Athens Digest 10.12.2018

• All we need is just a little patience. Tsakalotos hints that 2020 tax reforms could be reviewed

• Tsipras, Putin put spat behind them to focus on energy cooperation

• Conservatives maintain steady lead over ruling Syriza in latest poll

# As the government passes relief measures in Parliament, including the social dividend funded by the 2018 surplus, Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos has hinted that the reduction of the income tax-free threshold in 2020 could have a similar fate with the pension cuts which were scrapped. “With regard to the reduction of the tax-free rate in 2020, I recommend patience as I recommended to all those who anticipated the reduction in pensions,” he said in an interview to the Sunday Kathimerini newspaper. In the wake of Greece’s bailout exit, he said the government “is now creating the conditions for recovery, continuing reforms and using the fiscal space to stimulate the real economy.” “We are returning to normality,” he declared.

# Amid heated debate as to whether ruling Syriza has secured the necessary support of a 151 majority to get the Macedonia name deal passed through Parliament, Russian President Vladimir Putin described as “nonsense” the allegations that Moscow tried to sow opposition to the agreement in Greece. The allegation had led last summer to the ejection of Russian diplomats from Greece and the dismissal of Greek envoys from Russia in response. Putin said during a joint press conference in Moscow on Friday with visiting Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras he “really hopes this page has been turned” while the Greek PM said the “case is closed.” Both men expressed interest in energy cooperation, with Putin saying he would consider inviting Greek companies “to join major infrastructure projects for the delivery of Russian gas to Europe via the southern route.”

# Conservative New Democracy holds a 4.7-percent lead over ruling Syriza, according to a poll by Kappa Research on behalf of the center-left leaning “Ethnos” newspaper. The poll showed that New Democracy would get 25-percent of the vote in a general election against 20.3-percent for leftist Syriza. Extreme right Golden Dawn was third with 7.9 percent ahead of centrist alliance Movement for Change on 6.4-percent and Communist KKE with 5.8-percent. Junior coalition partner ANEL got 2.2-percent, below the 3-percent threshold needed to enter Parliament. Moreover, 44-percent were in favor of early elections before May. The same poll by Kappa Research in September had given New Democracy a 4.9 percent lead. Recent polls have shown that the gap between ND and Syriza has ranged from 4.7-16.5 percent in favor of the conservative party.

On Our Radar: Leading academics call for review of article prohibiting private universities
In an open letter, prominent Greek academics have urged the government, on the grounds of democratic principles, to approve the review of article 16 of the Greek constitution that prohibits the establishment of private universities. The letter signed by leading academics from local and foreign institutions and published in Sunday’s Kathimerini newspaper said that Greece is the only country in Europe, if not the world, where the constitution constrains the freedom of lawmakers “to regulate the status of universities in accordance with the educational, social and cultural needs of the time, as well as the priorities of the majority of the time.” “It’s a matter of democracy,” the letter said.