Athens Digest 15.03.2019

• Parliament backs key constitutional change with overwhelming support

• Greece to expand ‘Golden Visa’ programme

Amid overall drop, Greece ranks third in EU asylum applications

Bolivia’s Morales meets PM Tsipras on rare trip to Europe

Parliament has voted overwhelmingly in favour of a constitutional amendment to change the way the assembly elects the country’s president. The change would mean that a deadlocked vote for president would no longer trigger a general election. Lawmakers voted 224-47 in favour of the amendment, meaning that only a simple majority of 151 MPs is needed in the next parliament to ratify it. The vote means it is now highly unlikely for a snap election to occur next spring when parliament will hold the next presidential vote. Lawmakers also delivered a supermajority in favor of changing way cabinet members can be prosecuted, while proposals to change the official church-state status only received 156 votes, and would require 180 to be ratified by the next parliament.

# Plans to expand Greece’s so-called “Golden Visa” programme are currently being debated at committee-level in parliament. If approved, residence permits could be granted to non-EU citizens who invest at least EUR 400,000 in Greek companies or Greek government bonds through local banks. The new provisions will broaden the scope of the investment incentive scheme which was launched for investors who spent more than EUR 250,000 in Greek real estate. The scheme is popular with investors from China, Russia, Turkey, Lebanon, and Egypt.

# Greece last year had the third highest number of fist-time asylum applications in the European Union at 65,000, according to data released by Eurostat. Germany had the highest number at 161,900, followed by France at 110,500. Greece, with application representing 11 percent of the total, was followed by Spain (52,700) and Italy (49,200). Cyprus had the highest number of applications relative to its population, followed by Greece. Overall, 580,800 people applied for asylum across the European Union in 2018, down 11 percent from 2017. Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq remain the countries were most asylum seekers hail from.

# Prime Minister Tsipras paid tribute last night to Bolivia’s left-wing President Evo Morales who stopped in Athens while on a rare visit to Europe. Morales, who attended a UN conference in drugs in Vienna, met Tsipras in Athens and the two are to hold additional talks this morning that are expected to include the ongoing crisis in Venezuela. Morales reaffirmed his support for Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and criticized challenger Juan Guaido, describing him as “an envoy of the Americans.” Tsipras did not refer to Venezuela in his remarks.

On our Radar: Consumer complaints triple 
The Consumer Ombudsman in Greece said it received 10,843 complaints in 2018 _ roughly triple the number it had received in 2010, at the start of the country’s financial crisis. It said resolving 83 percent of those complaints in out-of-court agreements in less than three months on average. The figures were released to mark World Consumer Rights Day today.