Athens Digest 21.01.2019

• Rally against Prespa deal marred by violence

• Opposition New Democracy on course for majority government, poll shows

• Institutions return to Greece ahead of second post-bailout evaluation

• Greece plans bond market return with five year syndicated issue

# Tens of thousands of Greeks voided their opposition yesterday to the Prespa Agreement between Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) in a demonstration in central Athens which, however, was marred by clashes reportedly leading to 25 policemen injuries and 7 arrests. The Prime Minister’s office blamed the clashes on right wing extremists and Golden Dawn members who tried to barge into the Parliament building. However, the government came under fire from opposition New Democracy for what it said was an excessive use of tear gas in a bid to disrupt the demonstration. Meanwhile, the procedures for the accord’s ratification begin today in Parliament with the government confident it will muster the necessary votes needed for its ratification.

# In comments to the Athens Digest,  Prof. Ioannis Armakolas, an expert on the Balkans and Research Fellow at ELIAMEP think tank in Athens, said the Prespa Agreement settles in a mutually beneficial manner a dispute that has cost Greece enormous diplomatic capital. “Ιt could signal its return to a merited central role in the Balkans,” he said. “However, typically for Greece, both government and opposition mishandled the issue and preferred to fight each other, rather than reach consensus. Consequently, the agreement makes the Greek society yet more divided and most Greeks will feel bitter and unduly betrayed,” he added.

# The recognition of a Macedonian ethnicity and language would pose a significant danger for Greece, according to Angelos Syrigos, an associated Professor of International Law and Foreign Policy at Athens’ Panteion University.  Speaking to Alpha TV, Syrigos said the ratification of the Prespa Agreement will prompt “others within Greece to call for the recognition of a Macedonian minority and Macedonian language.” The Prespa Agreement stipulates that FYROM revises its constitution to rid it of wording that could lead to irredentist claims to Greece’s northern province of Macedonia. However, Syrigos said that apart from the amendments made to it, the revised constitution’s final text is still not known.

# New Democracy would form a single party majority government in a five-party Parliament if elections were held today according to a survey by the Marc polling company published yesterday by the Proto Thema newspaper.  More specifically, the survey showed that the conservative opposition party would win 32-percent of the vote, 8.9 points ahead of the governing SYRIZA party with 23.1 percent. This result would give New Democracy 158 seats in the 300-member Parliament. Centrists KINAL and extreme right Golden Dawn were in joint third place with 6.4-percent, ahead of communist party KKE with 5.9-percent. Moreover 67.4 percent said they would like elections to take place by May at the latest, while 66-percent said they are opposed to the Prespa Agreement between Greece and FYROM.

# NPLs, the minimum wage and 16 commitments made by the government in June will top the agenda of consultations with the institutions that begin in Athens today at a technical level today and a ministerial level tomorrow. They will be finalized on Friday. Ahead of this week’s consultations, the head of the European Stability Mechanism, Klaus Regling, told Austrian radio that Greece’s debt is “sustainable”, as half of it is owed to various low-interest mechanisms. He said an assessment will be made this week whether Greece is sticking to its reform process and commitments. The goal, he said, is to boost Greek growth.

# Greece plans a return to the bond markets for the first time since last February after the Prespa accord is ratified by its Parliament, Reuters reported on Friday. Citing two sources, Reuters said Greece will return with a five-year syndicated issue.  Greece had been planning last year to bring a 10-year euro-denominated transaction but was deterred by volatility in Italy. The two sources said it now planned a shorter-tenor issue.

On Our Radar: “Change of guard” in world tennis as Greek sensation Tsitsipas edges his idol Federer 
Greece’s Stefanos Tsitsipas, 20, has beaten tennis legend Roger Federer 3-1 (6-7, 7-6, 7-5, 7-6) to advance to the quarterfinals of the Australian Open – the first ever Greek to do so.  The 14th-seeded foiled the plans of the 37-year-old defending champion of winning a third straight Australian open. Speaking after the match, Tsitsipas said “I’ve been analysing him (Federer) since the age of six.”  “It was a dream just being on Rod Laver playing against him and to win it at the end, I cannot describe it,” he added.