Athens Digest 13.03.2018

• Third time lucky for football crackdown?

• A 100-day race for Greece’s future

• Mitsotakis: Government is harming Greece’s institutions

• Business sentiment hits highest point since start of crisis

• A EUR 2.5 billion reduction of Euorbank’s NPLs in 2018 is feasible says its CEO

# In its third attempt to shock clubs into better behaviour, the government has again suspended Greece’s main football championship. At the same time, FIFA warned that Greece could be expelled from international competition without a swift action to end to the frequent match disruptions. Sports minister Giorgos Vassiliadis announced the action after another league game ended in a brawl. PAOK chairman, Russian-Greece businessman -former member of the Russian parliament and holder of various assets in Greece, from tobacco companies and Thessaloniki port to media orginisations- Ivan Savvidis ran onto the pitch with a gun holstered to his belt, threatening the referee for denying a goal. PAOK and league leader AEK are poised to end two decades of dominance by Olympiakos. But matches have been routinely disrupted by violence, backed up by volatile statements from club bosses, whose powerful influence in industry and the news media has allowed them to frequently ignore warnings.

# Bailout creditors approved Greece’s next installment at last night’s Eurogroup meeting and issued a 100-day deadline to have its final batch of reforms ready. But Athens is focused on the first 45. Finance Ministry officials want the country’s post-bailout growth proposal to be ready for the Eurogroup of April 27 in Sofia, Bulgaria. They are already testing reaction to its key provisions: A pledge to lenders and markets that reforms and privatisation will not be abandoned after August, and to voters and local businesses that they can expect a gradual drop in taxes and an increase in the minimum wage.

# Opposition leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis accused the government of weakening the country’s democratic institutions in a bid to cling to power. Speaking on a trip to Boston and to a local Greek radio station, the New Democracy leader said the government had undermined the judiciary and attempted to create a “new class of oligarchs” with influence in the news media. “There’s been a lot of talk about out our financial performance, but I think that the biggest problem is the quality of our institutions,” he said. “That’s why I believe the greatest damage done by this Government is not to the economy, but in diluting the quality of our democracy.”

# Business sentiment in Greece has reached its most positive level since the start of the crisis, according to a respected survey. The Foundation for Economic and Industrial Research, IOBE, said the February figure follows the successful conclusion of the latest bailout review, as well as improved financial conditions domestically and in Europe. The business expectations index reached 101.3 points, the best score since September 2007. The news came as the government trimmed its growth forecast from 2.5 to 2.3 percent for 2018. The Greek Federation of Enterprises set its forecast at 2 percent, warning that high levels of taxation will continue to weigh on the economy for several years to come. Statistics agency Elstat also announced disappointing data yesterday: Industrial production dipped by 1.7 percent in January and building activity dropped by 6.7 percent in December.

# Incorporating the additional provisions in the context of the new international financial reporting standards (IFRS 9), Eurobank announced that their effect is up to EUR1.1 billion. Its CEO, Fokion Karavias, said that the electronic auctions kick-off has already sent an encouraging message. The Bank will hold more than 1,000 auctions this year which are expected lead to a EUR 2.5 billion reduction of its NPLs. Eurobank was the first systemic bank which announced its 2017 results. Alpha Bank will follow on March 20.

On our Radar: Auctions anger police officers
A police officers’ association for greater Athens has issued an attack on the government over its support for speeding up e-auctions of foreclosed properties.
“We are being dispatched to support a bailout agreement and defend a process that may throw hundreds of thousands of our fellow citizens out of their homes,” an association statement said. The association said it was taking legal action against the government after several officers were injured last week during a protest against online auctions.