Athens Digest 10.04.2018

• Parties keep eye on elections _ and Pasok

• Greece and FYROM gearing up for fresh talks

• Greece won’t be dragged into conflict, says foreign minister

• E-auction and NPL sales pick-up buoys banks

# With speculation heating up over the possible timing of a general election, Greece’s two main rivals, Syriza and New Democracy, are both sounding out Pasok as a potential coalition partner. The Socialists, newly renamed as Movement for Change, could hold the keys to the next government as polls keep the conservatives in the lead but suggest they would struggle for outright victory. Former conservative prime minister Antonis Samaras described the Movement for Change as a “necessary partner” to keep Greece on the road for reform after the bailout. But Fotis Kouvelis, the deputy defence minister, said the Movement should stop acting as “fellow travellers of neoliberalism” and seek an alliance on the Left. Failure to produce a government at the next election would see the end of the so-called 50-seat election bonus and usher in full proportional representation.

# The foreign ministers of Greece and FYROM are preparing for more talks after the Orthodox Easter break amid renewed optimism for a deal. Nikos Kotzias and Nikola Dimitrov are due to meet on Wednesday at the lakeside resort of Ohrid with the summer target date set by the two sides for a resolution now just weeks away. Prime Minister Zoran Zaev said chances of a meeting with Greek counterpart Alexis Tsipras were improving. “When the citizens of our two countries are informed that a Zaev-Tsipras meeting will go ahead then they will know that a solution is in sight,” Zaev told local state-run media.

# Greece sees “no alternative” other than co-existing in peace with Turkey, Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias said, politely chiding the defence minister over recent comments regarding the escalating tension between the two NATO allies. “No, no, there is no alternative to peace and peaceful co-existence,” he said in an interview with Spiegel magazine. “In Turkey, they often pour fuel on to the fire, so I answer one in every 20 of their statements. And I urge all sides in Greece not to issue their responses in the manner that they are framed by Turkey.” Kotzias again rejected suggestions of any linkage between two Greek soldiers arrested in March after staying into Turkish territory and a group of Turkish servicemen who fled their country after the 2016 failed coup attempt and requested asylum in Greece.

# After a shaky start and despite ongoing protests, Greek banks say e-auctions of foreclosed properties are proceeding at a better pace. Reportedly, e-auctions and NPL sales will allow banks to meet their 2019 target. According to estimates by lenders, 18,500 auctions could take place this year, with the pace increasing throughout 2018 (except for a break in August). Auctions are considered vital for banks to reduce the mountain of troubled and non-performing loans _ a key concern for the country’s rescue creditors. The Bank of Greece last month said lenders so far had met targets to reduce the amount of non-performing exposures. The total stock of NPEs fell to EUR95.7 billion by the end of last year, or 43.1 percent of the total.

On our Radar: Wages sink below half eurozone average
The government has renewed its pledge to restore suspended labour rights after August as new data showed wage costs in Greece have sunk to below half the eurozone average. Effie Achtsioglou, the labour minister, promised a full return to collective pay bargaining agreements between unions and employers, and an end to minimum wage caps. “The economy has returned to growth and this is precisely the time that we must lay the foundations for sustainable and socially just development, which will have decent working conditions at its core,” she told the Nea Selida newspaper. Eurostat figures showed that hourly labour costs in the Greek private sector fell further to EUR14.5 in 2017, against an increased eurozone average of EUR30.3.