Athens Digest 27.03.2018

• No Russian diplomats expelled from Greece

• Greek delight as Turkey faces EU criticism on Aegean, two soldiers

• VP Dragasakis: Government readying local surveillance mechanism

• Bids for DESFA to be announced by the end of the week says Minister of Energy

• Varoufakis launches Greek ‘disobedience front’ promises to fight debt

# More than 100 Russian diplomats were expelled from mostly-NATO countries in response to the poison attack in Britain against former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia. 14 EU member states including Germany and France proceed in expels, after last week’s European Council results, but Greece and Cyprus were not among them. Officials in Athens made no public comment on the Greek decision that followed Prime Minister Tsipras telephone conversation last week with the Russian President Vladimir Putin, when he was invited to visit Moscow. Greek officials say they are concerned that action against Russia could see Europe return to a Cold War, and stress the need to keep channels of communication with Moscow open. Moreover, on the background, Greek sources highlight that investigation about Salisbury attack is still ongoing and should continue in order to bring more evidence.

# Top EU officials promised continued support to maintain the EU-Turkey migration deal but publicly criticized Ankara’s actions in the Mediterranean and east Aegean, along with the continued detention of two Greek border patrol servicemen. The remarks were greeted with relief in Athens. “For the first time, the EU has sent such a clear signal to Turkey that there can be no progress in EU-Turkish relations without progress in its relations with Greece and Cyprus,” a senior Greek official said. After the meeting in Varna, Bulgaria between President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey and the EU’s Donald Tusk and Jean-Claude Juncker, Greek officials said there was now hope that the two Greek soldiers could return home by (Orthodox) Easter.

# Yannis Dragasakis, the deputy PM and economy minister, hinted that Greece could create its own surveillance mechanism to monitor post-bailout reforms. The country’s growth strategy, he said, would aim to provide fairer taxation and reduce the income gap to help those hardest hit by the crisis. He stressed that his government remained committed to a “clean exit” from the bailout in August, in remarks made after an interview of Hans Vijlbrief was published. The new head of the Euroworking group told Greece’s “Ta Nea” daily that a precautionary credit line remained Athens’ safest option. He added that creditors were preparing the conditions for “enhanced surveillance” for the first few years after the Greek programme is completed.

# Energy Minister George Stathakis said Greece could attract huge investments in the energy sector worth up to EUR35 billion over the “next several years” but noted that the country remains challenged by ambitious EU clean energy targets. Speaking at a regional government conference in Thessaloniki, Stathakis said the two bids for a 66 percent stake in DESFA, the natural gas grid operator, will be announced by the end of the week. An offer has been made by Italian natural gas infrastructure firm Snam joined in a consortium by Spain’s Enagas and Belgium’s Fluxys and another one by Spanish Reganosa, Romania’s Transgaz with a support by EBRD. Greek government’s hopes that the sale could exceed the EUR400 million mark offered by the Azerbaijani SOCAR back in 2016.

On our Radar: “Cretan party”, launching Varoufakis’ party. New promises to fight debt
The Greek branch of Yanis Varoufakis’ European anti-austerity network is called MeRA25, the European Realist Disobedience Front. It was launched in Athens yesterday _ the third party created from Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’ former inner circle that will run against him at the next election. “Today a party is being founded that has a very clear answer to the question: Why do we need another party in Greece today? There’s a one word-answer: Debt-colony.” Varoufakis, 56, promised to fight for bailout debt restructuring, help voters with personal bankruptcy on a national scale, and transform Greece’s privatisation agency into a fully fledged development bank. The inauguration event lasted most of the day and included a Cretan traditional music performance, open discussions on the future of Europe, and video greetings from Brian Eno and Noam Chomsky.