosecution.

# Turkish warships will remain off the coast of Cyprus until March 10, essentially extending a blockage against the island republic’s plans to drill for natural gas. The action further soured the atmosphere in the eastern Mediterranean.
Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras spoke on the telephone with Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel ahead of their planned meeting on Friday on the sidelines of the EU leaders’ meeting. Greek government officials say the talks will concentrate on the escalating tension caused by Turkey. Ongoing efforts to resolve the FYROM-name dispute will also be discussed.

# The head of the notary publics’ association in greater Athens says a full switch to online auctions of foreclosed properties is likely to proceed next week. Giorgos Rouskas told that a reported target of auctioning 10,000 properties this year was unrealistic given that banks were likely to prioritize the sales.

# Greece’s creditors are pressing the government to take faster action to reduce stress on banks from the huge number of non-performing loans. But the government is facing opposition to new auction regulations, from political and civil groups who argue that wage-earners and the unemployed should be protected from foreclosures after eight years of crisis. The Greek Communist party is planning a central Athens protest rally today, while the influential national small business association “Gesevee” said it was planning a protest campaign against the government position on e-auctions.

# Lawmakers have given plans to sell a majority stake in the Thessaloniki Port Authority high priority, following a committee debate in parliament.
Approval of the 67 percent stake sale will be debated tomorrow in full session as emergency legislation. Under an agreement signed last December, the consortium South Europe Gateway Thessaloniki will buy the stake for EUR232 million. The consortium is comprised of Deutsche Invest Equity Partners GmbH, Belterra Investments, Terminal Link SAS. The sale was held up last year after a Russian guarantor bank, Promsvyazbank, was placed under temporary administration. The origin of the funds prompted the U.S. Ambassador to Greece, Geoffrey Pyatt to raise questions over the transparency of the deal.

On our radar: Small business warning
Small businesses in Greece are falling behind other European countries in their drive to boost efficiency, the Hellenic Federation of Enterprises has warned. The federation published proposed guidelines to increase the number of medium-sized enterprises over seven years. Under the plan, the number of larger businesses would grow from the current level of 3 percent to 5 percent by 2025. Federation vice president Konstantinos Bitsios noted that medium and small businesses provide 87 percent of paid employment in Greece. He described the growing gap in efficiency between Greece and other EU countries as “particularly worrying.”