Athens Digest 12.09.2018

• Government should stick to its commitment to slash pensions, says Regling

• Pension cuts can be avoided, PM insists

• Bailout checkers busy in new surveillance role

• Tsipras urges EU parties to forge political front against far-right

• Opposition leader Mitsotakis backs action against Orban

# Klaus Regling says he is encouraged by statements from Greek Prime Minister Tsipras promising to continue financial and administrative reforms. The ESM managing director told Greece’s financial website that the government should stick to its commitment to slash pensions in 2019, describing the measure as an “essential element” that had been required to end the bailout programme. He warned that markets were likely to keep a close eye on developments in Greece and check whether the country was continuing its reform agenda. “Recent public speculation about a potential decision on pension reform led to higher rates, even though rates reversed somewhat afterwards,” he said.

# In an interview with Euronews, PM Tsipras repeated that legislated pension cuts can be avoided if fiscal targets are met. “We can avoid a measure that is unnecessary, anti-developmental and not structural,” he said.

# In their amended role, mission chiefs from the European institutions and the IMF will meet government officials today to discuss the upcoming 2019 Budget and launch Greece’s post-programme surveillance in ernest. Government officials played down the process, making little or no reference to the visit. But technical staff on the inspection teams, who arrived on Monday, followed a similar pattern of meetings to previous, bailout-era visits, with consultations at ministries as well as the Finance Ministry’s General Accounting Office. The monitors expanded meetings to include representatives of opposition parties.

# Speaking at a plenary session of the European Parliament, Prime Minister Tsipras urged pro-EU parties to work closer together to face down a challenge from the populist right at next year’s European election. Tsipras said Europe’s political mainstream “had allowed the far-right out of the dock and onto centre stage,” blaming economic austerity _ “fiscal fitishism” _ for much of the rising public anger against the establishment. He said he would continue fiscal reforms and defended his government’s draft agreement with FYROM to change the country’s name to North Macedonia. He also accused Greek Conservatives for nepotism during a debate with EPP representatives who highlighted his populist policies in 2015. Back in Greece, Tsipras’ coalition partner, Defence Minister Panos Kammenos, insisted his nationalist Independent Greeks party would not support the deal and could not continue in the government if it is brought to the Greek Parliament for approval.

# Greece’s conservative New Democracy party last night said it will support the censure motion against the government of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban to determine whether it poses a “clear risk of a serious breach” of EU principles. Opposition leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis posted a message on Twitter in English: “(New Democracy) will vote in favor of the Sargentini Report, inviting the Council to proceed according to Article 7” _ referring to a procedure that could strip Hungary of its EU voting rights, and a report by MEP Judith Sargentini detailing concerns about Hungary’s commitment to a free press, independent judiciary, and other key democratic institutions.

On our Radar: Sleep savings time?
State schools began the new year yesterday, with blessings from Orthodox priests, a run down of subjects that will be unavailable until part-time placements are finalized, and the annual warnings that children arriving after 8:15 will miss the first hour of class. So teaching staff at a state school north of Athens were taken aback when Education Minister Costas Gavroglou told students there that he intended to shift the morning start time nationwide one hour forward to 9:00 a.m. The pledge, made without any previous indication, came as the European Commission is examining plans to scrap seasonal clock changes across the EU after surveys suggested the biannual practice to be deeply unpopular.