Athens Digest 28.03.2018

• Official: June deadline still holds

• Fixed-term managers already under fire

• Tsipras tells Socialists country needs progressive reforms

• Kammenos: Planned pension cuts could be swapped for alternatives

# A senior Greek official says the government remains committed to a June 21 deadline to reach a post-exit deal with lenders, despite challenges facing the completion of program conditions. The official, who participated in a teleconference on Tuesday evening with creditor representatives, acknowledged difficulties in meeting energy liberalisation demands but said the government was determined to see disputes resolved weeks before the late-June Eurogroup meeting. The official made the remarks hours after EU Finance Commissioner Pierre Moscovici told a European Parliament briefing that June 21 was a “theoretical deadline” and that deal could be reached “shortly afterwards.”

# Eurogroup President Mario Centeno, in an interview with Skai television, stressed that he does not fear backtracking in the implementation of the Greek programme, but he confirmed that the mechanism providing debt relief will be linked to the post bailout supervision framework.
Valdis Dombrovskis, the Commission vice-president welcomed the ESM’s decision yesterday to approve disbursement of EUR5.7 billion to Greece. “(It’s) another positive signal for strengthening the confidence in Greece’s economy. Moving closer to the end of programme, Greece’s interest is to show that it has reached the point of no return,” he tweeted.

# As part of Greece’s commitments to creditors, the government has been tasked with appointing fixed-term administrative secretaries in the public sector to avoid strong political fluctuations in state agencies. But opposition leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis accused the government of hiring loyalists and said he would not respect the appointments if he wins next elections. “We will not allow (Syriza) to take the keys to the state … when it loses power,” he said in a video address. He claimed the government had quietly pursued a policy of widespread violations of hiring restrictions in an effort to attract voters.

# The prime minister has welcomed a proposal from Greece’s Socialists to discuss possible constitutional amendment process before the next election _ fueling speculation of a possible possible centre-left political alliance. PM Tsipras responded to the proposal in a letter that noted: “The country requires bold reforms and those cannot be politically neutral.” Tsipras has signalled a shift in position towards the Movement for Change (former Pasok) as his current coalition partner, Defence Minister Panos Kammenos’ Independent Greeks, is struggling in opinion polls. The prospect of constitutional talks has infuriated the former Socialist finance minister Evangelos Venizelos _ viewing a potential alliance as a personal betrayal. He described Tsipras’ Syriza party as a potentially unreliable partner that does not respect democratic institutions.

# Panos Kammenos, the defence minister, has appeared to challenge key government positions on foreign policy and post-bailout reforms. He told private Antenna television he would not accept a solution to the FYROM-name dispute that would include the word ‘Macedonia.’ He added that promised post-bailout austerity measures could be dropped in favour of alternatives. “We are not politically naive to go to the polls after pension cuts,” he said, maintaining that budget surpluses could be used instead of the so-called pre-legislated cuts.

On our Radar: Game (back) on
The government ended a suspension of the football league, noting that topflight clubs had committed to addressing violence in reforms to be passed over the summer break. Games will resume Saturday, with league contender PAOK still facing disciplinary action. The league was halted two weeks ago after PAOK chairman Ivan Savvidi ran onto the pitch with a handgun strapped to his belt. The league restart without any immediate change to disciplinary rules has increased the risk of relegation for major club Panathinaikos which is facing a crippling array of payment arrears. AEK Athens currently leads the standings as vying for its first league title in 24 years.