Athens Digest 01.03.2019

• Moscovici interview: Greece can still make debt relief deadline

• ECB critical of insolvency proposal

• Ex-stats chief Georgiou handed third acquittal

• More good poll news for Conservatives

• Reaching out to Russia: Opposition leader woos Moscow investors

# EU Finance Commissioner Pierre Moscovici has told the Athens Digest’s John Papageorgiou in an interview that he believes Greece can overcome delays in the reform programme before the March 11 Eurogroup and qualify for additional debt relief. “There are two (issues) that need to be addressed: Divestment on lignite on the one hand, and also the protection of the primary residence, the amendment or change of the so-called Katselis Law,” Moscovici said in the interview with Athens Municipal Radio while on a visit to the Greek capital for meetings with Prime Minister Tsipras and Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos. Asked if the Commission fully supports the implementation of the tax reform which has been legislated for next year, he said: “I will concentrate on March 11. Next year is next year _ 2020 comes after 2019 and as far as I know there will be elections in this country. I don’t know exactly when but certainly during this year because it is the term of Alexis Tsipras’ mandate, so we will have a (later) occasion to discuss the future.” The full interview will be aired on Sunday at 11:00 CET. Read Transcript.

# The European Central Bank has appeared critical of the Greek proposals to overhaul household insolvency rules. In an 11-page opinion, the ECB expressed concern that the changes would fail to adequately protect banks which are striving the shed the bulk of their non-performing loans. The ECB noted: “Given the wide scope of the types of debt covered by the draft law, including business debt, and the importance of portfolios collateralised by primary residences in total bank assets, the draft law may have a potentially significant negative impact on the credit institutions affected and implications for financial stability.”

# Andreas Georgiou, the former director of the Greek Statistical Authority, Elstat, has been cleared for a third time on charges of sanctioning the publication of false data _ in a ruling that may finally bring lengthy legal case against him too an end. The charges concern the 2009 budget deficit data, which marked the start of the Greek financial crisis and subsequent international bailouts. The European Commission has repeatedly backed Georgiou, who served as directed from 2010 to 2015, crediting him with restoring international confidence in the Greek institution.

# New Democracy has opened up an 11-point lead over Syriza, in the latest poll suggesting the conservatives remain on target for outright victory at the next election. The Pulse poll for Skai television gave New Democracy 32.5 percent support with the governing party at 21.5 percent _ a half-point increase in the advantage from December. Also: Golden Dawn garnered 8 percent, Pasok 7 percent, and the Communist Party (KKE) percent. The populist right Greek Solution closed in on the threshold with 2.5 percent estimated support.

# Conservative opposition leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis traveled to Moscow for meetings with senior Russian officials, and described Greece as a “reliable partner” of Russia despite its position as an “integral part of the West’s security and value system.” Mitsotakis said he was keen to attract Russian investment, promising to boost Greece’s pro-business policies if he is elected prime minister in upcoming general elections. He also discussed developments in Iran and Syria at meetings with Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

On our Radar: Exxon’s game-changing gas find
ExxonMobil has made a massive new natural gas discovery off the coast of Cyprus, the island nation’s government has announced. It was the third major gas find off Cyprus, which is facing fierce objections from Turkey which insists the exploration is violating its rights and those of the breakaway Turkish Cypriots. Turkey this week launched its largest ever naval exercise, “Blue Homeland 2019,” in the Aegean and Black Seas and the Mediterranean, with more than 100 warships expected to take part.