Athens Digest 05.12.2018

• A final blessing for pension U-turn

• Zaev remarks in parliament trigger brief spat

• Coal-fired obstacle for PPC bond plan

# The government has tabled emergency legislation to parliament to cancel pre-legislated pension cuts that would come into effect on January 1. The action was taken hours after the Eurogroup gave its final approval at a meeting that pushed through the night due to exhaustive debate on separate issues. Mario Centeno, the Eurogroup president, said the decision on Greece followed a positive quarterly assessment of its finances under the post-bailout enhanced surveillance programme. “This first report shows some good results,” he said. “At the same time, further progress is clearly needed in some areas. This includes privatizations, arrears clearance, insolvency legislation, and product market reforms.” (video here, scroll to 1.20)

# FYROM took another step towards endorsing constitutional changes required for its agreement with Greece, its lawmakers signing off on a draft text of the revision. But remarks made by the country’s prime minister, Zoran Zaev, have caused consternation in Athens as he implied that there is a “Macedonian” minority in Greece. Zaev was quoted as telling colleagues in parliament that the ‘Macedonian language’ would endure following name change and include its instruction in Greece. According to reports, United Nations mediator Matthew Nimetz intervened with a phone call to Zaev. Government officials in Skopje later said the remarks had been taken out of context. In an announcement, the government said that Zaev’s statement was misinterpreted and added: “We understand and respect that the question of what languages are taught in Greece is an issue of internal affairs and domestic policy.”

# Greece’s Public Power Corporation is reportedly preparing to raise up to EUR 500 million in a bond auction early next year, but investors could be troubled by ongoing disagreement surrounding privatisation deals to reduce its coal-fired capacity. EU competition authorities have reportedly rejected two parts of the proposed structure of the sell-off arrangement, forcing PPC to seek another extension. The planned bond auction would come ahead of an April deadline when a EUR 350 million bond is set to mature.

On our Radar: Russia trouble in rear view?
Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras travels to Russia for a meeting on Friday with President Vladimir Putin aimed at overcoming a serious strain in relations this year. Greece expelled two Russian diplomats in July and barred the entry of two others over allegations that Moscow had mounted a campaign to back opposition to Greece’s deal with FYROM in an effort to scupper its effort to joint NATO. In Moscow, senior Russian diplomat and aide to Putin Yuri Ushakov told reporters of the Tsipras trip: “This visit is of significance because it seeks to close a troubled period in the effort to develop the relations of our two countries.” The meeting is taking place amid renewed difficulty in the EU-Russia relationship over a flare up of tension in Ukraine. Greek officials have avoided comment on the crisis.