Athens Digest 12.04.2018

• EWG: Greece dips toe into post-bailout era

• Athens appeals for ‘pragmatism’ in FYROM-name negotiations

• Raising the bar a little on big energy deals

• Ryanair reduces Greek services, cites high airport charges

# Highly-anticipated talks on Greece’s so-called holistic growth strategy begin in Brussels at a Euroworking group session today _ an early test for government hopes to ease key restrictions and help low-income citizens. The discussions on debt relief and the level of post-programme surveillance are in preparation for the April 27 Eurogroup in Sofia, where Greece will present a more detailed position on how it intends to continue reforms and privatisations. Government officials say plans to scrap minimum wage caps and restore collective wage bargaining agreements between employers and unions are a central part of the Greek strategy to offset pledged austerity reforms under the so-called pre-legislated package. “There will be obstacles but we are here to overcome them,” one government MP said. Officials from the creditor institutions say the minimum wage should be tied to productivity to avoid undermining gains in competitiveness. Plans to create co-op banks have also reportedly raised eyebrows at the ECB _ echoing disagreement between Greece Finance Minister Tsakalotos and central bank governor Stournaras.

# Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias is in the lakeside resort of Ohrid for a new round of talks on the FYROM-name issue, after appealing for “pragmatism and realism” from both sides. “We are not looking for a bad compromise but one in which both sides win,” he told reporters in Belgrade yesterday. “But a compromise means that each side must realise that they can not get everything. Both sides have to gain something.” Kotzias will meet in Ohrid with FYROM’s Foreign Minister Nikola Dimitrov, who said talks had reached a “delicate stage” but expressed optimism that the negotiations remained on track.

# Privatization agency HRADF has received improved bids for a controlling stake in gas grid operator DESFA. The offers are expected to be opened as soon as tomorrow. Rivals for the 66 percent stake in the company are consortiums: First made up of Italy’s Snam, Enagas Internacional of Spain and Belgium’s Fluxys. The second: Romania’s Transgaz, Spanish Reganosa with support from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD). The DESFA sale together with the privatization of Hellenic Petroleum by the end of the year are considered a vital test for the Syriza government’s post-bailout commitment to creditors. Last week, the government and Latsis Group subsidiary Paneuropean Oil agreed to make a combined stake of 50.1 percent Greece’s biggest oil refiner available for sale.

# Budget airline Ryanair has announced plans to reduce its Greek services and close its hub in Hania, on the island of Crete, citing high off-peak airport charges. The airline said it would maintain flights from Athens to Thessaloniki, Mykonos, and Santorini, but cancel other domestic services starting on June 1. Regional airport operator Fraport said it was expecting a substantial overall increase in traffic this year, and argued that Ryanair’s decision was driven by “operational reasons.” A company spokesman said: “Fraport Greece respects the operational needs and decisions made by Ryanair, which continues to be a strategic partner, using nine of (our) 14 airports, with a significant market share and strong growth in recent years in international destinations.”

On Our Radar-Consumer optimism short lived
A small increase in consumer confidence in country’s recovery appears to have faded. Nielsen’s quarterly index for 64 countries showed that consumers in Greece and Venezuela are the most pessimistic on their global list. Greece remained at 60 points on the index in the final quarter of 2017, unchanged from the previous three-month period. Seven out of ten Greeks say they are still trying to constantly cut their household expenses. Their main concerns remained the threat of unemployment and household debt repayment.