Athens Digest 16.11.2018

• Tsipras: “Very positive news” on pensions at the EWG

• IMF says decisions now up to Greece and Europeans

• Central bank governor briefs top bank executives on bad-loan plan

• Concern over Georgiou discussed at the European Parliament

# Euro-working group officials meeting in Brussels have backed proposal for budget alternatives to pension cuts in 2019, according to officials in Athens. Speaking in Thessaloniki, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras declared success, telling a meeting of the northern Greek industry federation that the government had received “very positive news from Brussels.” He added: “So those who have invested in catastrophe and who insisted that pension cuts will be inevitable will be disappointed.” A discussion on the Greek economy will be included in the Eurogroup’s agenda on December 3, based on the country’s first enhanced surveillance report.

# The IMF took a another step back from Greece’s budget debate, insisting that it’s role after the bailout was now consultative. “The IMF no longer has a financial arrangement with Greece so we are not engaged in the details of a lot of these discussions that are ongoing,” IMF spokesman Gerry Rice told reporters in Washington. “They are really issues for the Greek government and the Europeans.” The IMF, Rice said, continued to encourage Athens to promote policies that were “growth friendly and socially inclusive.” (video here, scroll to 16:47)

# Yannis Stournaras, the central bank governor, has briefed senior executives from Greece’s four leading banks and Attica Bank on plans to speed up the reduction on non-performing loans exposures. The plan reportedly would harness deferred tax assets to buy up NPEs worth up to EUR 42 billion, using bonds issued by a so-called special purpose vehicle. Stournaras is due to formally present the plans to the public next week. According to central bank data, at the end of June, non-performing bank exposures accounted for EUR 88.6 billion or 47.6 percent of total exposures. Banks have committed to reducing the figure to EUR 60 billion euros by the end of 2019.

# The European Commission has reiterated its concern over the ongoing court cases brought against the former head of the Greek statistics authority, Andreas Georgiou. The issue was discussed at the European Parliament, and Employment Commissioner Marianne Thyssen said the Commission had “full confidence” in the data issued during his leadership, 2010-2015. “The situation of Mr Georgiou is of concern to you and of course to the Commission,” Thyssen said. “We have repeatedly expressed that concern both in public statements and direct contacts with the Greek authorities.”

On our Radar: Asylum-seeker total reaches 74,000
The number of asylum seekers in Greece has reached 74,000, with conditions remaining the worst on the islands as efforts to have failed to significantly reduce overcrowding before the start of winter. Migration Minister Dimitris Vitsas said some 6,000 people would be moved to the mainland in the “coming months” but did not give further details. More than 20,000 migrants and refugees are now confined to the Lesvos, Chios and three other eastern islands, mostly in camps that are operating far beyond capacity. Earlier this year, the government had promised to drastically reduce the numbers of people at island camps over the summer months.