Athens Digest 25.01.2019

• Tsipras holds onto Prespa Agreement majority ahead of landmark vote

• Poll: two-thirds of Greeks oppose deal, Mitsotakis retains strong double digit lead

• Foreclosure protection unresolved as creditor inspection ends

• Stournaras says more initiative needed for NPL problem

# Lawmakers vote on the Prespa Agreement today after the debate was extended for another day, and Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras appears to have held onto the majority needed for ratification, despite fierce attacks from the opposition and protests outside parliament. Tsipras said the vote offered the two Balkan neighbours a chance to escape the vicious circle of nationalism and 30 years of tension and boost stability across the region. New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis said a future government would not be fully bound by the agreement and could use FYROM’s EU accession as leverage for further concessions. Outside parliament, several thousand people rallied against the deal and clashes between police and far right protesters broke out towards the end of the demonstration. Police set up cordons outside the homes of two Syriza MPs in northern Greece to keep back several hundred protesters. More protests are planned outside parliament today.

# A new opinion poll for Skai Television has found that 62 percent of Greeks oppose the Prespa Agreement _ a figure in line with other recent surveys on the issue. The Pulse poll published last night also showed that New Democracy was holding its 10.5 percentage point advantage over Syriza, unchanged from December. But both parties suffered marginal losses with voters turning to smaller right-wing parties which all fall below the 3 percent parliamentary threshold. Also: Golden Dawn held at 8 percent, the Movement for Change garnered 6.5, and the Greek Communist Party (KKE) was at 5.5 percent.

# Creditor-institution inspectors conclude Athens meetings today with a dispute over the level of foreclosure protection still unresolved. The institutions support a narrow protection scheme limited to low-value primary residences. They will report their findings to the Euro-Working Group in preparation for a March decision on Greek debt relief by Eurogroup ministers. In Athens, they also reviewed delays on privatisation projects and public administration reforms, while the IMF is preparing its own first post programme review.

# Bank of Greece governor Yannis Stournaras called on Greek and EU institutions to redouble efforts to tackle the country’s huge soured loan problem, speaking at an event hosted by PwC in Frankfurt. “Dealing with non-performing loans (is) by far the most significant legacy of the crisis and a major constraint on the efforts of the real economy to achieve faster and sustainable growth,” he said, expressing renewed support for a bad-bank approach to the problem. He stressed that additional initiatives were needed given that the revised 2021 targets for banks was to reduce bad-loan stock to 20 percent of the total, while the European average is just 4 percent.

On our Radar: Syriza backs Maduro
The governing Syriza party has distanced itself from Western support for the opponents of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, describing in an announcement their actions as destabilizing and illegitimate. The United States has backed a unilateral claim to power by opposition leader Juan Guaido, while the European Union has also appeared sympathetic. In Athens, Syriza party secretary Panos Skourletis met the Venezuelan ambassador and told reporters: “Syriza expresses its full support for and solidarity towards the legitimate President of Venezuela, Nicolas Maduro … The actions (against him) disregard the need for a sincere dialogue that must occur between the government and opposition.”