Athens Digest 20.03.2018

• Foreign Minister Kotzias gets help from Merkel, prepares for name negotiations

• Government denies coalition trouble. The “virtuous partnership” will go on till the end of its mandate says Kammenos

• Opposition leader lashed over minimum wage pledge

• Stournaras, Tsakalotos (politely) disagree on role of government in Greek recovery

# Nikos Kotzias, the Greek Foreign Minister heads to Skopje on Thursday for the latest round of negotiations on the name issue, amid a flare-up of political tension in the former Yugoslav republic.Kotzias told reporters in Brussels that Greece had already sent its revised proposals to FYROM ahead of the visit. He added that German Chancellor Angela Merkel had, at Athens’ request, raised the issue with Turkey of two arrested Greek soldiers who have been jailed after accidentally crossing the border. The prospects of Kotzias’ trip to Skopje could be complicated by the renewal of political tension in Fyrom. Government attempts to ratify Albanian as an official second language have triggered new opposition-backed protests as well as dissent from conservative President Gjorgje Ivanov.

# The government has denied reports that relations between its two coalition partners are in trouble as it heads towards the next general election. Prime Minister Alexis visited Cycladic islands Syros and Tinos yesterday to inaugurate a long-awaited undersea electricity link with the mainland. The project was co-funded by the EU. Without addressing the reports directly, Tsipras noted that his administration had crucial work in the months ahead. “We are at a critical turning point after a long and unprecedented financial crisis,” he said. “This is a time when we all need to think about our responsibilities towards the future generations.” Tsipras is due to meet today with coalition partner and Defence Minister Panos Kammenos. Kammenos described his collaboration with the left-wing Syriza as a “virtuous partnership” that he would “see out to the end.” According to polls, his nationalist Independent Greeks party is struggling to reach the 3 percent vote threshold needed to enter parliament, while the Socialist Movement for Change (former Pasok) has made modest gains and is polling in third place.

# In a swift response, the Labour Ministry criticised plans by New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis to scrap Greece’s two-tier minimum wage system, as a row over post-bailout employment reforms intensifies. Mitsotakis said his party would end the bailout-era lower minimum wage for under-25s and provide incentives for young people to start their own business. The government countered that the pledge fell far short of its own commitment to gradually reinstate collective-bargaining labour contracts and allow a cross-the-board minimum wage rise.

# Yannis Stournaras rarely appears with government officials in public. Relations between the two sides sank further last month when the Bank of Greece governor was included in a parliamentary investigation into the Novartis medical corruption scandal. He did agree to join Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos last night for a discussion on post-bailout Greece, organised by Greece’s Foundation for Economic and Industrial Research (IOBE). In a civil but often awkward exchange, the two officials aired their disagreement over the role of the state in getting the country back on its feet. Greece, Stournaras said, needed to deepen current reforms, press ahead with more privatisation, and create the financial conditions required for a positive “investment shock.” Tsakalotos, in contrast, maintained that public investment along with coop and development banks could play an important role in helping Greece develop a healthier post-crisis model for businesses.

On our Radar: E-auctions for unpaid taxes
The Independent Authority for Public Revenue has announced plans to launch online property auctions on April 27 for large-sum tax evaders. Agency officials said the nine auctions were planned until May 16 to recover unpaid taxes of between EUR 570,000 and EUR 36 million. The properties include private apartments, commercial stores, farm and other land, and a factory. The revenue authority is planning more aggressive collection initiatives this year as the country prepares to return to markets.