Athens Digest 14.12.2018

• Women, young people lagging in job recovery

• Moscovici troubled by pension remarks in Athens

• Weber supports Mitsotakis to “defeat populism and restore Greece to a sustainable growth path”

• New poll, same news: strong lead for Conservatives, small marginal gain for ruling Syriza

# The unemployment rate has dipped to 18.3 percent in the third quarter of 2018, dropping nearly 2 points from a year ago. Statistics authority ELSTAT said the official jobless figure stood at 871,756, with 71.8 percent of that number having been out of work for more than a year. Employment prospects appeared worse for women (23.3 percent jobless) and young people (35.4 percent jobless for ages 20-24). The total number of people employed was 3.89 million, while 4.37 million were inactive.

# Pierre Moscovici, the EU finance commissioner, met with Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras ahead of the Brexit-focused European Council meeting, and the French politician was reportedly troubled by remarks made in Greece over recently reversed pension cuts. According to Greek government sources, Moscovici took exception to comments made in parliament by conservative opposition leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis, who implied that EU officials took a more favourable view on axing 2019 pension cuts after the Tsipras government backed the name-change agreement with FYROM. The meeting with Moscovici was focused on Greece’s reform programme, including privatisation and plans for a new mortgage protection scheme.

# Manfred Weber, the conservative candidate for EU Commission president expressed support for Greece’s fellow conservative leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis. “I support Kyriakos Mitsotakis in his quest to defeat populism and restore Greece to a path of sustainable growth, attracting new investments.” he said in an interview with the website Weber also voiced concern over potential outside interference in the 2019 European election, maintaining that “There are many countries and organisations that want to see the EU fail, and want to divide us.”

# A second poll released this week has given an 8-point lead to Greece’s conservatives, suggesting a marginal gain for Syriza since September (8.8-points). The MRB poll found: New Democracy 31.3 percent, Syriza 23.3, Movement for Change 6.8, Golden Dawn 6.8, KKE (Communist party) 6 percent. However negative attitudes towards the governing party also appeared to be hardening. Asked about the 2019 general election, 45.1 percent said they would view a Syriza victory negatively, while 27,6 percent said they would be displeased by a New Democracy win.

On our Radar: Motorways deadly for migrants
The death toll for migrants killed in car crashes has reached 30 this year following another fatal accident. Three suspected migrants were burned alive outside the northern city of Kavala after a car transporting migrants smashed into a lorry that had been involved in a separate accident. Three other men were injured, and three more were unharmed. Police believe that the car had been traveling from the Greek-Turkish border to Thessaloniki, a trip that typically costs each migrant at least EUR 1,000. The migrants identified after the latest crash were nationals from Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan. Most of the accidents have occurred after cars avoided police checks along northern Greek motorways. Nearly 100 migrants have also been seriously injured in crashes this year.