Athens Digest 06.02.2019

• Tsipras: Dialogue with Turkey averted ‘dangerous escalation’ 

• FYROM ratification round to start in Athens

• Reports: Banks need to raise 6 billion for rescue plan

• Chain smoking minister scolded by Health Commissioner

# The leaders of Greece and Turkey vowed to work to reduce tension, despite openly airing complaints at a news conference. Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras held a two-hour meeting with his host, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, covering an array of issues including migration, Cyprus, and boundary disputes in the Aegean Sea. Ahead of Tsipras’ arrival, Turkey put up a reward for the capture of eight Turkish military officers who have been granted asylum in Greece after Turkey’s failed coup in 2016. Tsipras said he was obliged to respect Greek court decisions on their asylum. He defended his decision to meet with Erdogan despite the list of disagreements. “If I hadn’t been able to pick up the phone and talk to the President, we would have very likely found ourselves_  without having that intention _ faced with a dangerous escalation,” he said. “So I’m glad that there is this level of communication and sincerity between us.” Tsipras today will meet the Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew in Istanbul.

Greece will be the first country to ratify FYROM’s accession protocol with NATO after the document is signed today. Parliament Speaker Nikos Voutsis said ratification would be debated at committee level tomorrow and voted on Friday in full session. All NATO members must separately ratify the deal before FYROM becomes the 30th member of the 70-year-old alliance as the renamed republic of North Macedonia. PM Tsipras’ majority is all but secured after six MPs who backed his government in a confidence vote last month said they would continue to support the government. Voutsis, speaking to parliamentary correspondents, said the government was still seeking an October election but added that there “is no scenario” to go to the polls before May.

#  Greek banks will reportedly need to raise EUR 6 billion to fully participate in a rescue plan to slash their sour loan mountain. Details of the plan were presented to the EU Commission last week with Greek lenders getting up to 9 months to complete the capital increases. A scheme proposed by the Bank of Greece would involve more rapid action than a parallel bad-loan reduction proposal from the Hellenic Financial Stability Fund. Banks would be encouraged to sign up to one or both schemes.

Commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis has sharply criticised Greece’s firebrand deputy health minister Pavlos Polakis for smoking in public and lighting up inside the ministry building. After giving a speech in Athens on World Cancer Day, Andriukaitis said the Greek minister has set a bad example in a country with the highest rate of smoking and passive smoking exposure in the EU. “This guy knows nothing about health. Nothing,” he was quoted as saying. Polakis responded via a… facebook post saying that he has been dealing with more serious issues in the health system for the past three years than a cigarette and  adding “I will stop smoking when I decide, exercising my own free will.”

On our Radar: Reaching aGreekment 
What did Alexis Tsipras tell on the night of the 2015 referendum? And how many times did Donald Tusk threaten to lock EU leaders in a room to stop Grexit? Europe’s leaders, central bankers and key figures in the eurozone debt crisis spoke in the BBC documentary ‘Going for Broke’ that was broadcast on Mondaynight about the key moments in the Greek and eurozone debt crisis, revealing how close and how many times the situation came to the brink of tragedy. Guests in the documentary include Angela Merkel  Wolfgang Schauble, George Osborne, Donald Tusk, Francois Hollande, and Matteo Renzi.