Athens Digest 13.02.2019

• It’s official: North Macedonia … and a Nobel nomination

• Parliament launches main debate on Constitution changes

• Farmers to meet senior government officials as motorway blockades continue

# Alexis Tsipras has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize along with Zoran Zaev. The name North Macedonia went into official use last night, and the prime ministers of the two countries are on a list of some 300 candidates and organisations for the prize that is to be awarded in Oslo in early October. Although candidates are not announced, the German news agency DPA reported that groups of lawmakers in the European Parliament had nominated the leaders of Greece and North Macedonia. Authorities in the neighbouring country said new road signs at the border and along motorways would be put up by the end of the week, and that new passports would be issued by the end of the year, along with licence plates using the new country abbreviation NMK.

# Lawmakers have begun a debate in full session on proposed amendments to the Constitution. Government-backed reforms include changes in the no-confidence vote procedure, safeguards to prevent a deadlocked parliament vote for President from triggering elections, and establishing the state as being ‘religiously neutral.’ New Democracy has renewed its proposals to allow privately-run universities, arguing that they will help bring the demands of Greece’s job market in line with higher education.
The proposals require two rounds of voting to be approved: A simple (151) and super (180) majority in two successive parliaments. If a proposal gets 180 votes in the upcoming vote, then it will only need to be approved by 151 MPs in the next parliament which will be formed after elections later this year. In such case, the new government is expected to avoid a potential collapse due to the President vote in early 2020.

The government has agreed to meet with representatives of protesting farmers, who have been staging tractor blockades along Greece’s motorways for the past two weeks. The farmers are seeking the cancellation or easing or several bailout-era measures regarding taxes and pensions and are also demanding government intervention to stop what they describe as unfair market practices. The blockades have caused relatively minor disruption so far _ forcing drivers to take detours along secondary roads. The meeting will take place in Athens tomorrow with cabinet-level officials from the ministries of finance, agriculture and labour.

On our Radar: Church handed job guarantees
The Education Ministry has published its proposals to reform a state-funded payroll system for Greek Orthodox priests, providing job guarantees to some 10,000 clergy and church staff. The proposals were made public while talks between the hierarchy and the ministry continue. The government wants to remove the civil servant classification for the clergy _ allowing additional hiring _ but has promised to guarantee their benefits and salaries that would be paid out through a state-backed fund. As part of the agreement the church and state would also set up a development fund to exploit disputed church land and property, allowing both parties to benefit without having to resolve the disputes.