Athens Digest 17.12.2018

• High court rejects appeal against FYR Macedonia name deal

• US says Prespes Agreement will strengthen Greece’s role in region

• EPP’s Weber and EC’s Schinas hit out at populism at New Democracy conference

• With elections in mind, Tsipras, Mitsotakis outline a series of handouts

# An appeal by a group of associations for the annulment of the name deal between Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia – known as the Prespes agreement- was rejected last Friday by the Council of State, Greece’s highest legal body. The court ruled that the agreement cannot be subjected to judicial review as it is a foreign policy matter.

# Meanwhile, the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo lauded the deal at the end of the Strategic Dialogue between Athens and Washington, saying that it will further strengthen the regional role of Greece. Echoing similar sentiments, US Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Wess Mitchell told the Kathimerini newspaper that Greece, Cyprus and Israel are important allies in its strategy regarding the Eastern Mediterranean “because they are stable, democratic, western allies.”

# Capping a week of acrimony between the government and New Democracy dominated by accusations of corruption, the conservatives wrapped up a party conference yesterday, also attended by the European People’s Party (EPP) candidate for EU Commission president Manfred Weber and the Commission’s Chief Spokesperson Margaritis Schinas. Weber expressed confidence that New Democracy will win the elections and “not only sideline populists, but will also restore the credibility” of Greece. Schinas highlighted that Greece must never be allowed again to reach the brink of a Eurozone exit. “Never again adventures, never again populism, all together for a European Greece,” he said.

# With elections looming next year, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and Conservatives leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis outlined a series of handouts and benefits. On Friday, Tsipras insisted at a SYRIZA rally his government will continue to push for relief measures, after having already legislated a reduction in the ENFIA property tax, the annual reduction of corporate tax by 1-percent over a four-year period and the slashing of insurance contributions of self-employed professionals. Mitsotakis promised a conditional benefit of 2,000 euros for each child based on income criteria_ Greece’s birth rate is worryingly declining_ and an increase in the minimum wage to 701 from 586 euros provided that total growth reaches 10-percent by 2022. He also pledged a program of 120 monthly installments for debts up to 3000 euros to the state and that Greeks abroad will be allowed to vote.

On Our Radar: Deaths from summer fires rise to 100
The death toll from last summer’s devastating wildfires in eastern Attica climbed to 100 on Saturday with the passing away of a 73-year-old man who had been in intensive care with serious burns after saving the life of his grandchild by protecting it with his body. The huge death toll of the fires which engulfed the coastal resort of Mati on July 23 has been attributed to illegal construction in the area and to the poor coordination of authorities prompting a prosecutor’s investigation of several state officials.