Athens Digest 24.12.2018

• Merkel to visit Athens in January

• Summit of Balkan leaders reaffirms will to strengthen regional cooperation

• Repayment scheme for debts to social insurance funds to go ahead in 1st quarter of 2019

• Minister announces extension of VAT discount for five islands

# German Chancellor Angela Merkel will reportedly pay a two-day visit to Athens on January 10. According to sources in Berlin, cited by the Kathimerini newspaper yesterday, the purpose of her visit is to show German support to Greece after its exit in the summer from bailout programs. The paper, moreover, opined that the German Chancellor will also show support for Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras ahead of a parliamentary vote on the name deal with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

# Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras insisted on Friday that the Balkans must again become the center point of peace, cooperation and co-development. “This can only occur through the EU’s enlargement,” he said in a joint press conference with the leaders of Greece, Serbia, Bulgaria and Romania who gathered in Belgrade for a quadrilateral summit and discussed ways to bolster Serbia’s bid to join the EU. Using… football terminology, Tsipras said that a very good team has been created “that has learned to combine, pass, open up the game and play creative football.” “Through this very good cooperation, especially in the infrastructure and energy sectors, but also in the development of a new geopolitical dynamic in the region, we may score very soon,” he said. The four leaders also agreed to prepare a joint bid to host the 2028 European Championship or the 2030 World Cup.

# Labor Minister Efi Achtsioglou said yesterday that the repayment scheme for debts to social insurance funds, including 120 installments and a haircut for the basic debt, will be implemented in the first quarter of 2019. In an interview to Ethnos newspaper, Achtsioglou said the purpose of the scheme is “to allow as many debtors as possible to settle their debts” and to provide relief to tens of thousands of professionals.” She added that the government’s commitment to raise the minimum wage and abolish the sub-minimum wage for people aged up to 25 will be implemented in the second half of January.

On Our Radar: Minister announces extension of VAT discount for five islands
VAT rates on five eastern Aegean islands hardest hit by the refugee crisis will continue to remain lower after the end of the year – when the measure was due to expire – according to Migration Minister Dimitris Vitsas. Vitsas told Parliament that the 30 percent discount on VAT for Lesvos, Chios, Samos, Kos and Leros, which were all exempted from a VAT hike last January on other Greek islands, will be extended into 2019 and that he will table the relevant legislative decree by the year’s end. However, he did not say how long the extension will be. The reduced rate on the islands has been a source of friction between Greece and its creditors, with the Greek side seeking to cover a budget gap of EUR 29 million to close the penultimate review of its third bailout progamme.

The Athens Digest wishes you all best for the holiday season. We will be back on the morning of December 27.