Athens Digest 07.09.2018

• Banks chip away at bad-loan mountain

• In Thessaloniki, a tale of two narratives: Relief vs ‘virtual recovery’

• Calling Athens: NATO’s sober message on FYROM

• Another day, another Rubicon attack

# The Bank of Greece says lenders have further reduced their stocks of non-performing and troubled loans in the second quarter of 2018. Non-performing exposures, the central bank said, fell by a further 4.1 percent on the quarter to EUR 88.6 billion. The figure now represents 47.6 percent of overall bank loans, but more has to be done to achieve the reduction target. Ahead of next week’s post-programme inspection in Athens, ECB board member Benoit Coeure said NPE reduction in Greece remains “at the top of the list” and is considered vital to restore healthy credit needed to spur the recovery, adding that markets will be harsher than creditors. He made the comments to the Athens daily Kathimerini.

# Protests, promises, and pre-emptive attacks: The Thessaloniki Trade Fair is Greece’s annual battleground for competing political narratives. But this year’s event marks the end of the country’s bailouts. Prime Minister Tsipras is preparing a pledge of relief after years of hardship; relief measures will reportedly have a four year horizon. Kyriakos Mitsotakis, the opposition leader, visited the city ahead of the fair opening and accused Tsipras of touting a “virtual recovery” adding that the commitments of this government end on the election day.

# Some 3,500 police officers, meanwhile, will be on duty to manage protests by unions, left-wing groups, and opponents of the name-change agreement with FYROM. Added to the mix: The United States is this year’s honoured country at the fair, and U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross will be on hand in the northern Greek city. Last year’s honour pick was China and in 2016, Russia.

# Jens Stoltenberg delivered a sober message to FYROM three weeks before the referendum on the name-change deal with Greece. Without a “yes” vote on Sept. 30, the NATO secretary-general said, the former Yugoslav republic will miss a “once in a lifetime opportunity” to join the alliance and fully integrate with the rest of Europe. The warning, issued in Skopje, was also aimed at reassuring Greece, where the conservative opposition again vowed this week to try and scuttle the deal. Stoltenberg left FYROM and flew to Greece for a meeting with Prime Minister Tsipras

On our radar: Another day, another Rubicon attack
In their latest attack, members of the anarchist group Rubicon targeted the Federation of Industries in Northern Greece in Thessaloniki, blaming local employers for harsh wage cuts during the crisis. The group, which has also attacked embassies, ministry buildings, and courthouses while typically avoiding arrest, also staged a protest yesterday at the Agriculture Ministry, accusing the government of failing to stand up to lobbies promoting genetically modified crops. This time, the police proceeded in three arrests. The incidents came a day after an article in the Financial Times criticized new Greek Justice Minister Michalis Kalogerou for being sympathetic to far-left activism _ an assertion he angrily denied.