Athens Digest 06.03.2018

• Economy grows but so does tax headache

• Turkish court decision leads to new tension

• Avramopoulos: Novartis informants should lose anonymity

• Binding bids from Total-ExxonMobil–Helpe and Repsoil-Helpe for oil & gas exploration rights in Crete, Ionian Sea

# The Greek economy has grown for four successive quarters, but pressure on taxpayers is set to intensify in 2018. The Greek Statistics Agency, Elstat, said all four quarters in 2017 were positive, with the October-December figure up 1.9 percent on the year. But the Tsipras government, eying a possible snap election in the autumn, looks unlikely to ease pressure on taxpayers, as the country’s independent revenue authority is poised to ramp up asset seizures (bank deposits and property) in 2018. An expected property tax recalculation could also hurt struggling households. Current tax levels largely reflect pre-crisis property values with more demanded from owners in upscale areas that have since seen property values plummet. Recalculation of property tax (called Enfia) is a key deliverable for the next and final review of Greece’s bailout program.

# Two Greek soldiers arrested by the Turkish Authorities last week have been held on charges of illegally crossing the border. A court in the Turkish border city of Edirne yesterday rejected a request for the two servicemen to be released. “Turkey should not turn a daily process into a big legal and political problem” said Greece’s foreign minister Nikos Kotzias following a meeting with his Cypriot counterpart, Nikos Christodoulides.
Kotzias also pointed out that the the violation of international law, especially the law of the sea, must be addressed during EU-Turkey summit in Varna. “Turkish behavior doesn’t threaten only the interests of the Republic of Cyprus” said the Cypriot Minister highlighting that the EU considers the Eastern Mediterranean as an alternative energy corridor for Europe.

# EU Home Affairs Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos has filed a request at the office of Supreme Court prosecutor asking for the identities of confidential informants in an alleged medical supply scandal to be revealed.
“I will use all legal means available to expose the conspiracy against me that is based solely on the testimony of two hooded false witnesses,” the commissioner said in a statement.
In parliament, an investigative committee created to review evidence against Avramopoulos and other senior politicians held its first meeting. Committee members voted not to broadcast meetings on parliament television and exclude reporters from sessions. They are investigating allegations that Swiss pharmaceutical company Novartis paid politicians millions of euros in bribes to boost prices and access to the National Health System. All 10 politicians implicated strongly deny the allegations.

# The government has welcomed interest by major firms in proposed oil-and-gas exploration in western and southern Greece. A public auction operator said a consortium comprised of Total, ExxonMobil, and Greece Hellenic Petroleum (HELPE) had bid for rights in the the region west and southwest of Crete, while Spain’s Repsol with HELPE had bid for areas in the Ionian Sea. Energean didn’t enter in the bid despite the company’s initial interest.
Environment and Energy Minister George Stathakis said: “The interest of major oil-and-gas firms is a vote of confidence in the prospects of the Greek economy and the country’s role as a stabilizing presence in Southeast Mediterranean region.”

On our Radar: Spurred by Italy vote, extreme right plots revival
Victory for Eurosceptics in Italy’s general election brought little celebration in Greece. Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras saw his centre-left ally Matteo Renzi go and staunchly pro-EU conservatives in Greece are wary of the rehabilitation of the nationalist right across Europe.

Golden Dawn, the extreme right party that until recently was openly neo-Nazi, was buoyed by a strong showing of the nationalist Northern League, and called the poll results a victory for the forces of anti-immigration and anti-globalisation. Opinion polls suggest Golden Dawn has reclaimed third place, with support roughly level with the newly renamed Movement for Change (former Pasok) at 8.5 percent.