Athens Digest 22.02.2018

• Parliament backs corruption probe against senior politicians

• Opposition calls allegations a danger for democracy

• Moody’s gives Greece a two-notch upgrade

• E-auction protests deepen piling pressure on the government

# Parliament has voted in the early hours of Thursday to launch an investigation into all 10 senior politicians implicated in the Novartis bribery scandal, following a highly acrimonious debate that lasted nearly 18 hours. The results were (In favour-against or ‘present’, out of the 300 MPs’ seats):
Dimitris Avramopoulos 188-4
Evangelos Venizelos 185-6
Adonis Georgiadis 186-6
Giorgos Koutroumanis 180-12
Andreas Loverdos 186-4
Andreas Lykourentzos 180-10
Panagiotis Pikramenos 170-20
Marios Salmas 159-33
Antonis Samaras 182-9
Yannis Stournaras 182-8
New Democracy MPs abstained from the vote, while Pasok entered ballots with their own, separate proposal that were counted as being invalid. Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras described the vote as a break with Greece’s corrupt past and the causes of the country’s major financial crisis. “The real issue is the reason not just for the damage (from the scandal) but for reaching the brink of bankruptcy and catastrophe,” he told lawmakers. “It was a system of arrogance, greed, and no transparency” he added claiming that the opposition refuses to accept and take even its own political responsibilities.

# New Democracy and Pasok backed colleagues implicated in the scandal, describing them as victims of a government conspiracy. “You are dangerous for society and for democracy,” opposition leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis said. He claimed the false allegations against politicians were based on testimony from protected witnesses linked to the government which was taking desperate measures to cling to power. Mitsotakis referred to a “systematic attempt to murder characters” by a government that can’t handle crucial national issues.
Former PM Samaras went further, and described the Tsipras government as an “insult to democracy.” He said: “You created a parallel state to attack your opponents, and false witnesses. You will answer for what you have done.”
Dimitris Avramopoulos, the EU commissioner, was not present at the debate but in a statement he submitted to parliament said as a cabinet minister he had always acted in a way that protected the national interest and public finances.
Bank of Greece governor Yannis Stournaras described the allegations as “utterly false”.

# The ratings agency Moody’s has given Greece a two-notch upgrade to B3 following an improvement in its record of reforms that have placed the country on a path to exit the bailout. “Moody’s believes that Greece will successfully conclude its third support programme and return to self-sufficiency and market-based funding,” the agency said. “Its ‘clean’ exit will be supported in the near term by a substantial cash buffer and over the medium to long term by the strong commitment of Greece’s euro area creditors to providing further debt relief.” It is the first time since 2011 that the country gets a credit rating over “C” by Moody’s. Nevertheless, Greek bonds remain much below the “investment grade”.

# Piling pressure on the government, the Greek Communist Party, KKE, has vowed to give its full support to protests against online property auctions.
The party’s trade Union PAME staged a central Athens protest last night, where speakers said the group would step up demonstrations at courts and notary offices. The escalation came after Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos promised creditors during a Q&A session at a European Parliament committee that delays in prior actions would soon be overcome. More than 2,000 people joined the PAME rally that took place hours after anti-auction activists staged a peaceful sit protest inside the Bank of Greece’s head offices and disrupted e-auction proceedings at a notary office in central Athens.

# As announced yesterday, Piraeus Bank will proceed in the fourth online auction for the sale of properties, on the 20th and 21st of March. Since June 2017, 84 properties have been sold in the previous three auctions.

On our Radar: New rules for pharmacies
The Council of State has ruled in favour of the government, allowing pharmacy licences to be liberalised. The top administrative court found the government’s decree to be constitutional. It will allow people without a degree in pharmacology to have a licence and expand the number of licences that can be held by a single person to as many as 10 by 2020. The ruling ends a bitterly-fought battle between successive governments and pharmacy associations, who had argued that bailout creditor institutions were forcing Greece to adopt business rules that would hurt small businesses.
Opening closed professions still remains a sensitive issue. Despite several references in the bailout programs, not much progress has been actually achieved.