Athens Digest 13.12.2018

• New poll shows conservatives cementing lead

• Citi sees weak growth on Greek horizon

• Former Greek statistics chief Georgiou calls for Eurostat 2.0

• Athens airport operators get EU green light for 20-year extension after ‘significant’ offer boost

• A fight to keep the lights on at state-controlled Larco

# New Democracy is holding a strong lead over Syriza in a new poll that found some government supporters looking for left-wing alternatives. The Alco survey for private Open TV gave Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ New Democracy a 6.2-point lead over Syriza _ broadly unchanged from September (6.1 points). It also suggested that the extreme right Golden Dawn party has made substantial gains. The survey counts the undecided as a voting bloc, making at gap narrower than in other polls that provide projections. The latest survey found: New Democracy 27.6 percent, Syriza 21.4, Golden Dawn 7.2, KKE 6.2, Movement for Change (Pasok) 5.4. Recent polls have shown that the gap between New Democracy and Syriza has ranged from 4.7-16.5 percent in favor of the conservative party.

# Citigroup says Greece is now benefitting from years of bailout-era reforms but is likely to see growth stay below 2 percent for the next five years due to a string of domestic weaknesses. According to the report, the outlook remains largely dependent on the foreign investors, who remain the only financial channel for the economy. The New York-based banking multinational, reporting its global outlook for 2019, said following growth of 2.2 percent this year, the figure was likely to drop steadily, reaching just 1.3 percent in 2023. Elections due in 2019 were unlikely to upset the economy. Citi analysts say that after a possible New Democracy victory, a new government by the conservatives is expected to be more friendly for both markets and entrepreneurship.

# Former Greek statistics chief Andreas Georgiou has argued that the European Union needs a more integrated statistics mechanism across its member states, in a study for Bruegel. In the 152-page document, Georgiou says the European Statistical System, a partnership between Eurostat and national agencies, needs to be reformed to further harmonize standards. “A new, integrated ESS is essential for the current level of integration of the European Union,” he wrote. “(It) would reduce the risk of non-harmonised quality European statistics leading to a significant reduction in uncertainty about the economic environment in the EU and its constituent parts.”

# The EU Commission has approved a 20-year extension for the operators of Athens International Airport (AIA), worth EUR 1.1 billion euros. Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager said the sum was in line with the market price, adding: “This means that AIA will not benefit from any state aid in the form of an unduly low fee for the concession.” The deal was considered a key element in the Greek privatisation programme during the bailout era. The Commission said that during the negotiation process, AIA “significantly increased” its offer for the concession. The airport opened in 2001.

# Troubled Greek nickel producer Larco is under threat due to a EUR 280 million unpaid electricity bill. Energy Minister George Sthathakis is heading emergency talks to try and broker an agreement that would keep the state-controlled firm running. Quoting a senior ministry official, Reuters reported that the government was seeking additional time to work out a compromise and avoid disconnection before the end of December. Earlier this year, Larco lost an appeal at a European court and must return state aid worth EUR 135 million.

On our Radar: Tax torture? Growing demands on a shrinking base
Fewer Greeks are shouldering more of the burden, according to a newly-presented study. The figures were announced at the Economic Chamber of Greece at an event timed to coincide with the start of the debate in parliament on Budget 2019. The main findings include: Just 19 percent of taxpayers provide 90 percent of the revenue, and similarly, 4.5 percent of businesses pay 83 percent of corporate income tax.