Athens Digest 25.04.2018

• Government wrong-footed on frigate lease

• FYROM talks: Foreign Ministry snaps at EU’s Hahn

• Rescue programme needs no extension, says deputy PM

• Tax office expands payment options amid growing arrears

• Surge in migrant arrivals rattles government

# Dimitris Tzanakopoulos, the government spokesman, walked back a Defence Ministry pledge to lease two French-made frigates after the reports were denied by French officials. The spokesman confirmed there was no agreement regarding the hi-tech Fremm-class vessels, adding that a “number of options” were being examined as part of a campaign to modernize the Greek armed forces. His comments appeared to contradict Deputy Defence Minister Fotis Kouvelis who last week said in a TV interview that the French vessels had been made available to the Greek military.

# EU enlargement commissioner Johannes Hahn says he hopes Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia could resolve their name dispute in as little as two weeks. But his remarks to a European Parliament committee were sharply criticised in Athens. “We call Commissioner Hahn to stop giving a wrong picture of negotiations which, as it seems, he does not understand. The less he can do is stop undermining them” says an announcement by the Greek Foreign Ministry.

# Yannis Dragasakis, the deputy prime minister, ruled out extending Greece’s programme beyond late August, or accepting new spending cuts to reach an agreement with lenders on the terms of post-bailout surveillance. Dragasakis also repeated the government’s refusal to seek a precautionary credit line, an option favoured by the Bank of Greece. He spoke at an event organised by the Hellenic Federation of Enterprises three days before the government presents creditors with its post-bailout growth plan at Eurogroup meet in Sofia.

# Greece’s e-auction platform will be expanded on Friday to include sales to cover debts to the state, as part of an ongoing drive to expand tax collection methods.
The auction option will be launched amid a growing use of the platform by banks to recover loses on foreclosed properties.

# A sharp surge in arrivals by migrants and refugees is troubling the government, and officials say Turkey should do more to prevent crossings as part of its commitments to the EU. Dimitris Vitsas, the migration minister, told a parliamentary committee that crossings in the Evros border region have now exceeded those at the islands. Since the start of the month, he said, 2,100 people have reached the islands while 2,600 crossed in the Evros area, where Greece and Turkey have a land border. Referring to Turkey, Vitsas told a private Athens radio station: “No justification can be found in international law or on moral grounds to use people, people who are in a difficult situation, to exert pressure on the EU or on Greece.”

On our Radar: Government split on gay rights
Government plans to radically reorganize Greece’s foster care system and allow the participation of same-sex couples has created dissent within the ruling Syriza party. Deputy Minister for Welfare Theano Fotiou, introducing the bill, argued that plans are vital to fix a broken system. The new measures would include the creation of a database for children to be placed care and for couples applying to join the programme. Fotiou argued that any couple in a legal civil partnership would be considered. She warned that any exception would leave Greece vulnerable to action by European Courts. Greece’s Orthodox Church has condemned provisions in the bill that it considers to be “in opposition to popular tradition and the sacred institutions of family and marriage.”