Athens Digest 23.10.2018

• Dijsselbloem: Greece needs to send a signal beyond pensions

• “Don’t follow the populists,” he warned troubled Social-Democrats

• Stubb pitches for Greek gift

• Current account surplus shrunk in August, says BoG

# The former president of the Eurogroup, Jeroen Dijsselbloem, says Greece should swiftly demonstrate its commitment to a reform agenda if European lenders back Athens on a U-turn over pension cuts. Dijsselbloem will launch the Greek edition of his book ‘The Euro Crisis’ in Athens today. “There is no direct fiscal need to do it,’ he said referring to the pre-legislated pension cuts, during an interview with Athens Digest’s John Papageorgiou. He cautioned that investors would be looking for policy consistency from Greece after its bailout exit. “So I would say that on a number of topics they are moving ahead _ on alternative topics _ then that should also give comfort to the outside world.”

# Dijsselbloem issued a warning to fellow Social Democrats struggling to regain appeal with voters ahead of next year’s European Parliament elections. “Don’t follow the populists, however attractive that might be in the short run to become tough like the hard right (on immigration) or fiscally irresponsible like the hard left. Don’t go that way.” The Social Democrats, he said, had to convince voters they had workable policies on delivering prosperity and managing migration. “Europe always provided prosperity and safety for people … (but) since the turn of the century, I think that has changed,” he said. “Migration has become a big issue in all of our countries. And on top of that, we had the financial crisis with disastrous effects. I think the voters of Social Democrats are simply disappointed.”

# European conservative candidate Alexander Stubb politely appealed to leading members of Greece’s New Democracy and Cyprus’ Democratic Rally to consider straying from official party pledges of support to his opponent Manfred Weber. In an interview with the business news website, the former Finnish Prime Minister said he was the candidate best positioned to face growing threats to European values. The conservative EPP will choose its leader for the 2019 elections by secret ballot on November 7-8 at a meeting in Helsinki, Finland. Greek and Greek-Cypriot delegates, Stubb said, would make the right “decision with heart and mind _ an informed and personal decision.”

# The August current account balance has declined on the year, Bank of Greece data showed, falling to EUR 1.56 billion from EUR 1.82 billion in 2017. The central bank said the trade gap was higher, with a deficit of EUR 910 million in the first eight months of the year, from EUR 857 million for that period in 2017. “The deficit of the balance of goods registered a small increase, despite a pickup in export growth, as imports rose more than exports in absolute terms,” the report said. “It should be noted that, at constant prices, total exports of goods increased by 15.8 percent and total imports of goods by 6.1 percent.”

On our Radar: Kotzias won’t “stay quiet”
In his first public appearance since resigning, former foreign minister Nikos Kotzias vowed to continue speaking out, and urged the Tsipras government to seek a “new democratic alliance” as the country heads towards the next election. Speaking at an event in Crete, Kotzias also defended the Macedonia-name deal, arguing that it would shore up stability in the Balkans and keep the region from being “clamped” by Turkey. Kotzias quit last week, a day after a heated Cabinet confrontation with Defence Minister Panos Kammenos _ the leader of the right-wing coalition partner the Independent Greeks _ who had publicly expressed his disagreement with the deal while on a trip to the United States.