Athens Digest 23.07.2018

• Pension cuts suspension hinges on fiscal performance and Eurogroup approval, says PM aide

• Tension with Russia: Greece will no longer turn a blind eye to violations of national sovereignty says Foreign Minister Kotzias

• Consortium led by Italy’s Snam signs contracts for acquisition of a 66% interest in gas grid operator DESFA

• Greece will not pursue release of Greek soldiers as part of an exchange with Ankara, minister says

# The deputy minister to the prime minister Dimitris Liakos said yesterday that the decision to suspend agreed pension cuts on January 1, 2019 can only be taken if surplus targets are met and the Eurogroup agrees. Speaking to “To Vima” newspaper, Liakos said that positive growth rates, the increase in employment, the Single Social Security Entity (EFKA) surplus and the economy’s fiscal performance create the conditions that will allow the “re-examination of the measure.” However, he noted that talk of a suspension of pension cuts without factoring in the economic data at the end of the year and the necessary talks at the Eurogroup are “untimely”.

# Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias declared yesterday that the time when it was considered diplomacy for Greece to turn a blind eye to violations of the principles of national sovereignty and respect has passed. He told the Athens News Agency that Greece has decided to send the “message to the East and the West, toward all its friends and others,” that it will respond to such behavior. His remarks came amid a crisis with Moscow over the expulsion of Russian diplomats for allegedly trying to whip up opposition to the Macedonia name deal. Speaking to “Efsyn” newspaper on Saturday, he said Russia must realize “it cannot disregard the national interests of another state because it feels stronger towards it.” As for speculation that Sergey Lavrov’s planned visit to Athens will be cancelled, Kotzias said “whether he comes or not, he is still welcome.”

# A consortium led by Italy’s Snam, and furthermore consisting of Spain’s Enagás and Belgium’s Fluxys, inked on Friday (20.07) in Athens a series of contracts for the acquisition of a 66% interest in the Greek gas grid operator DESFA. According to Snam CEO Marco Alvera, as quoted in the Sunday edition of “Kathimerini” newspaper, the deal upgrades Greece’s role as an import gate of natural gas from the Mediterranean, the Middle East and Central Asia, along with TAP pipeline and the subsequent Vertical Gas Corridor materialization, as well as the expansion of Revithoussa LNG regasification terminal. DESFA business plan provides for a total of EUR330m in investments between 2017 and 2023 and the winning bidding scheme is ready to support the operator in fulfilling its goals, on the road towards Greece’s transition away from coal and oil, Alvera said.

# Alternate Defense Minister Fotis Kouvelis reiterated yesterday that Greece will not barter with Turkey for the release of the two Greek soldiers that are being held without charge in a Turkish prison since March. “Their release is in no way a matter of an exchange with Turkish authorities,” he told the “Realnews” newspaper. Turkey has implied that the soldiers could be released in exchange for the extradition of eight Turkish servicemen that fled to Greece and who Ankara accuses of taking part in the botched coup in 2016.

On Our Radar: “Historic” Macedonia name deal will boost stability in southeastern Europe, according to Atlantic Council VP
The Executive Vice President of the Atlantic Council Damon Wilson has described the name deal between Greece and FYROM as a “historic development” that will not only smooth bilateral relations but will also boost stability in southeastern Europe. In an interview with Kathimerini newspaper, Wilson said the deal offers Greece the chance to restore its political and economic influence in the Balkans while the northern city of Thessaloniki is in a position to become a hub, linking the Balkans, the Aegean and the world. Referring to opposition to the deal in both countries, Wilson said the Americans and Europeans would expect the political leaders of the opposition in each country not to strongly oppose it, nor hamper its parliamentary ratification.