Athens Digest 27.02.2018

• Don’t cut umbilical cord with creditors, says Stournaras

• Millionaire ministers quit after claiming housing benefit. Tsipras’ cabinet reshuffle likely

• Syriza holds out minimum wage promise

• Lawsuits pile up against Novartis informants

# Mission chiefs from the bailout institutions returned to Athens to kickoff preparations for the final review, as government and Bank of Greece governor Yannis Stournaras continued a public row over post-programme funding.
In his annual report, Stournaras renewed his strong support for Greece to maintain ties with rescue lenders after August with a precautionary credit line.
Government officials were swift to express their annoyance, arguing that the public spat could hurt Greece’s chances of a “clean exit” and a full return to the markets.

# The government had another fire to put out, following revelations that a cabinet minister had been receiving rent rebate for two years despite high annual earnings and property holdings. The issue simmered over the weekend, but Rania Antonopoulou was told to resign yesterday after defending her decision to draw EUR23,000 in benefits. Joining his wife, Antonopolou’s husband, the Economy and Development Minister Dimitri Papadimitriou resigned late last night. In their joint income declaration last year, they reported around a half million euros in annual earnings as well as properties in the United States, Athens and the Greek island of Syros. Prime minister Tsipras is now expected to proceed in reshuffle of his cabinet. Moreover, the government promptly closed the benefit loophole that had allowed non-elected cabinet members to claim assistance.

# Greece could raise the minimum wage and begin to restore labour rights axed under successive austerity laws after the country exits the bailout.
Employment Minister Effie Achtsioglou raised the issue in an interview with the business daily Naftemporiki. The minimum wage was cut in 2012 as part of Greece’s second bailout agreement and was left unchanged by the Tsipras government despite a campaign pledge to restore in 2015. “Under no circumstances have we given up on that pledge,” the minister said. She described the argument that the wage cut would stimulate the Greek economy as “ineffective and damaging for society.”

# Politicians implicated in the alleged Novartis bribery scandal continued to take legal action against confidential informants, triggering an angry response from the government. Andreas Loverdos, the former Socialist health minister, was the latest to launch legal action against the three witnesses, whose identities have been protected. It remained unclear whether the three would testify at parliamentary investigation hearings. Justice Minister Stavros Kontonis described the lawsuits as an “attempt to terrorise protected witnesses and judicial officials.”
Conservative opposition leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis met yesterday with U.S. Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt and, according to conservative officials, discussed the role of the FBI in the allegations against Novartis in Greece and other countries. Reportedly, the U.S. Ambassador clarified that there is no FBI investigation about Greek politicians.

On our Radar: Name change starts small
Airport operators in Skopje began pulling down the sign “Alexander the Great” and EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker travelled on the country’s newly named Highway of Friendship. Greece and Fyrom have begun implementing the confidence-building measures they promised in an effort to resolve the dispute in the next four months. But the question of the country’s constitution, if an how it could be amended, has emerged as the major sticking point. Zoran Zaev, Fyrom’s pro-EU 43-year-old prime minister, said an amendment was not vital for an agreement to be reached, a public remark that appeared to irritate Nikos Kotzias, the Greek foreign minister. “I think that whoever is seeking to reach an agreement should not start to doubt it before it’s even been reached,” he told Greek reporters. “They should support it and find ways to implement it.”