Athens Digest 09.05.2018

• Greece, Cyprus, Israel stay committed to massive Med pipeline

• Deadline worries weigh on Athens ahead of new inspection

• Pension cuts test politicians

• Government to challenge release of Turkish serviceman

• Fosun keeping close eye on troubled Folli Follie

# Greece, Cyprus and Israel have renewed their commitment to building a massive undersea natural gas pipeline that would add a key source of supply to the European Union, and ease energy dependence on Russia. Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras traveled to Cyprus to meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades to review planning that could be finalized within a year. The proposed EUR 6 billion East Med pipeline would span 2,000 kilometers.

# Mission chiefs from the IMF and European institutions are expected back in Athens next week as progress on conditions for the final review has become increasingly challenging. Reportedly, with 43 days remaining till the June 21 Eurogroup, only a handful of the 88 prior actions have been completed so far.

# Government officials (including MinFin Tsakalotos as well as spokesman Tzanakopoulos), meanwhile, insist there is no discussion on rolling back any of the measures already agreed between Athens and creditors, including steep pension cuts planned for next year. But several lawmakers in the governing coalition continued to publicly doubt that pledge. They argue that scheduled cuts could be (somehow) softened after the end of the bailout programme if Greece continues to deliver strong budget surplus results.

# The government is readying a legal challenge to the decision to release a second Turkish officer who fled from his country by helicopter in the wake of the failed coup attempt in 2016. An asylum committee and a judge green-lighted the officer’s release but the order was not immediately carried out. Eight officers fled by military helicopter to the Greek border city of Alexandroupolis hours after the failed coup. Turkey considers the officers _ who have been stripped of their rank and expelled from the armed forces _ as alleged coup plotters and has repeatedly demanded their extradition. One officer has already been released under strict conditions. The extradition request was denied on the grounds that they were unlikely to receive a fair trial.

# Chinese investment giant Fosun says it’s keeping a close eye on developments at Folli Follie, the Greek luxury accessory company, which is still reeling from allegations that it exaggerated the scale of its Asian operations. Fosun (also interested in becoming a main shareholder in the “National Insurance”) holds nearly 14 percent of the Athens-based company and yesterday’s reaction helped its battered stock claw back some losses and end the day up 13.7 percent. Folli Follie has vehemently denied allegations by American equity fund QCM that it misrepresented the scale of its operations in China and other Asian markets.

On our Radar: “Greece is in my blood”
Excitement is building ahead of the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle at Windsor Castle next Saturday. But first, Greece is getting a royal event of its own. Prince Charles and his wife Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, start a three-day visit to Greece today. British royals have avoided Greece despite their extensive travels. Queen Elizabeth II has never visited Greece in her 65-year reign on account of her Greek-born husband, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, who was exiled from the country with his family when he was still a baby. Speaking to the Athens daily Kathimerini, Charles said: “Apart from anything else, Greece is in my blood and I have long had a fascination for her ancient culture and history.”