Athens Digest 28.01.2018

• Creditors’ long to-do list takes priority over debt relief timetable

• Tsipras mulls cabinet replacements after ‘rebate-gate’

• Judges in fierce clash over Novartis scandal, opposition demands expanded probe

• Nationalists protest in Skopje as leader spells out proposals

# Bailout negotiators held a second day of talks in Athens amid doubt over when Greece can expect debt relief and whether the country is ready to end the rescue programme with a full return to markets. With another demanding to-do list from creditors, government officials avoided making any public comment on the debt timetable. Doubt also remains over IMF activation of its in principle programme. Mission chiefs are expected to continue talks through Thursday and return in May.

# Kyriakos Mitsotakis, the conservative opposition leader, challenged the government’s promise to deliver a “clean exit” in August. “It suits the government’s narrative but I’m not sure it suits the national interest,” he said. The Tsipras government, he said, had committed the country to ongoing austerity measures but would halt access to cheaper loans while the country remains vulnerable to market turbulence. Mitsotakis essentially sided with the argument presented on Monday by Bank of Greece governor Yannis Stournaras

# Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is not expected to change key cabinet positions in a reshuffle to be announced as early as today. State-run media reported that Tsipras was hoping to make swift replacements after the resignations of Economy and Development Minister Dimitri Papadimitriou and his wife, deputy labour minister Rania Antonopoulou. They stepped down confirming news reports they had received rent assistance despite high annual incomes. Speaking in southern Greece last night, Tsipras said they had resigned out of “sensitivity” not shown by previous governments which had been mired by major financial scandals.

# Politicians briefly took a backseat in the controversy surrounding the alleged Novartis bribery scandal, as an unprecedented dispute broke out in the top ranks of the judiciary. In a public statement, the National Association of Judges and Public Prosecutors accused a minority faction of the association board of taking a politically biased position in the investigation, in siding with remarks by Vassiliki Thanou, the former Supreme Court president who now works as top legal advisor in the prime minister’s office. Senior judges are split on how to proceed with the investigation into the alleged bribes paid by the Swiss drugmaker, given that parliament will now launch a separate probe into the alleged involvement of politicians.
New Democracy is seeking an expanded investigation into allegations of public health corruption to include officials in the Syriza-led government. It tabled a request to parliament to investigate the records of current Health Minister Andreas Xanthos, his deputy Pavlos Polakis, and his predecessor Panagiotis Kouroumplis.

# Zoran Zaev, the prime minister of Fyrom, says his country has made four proposals to Greece to reach a name compromise. In an interview with Reuters, he said the possible modifiers are North, Upper, and Vardar, or referring to country as the Republic of Macedonia-Skopje. Last night thousands of protesters attended a rally in Skopje against a compromise and set fire to a Greek flag. The rally was organized by several ultra-nationalist organizations, one describing the proposed compromise as “treason and genocide.”  The two countries remain at odds over the need to amend Fyrom’s constitution. Greek government spokesman told private Alpha television that Athens remained committed to resolving the name dispute. “If our neighbours have the will and disposition there will be a solution. If they don’t, there won’t be a solution.”

On our radar: Delphi Forum
Ancient Greeks regarded it as the centre of the world, where the Gods provided answers and predictions. In modern times, their place has been taken by economists, experts, and politicians at an annual meet-up to debate the region’s troubles. With the end of the third bailout fast approaching, center stage at the hillside town will be the key decision makers on how post-bailout Greece will function, from the prime minister to the heads of the creditor missions and others: Klaus Regling, head of the eurozone rescue fund, Thomas Wieser who headed the Euro-Working Group,Danièle Nouy, Chair of the SSM Supervisory Board and Declan Costello, representing the EU Commission. The event starts tomorrow and ends on March 4.