Athens Digest 03.10.2018

• MinFIn Tsakalotos admits to being “very optimistic” on pensions and plans to buy back expensive debt

• Greece hasn’t been “cut loose,” says Regling

• Don’t mention cuts. Budget office chief makes appeal to politicians

• Million homes on illegal construction list

• Piraeus Bank launched “Project Future”

# Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos last night said he is “very optimistic” pension cuts will be dropped, insisting the reasons they were initially agreed to no longer remain relevant to the economy. Speaking on state TV in a live interview, Tsakalotos maintained Greece had been “blackmailed” into legislating the cuts by the IMF but that the country’s subsequently strong budget performance had disproved the fund’s negative outlook. On the Italian budget crisis, Tsakalotos acknowledged that international market conditions had been difficult for the past three months. The government, he said, did have well-structured plans to return to markets and buy up expensive portions of Greece’s institutional debt (ECB and IMF loans) to make repayment easier in the long-term. The Greek Finance Minister rejected scenarios for snap elections. “Time is on our side. Why do we have to run fast towards elections?” he said.

# The ESM’s Klaus Regling stressed that major policy changes must still be green-lighted by lenders. In an interview with De Telegraaf newspaper of The Netherlands, he made no direct reference to the government-proposed U-Turn but he said: The Greek budget this year is slightly better than expected. The Greek government may use that budget. If they change their policies, they must first discuss that with the European institutions. They’ve not been cut loose for 100 percent yet.”

# The head of the parliamentary budget office is urging members of the government to refrain from making public comment on negotiations ongoing with creditors on the 2019 pension cuts. Fragiskos Koutentakis told the financial news website that uncertainty over policies already agreed with lenders was adding to market uncertainty. “Markets have adopted a wait-and-see approach and they are waiting to see where the discussion will end up,” Koutentakis said.

# More than a million homes and other buildings in Greece’s housing stock have been built without a permit or in violation of zoning or licensing regulations. The data was announced by the Technical Chamber of Greece, TEE, ahead of an Oct. 8 deadline for owners to pay the latest round of amnesty fees to avoid the risk of penalties or demolition. The engineers’ association said that about 25 percent of the buildings eligible for the scheme had no permit, while the rest involved less serious violations.

On our Radar: Project Future v Youth Unemployment
Youth unemployment in Greece remains stubbornly high, at 39.1 percent in August, prompting the country’s largest lender, Piraeus Bank, to launch a targeted training initiative. Named Project Future, the programme offers young graduates education opportunities in the specialist disciplines of Customer Experience, Digital Marketing, and Java. Piraeus Bank is working with the ReGeneratlon Academy, which has joined forces with Google, Facebook, Code.Hub and Excelixi- Centre of sustainable entrepreneurship. Some 1,200 young people will take part in each course. “Piraeus Bank is committed to running the project every year as part of our mission to work with local communities and support the next generation of business professionals in Greece,” CEO Christos Megalou said.