Athens Digest 15.03.2018

Government denies IMF pressure for 2019 measures

“No alternate plan” gives Greece headache

A T(bill) party …and violent protests

“Harsh” measures promised for football correction

Greek MEPs say Turkey should release arrested soldiers

# The government is insisting it’s not under any pressure from the IMF to impose all of its pre-approved post-bailout cuts next year. Dimitris Tzanakopoulos, the government spokesman, said no final decision had been made on the measures required next year _ whether a tax threshold reduction would be imposed alongside new pension cuts. “What we expect to happen is that towards the end of spring, the issue of the budgetary projection for 2019 will be raised,” he said.”But I do not believe there will be a budgetary issue for 2019.” Tzanakopoulos said the government was committed to completing conditions for the final bailout review on time, and restated that Greece intended to exit the program without a precautionary credit line from lenders.

# Despite the outward optimism, Greece only has until early May to conclude the final review, and as Commissioner Pierre Moscovici noted “there is no alternative plan in case of delays.” Beyond implementing 88 prior actions, Athens also has to persuade Eurogroup members that its “Greek-owned holistic growth plan” will not only include sound growth-friendly policies but will also achieve fiscal policy commitments besides those already voted for the next two years. NPL-reduction, modernisation of the public administration, and more effective use of public expenditure are also required. Activation of the IMF progamme is still in question though European institutions and the Fund are reportedly narrowing the gap regarding Greek debt reprofiling. Key decisions are expected at Eurogroup meetings on May 24 and June 21 _ on reaching a post-programme agreement as well as a debt relief procedure. Some of that relief will be provided under conditionality. A post-programme credit line remains unlikely but has not been ruled out.

# Greece has raised EUR812.5 million in its first 12-month treasury bill auction since the start of the crisis. The auction ended with a yield of 1.25 percent and the initial sum of EUR625 million was three times oversubscribed, according to a statement from the Public Debt Management Agency. Greece has tapped the bond market twice since 2010 but held regular auctions for three- and six-month treasury bill auctions. The good news for the government was kept in check, however, by weekly protests against online auctions of foreclosed properties that again turned violent. Three people were arrested during clashes in central Athens and four police officers were injured.

# Fifteen Greek European Parliament members have called for the immediate release of two Greek soldiers arrested by Turkey this month. In a cross-party initiative headed by left-wing member Kostas Chrysogonos, the MEPs described the arrest as an issue that concerns the entire European Union.The soldiers were arrested while straying into Turkish territory while on a routine border patrol. “Turkey has escalated its rhetoric on several fronts and this concerns us,” Tzanakopoulos said. “No one can exclude a (military) accident, but we are working to prevent this from happening. And you will soon see that there will be a de-escalation.” At the same time, the recently appointed alt. defence Minister Fotis Kouvelis kept distances from defence minister Panos Kammenos, saying that the latter’s statements about “hostages” in Turkey are “hypertrophic”.

# FIFA representatives in Athens renewed a warning that Greece is facing expulsion from international football unless it acts swiftly to tackle violence in the sport. Envoy Herbert Huebel met government and local football officials and described Greece as being at “an edge” and facing FIFA sanctions. The league was suspended this week after a protest by PAOK owner Ivan Savvidis who walked onto the pitch with a gun strapped to his belt.
New Democracy has accused the government of cozying up to the Greek-Russian businessman. But government spokesman Tzanakopoulos condemned Savvidis’ actions and said state authorities would take “difficult and harsh decisions” to rid professional football of “vested interests and criminal groups.”

On our Radar: Twin poll?
A former education minister in the current government says Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is likely to call a general election in 2019 to coincide with the European Parliament polls in late May next year. Nikos Filis told private Real FM radio that barring “negative events” Tsipras was likely to call a twin election. Many Greek commentators see a poll likely this autumn_ following Greece’s bailout exit but before additional pension cuts take effect.