Athens Digest 16.03.2018

• New Democracy retains strong lead in polls, eyes outright win

• Elections likely this autumn says Mitsotakis on US television

• Public sector staff assessment suspended for talks with unions

• No bidders for OTE. Option for Deutsche Telekom to express interest for another 5 percent

# New Democracy has maintained a strong lead in a new opinion poll. The “Pulse” survey for Skai television gave Mitsotakis’ main opposition party a 31.5 percent vote estimate and a 10-point lead over the governing Syriza. Fewer voters scattered to smaller parties. Pasok’s newly expanded Movement for Change placed third with 8.5 percent support, just ahead of Golden Dawn, while the Greek Communist Party (KKE) garnered 6 percent. Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’ government was hurt by its handling of the arrest of the two Greek soldiers in Turkey. Some 51 percent disapproved of how the issue was handled, while 32 percent agreed.

# Still visiting the United States, Mitsotakis told Bloomberg television he thought elections were likely this autumn, so that the Prime Minister Tsipras would be spared the political impact of post-bailout austerity measures. The New Democracy leader promised to cut business and property tax in the first two years if he wins the next election. “(Tax cuts) will be coupled by a great simplification of our of our tax code and our tax legislation,” he said. “I think that we’re at the stage in Greece that if we reduce our tax rates, we will also improve or tax compliance, which is very low at present.” The corporate tax rate, Mitsotakis said, would be lowered from 29 percent to 20 in two years.

# The government has briefly suspended staff performance assessment in the public sector while talks are ongoing with civil servants’ unions on disputed details of the scheme. Olga Gerovasili, the public sector reform minister, said the negotiations were to be concluded by early April. The bailout-mandated reforms are aimed at depoliticising Greece’s public administration and include the performance assessment of staff as well as the use of fixed-term managers. Among its demands, the public sector union ADEDY wants the ministry to scrap a legal amendment which it maintains poses a threat to the right to strike.

# No offers have been made for a 5 percent stake in dominant telecoms provider OTE, leaving Germany’s Deutsche Telekom the option to express interest in the purchase within 60 days. If the sale in Greece’s latest privatization venture goes ahead, the price would be set by calculating the share price average over the 20 days before an offer is made. Deutsche Telekom owns 40 percent of the company. The proposed sale by privatisations agency HRADF would leave the Greek state with a remaining 5 percent stake.
Separately, Energy Minister George Stathakis said bids for a 66 percent stake in DESFA, the natural gas grid operator, were expected next week. He added that legal preparations for the planned sale of coal-fired plants owned by the Public Power Corporation were in the “final stages.”

On our Radar: It is not just football
Opposition parties continued attacks on the government over Greece’s suspended football championship. Prominent opposition lawmakers accused the government of forming an unofficial political alliance with Greek-Russian businessman Ivan Savvidis, the owner of PAOK football club who carried a holstered gun onto the pitch in a match protest on Sunday. Government officials denied having any special relationship with the 58-year-old businessman (although some MEPs openly defended PAOK in the parliament) and said they were determined to clean up the sport. Giorgos Vassiliadis, the sports minister, said clubs and football officials were being asked to sign off on a proposals to impose harsher penalties that could see teams relegated for serious cases of violence.
Political battle over this case is expected to raise further tension as it goes much beyond football. Savvidis, a former member of the Russian parliament is a holder of various assets in Greece, (tobacco companies, Thessaloniki port as well as media orginisations etc.)