Athens Digest 11.04.2018

• MinFin Tsakalotos: French mechanism could cut gordian knot for Greece

• Social security reform faces major court setback

• ‘Warning shots fired’ as Turkish helicopter buzzes Greek islet

• Russia says Tsipras visit set for this year, plays down Aegean tension

# Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos says European debt relief plans for Greece could be key to ending the dispute with the IMF over what is still needed to make the country’s public finances sustainable. Growth-pegged repayment terms, Tsakalotos said, could accommodate the Fund’s less optimistic scenario for Greece’s recovery. He made the remarks in an interview with the ‘Efimerida ton Syntakton’ newspaper, ahead of the government presentation to lenders of a draft of its post-bailout growth plan at the upcoming Euroworking Group meeting this week. The minister appeared confident markets would welcome _ and even dictate _ Greece’s full return this year, and indicated that 2017 growth figures due to be published on April 23 would be a lead factor in determining when parts of the so-called pre-legislated austerity package will be activated. He added that the licensing process for Athens’ major coastal development project at Hellenikon, including casino permits, may be completed after the bailout programme ends in late August.

# Greece’s top administrative court has reportedly ruled against the government following a challenge by self-employed professional groups against joining the Single Social Security Fund, or EFKA. The decision could undermine a major reform pushed through by the Tsipras government at the insistence of bailout creditors who argue the move would modernize and rescue Greece’s fractured pension system. Professional associations have described the reforms as unworkable and forcing many into “off-book” work to stay in business. Greek media reported that Council of State judges had already decided in favour of the challengers, including the Athens Bar Association. The decision is due to be made public next month.

# Following a barrage of Easter holiday airspace interceptions, mock dogfights, and even overflights over populated Greek islands, the latest locus of tension between Greece and Turkey is the tiny island of Ro. Greek state TV reported that soldiers stationed on the island near Kastelorizo, off Turkey’s south coast, fired shots in the air as a low-flying Turkish coast guard helicopter buzzed the island’s coastline on a lights-out flight. Officials at the prime minister’s office said the incident, while worrying, had not been serious, that only warning shots had been fired, and that the helicopter had not violated Greek airspace. Defence Minister Panos Kammenos and the ministry made no official comment.

# Russia’s ambassador to Greece, Andrey Maslov, meanwhile, said he did not believe Greece and Turkey were heading towards military confrontation. In a briefing with Greek reporters in Athens, Maslov described Greece as a “trusted partner” while addressing concerns in Athens at the growing economic and military collaboration between Russia and Turkey. Prime Minister Tsipras was expected to visit Moscow by the end of the year to meet with President Vladimir Putin, he said. On the Macedonia-name issue, the ambassador said he hoped the two countries resolved the dispute but reiterated Moscow’s position that FYROM’s proposed accession to NATO following a deal with Greece “would not contribute to the stability of the region.” Talks on the name issue between the foreign ministers of Greece and FYROM resume tomorrow at the lakeside resort of Ohrid.

On the Radar: Greeks worried about Turkey, poll finds
Roughly six-in-10 Greeks remain concerned about tension with Turkey and view the NATO ally as a national threat, according to a new poll. The survey commissioned by the Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy, ELIAMEP, found that 64.5 percent of Greeks believe in the existence of a foreign threat. Turkey is the biggest worry among those respondents at 78 percent, up only slightly from 76.5 two years ago. By contrast, 7.5 percent of them regard Germany to be the main national threat, compared to 11 percent in 2016.