Athens Digest 19.03.2019

• BoG Data: Central government net borrowing requirement on cash basis

EU-poll amendment would preserve government’s ‘plus-six’ group

PM Tsipras readies North Macedonia visit

Survey finds brain-drain Greeks homesick

Greece saw a decrease in central government revenue on a cash basis in the first two months of 2019, according to new Bank of Greece data. During that period, ordinary budget revenue reached EUR 7.409 billion, compared to EUR 8.216 billion euros the previous year. Ordinary budget spending was at EUR 7.973 billion, from EUR 7.265 billion in January-February 2018. And the primary balance of the central government dropped to EUR 838 million from EUR 2.056 billion. The net balance slipped into the red with a EUR 380 million deficit, compared with a surplus of EUR 843 million in the corresponding period of 2018.

Parliament votes today on whether to allow MPs to retain their seats if they also run as candidates in the May European Parliament elections. The change was added as an amendment to an Interior Ministry bill and would help the government hold on to its wafer-thin parliamentary majority. Syriza currently has a majority of one seat with the support of six independents, following the collapse of Tsipras’ coalition with the Independent Greeks in mid-January. A former member of that party, and the current independent Tourism Minister Elena Kountoura, is one of the six MPs supporting the government and is expected to run in the European election. Former Potami MP Spyros Danellis, who also backs the government as an independent, is rumoured to be aanother potential candidate.

The prime minister is finalizing plans to pay a landmark visit to North Macedonia, with a trip aimed at cementing the agreement reached this year between the two countries. Tsipras is expected to the travel with a number of cabinet ministers and Greek business executives, as the two countries prepare to sign a number of cooperation agreements. April 2 is seen as the most likely date for the visit, according to the state-run ERT television. Defence Minister Evangelos Apostolakis is also expected to visit Skopje to formalize plans for military cooperation with the next NATO member. It’s likely to include preparations for airspace patrols similar to a current arrangement with Montenegro. Despite its strong opposition to North Macedonia’s NATO membership, Russia formally recognised the former Yugoslav republic under its new name.

A new survey has found that 58 percent of Greek science graduates who live and work abroad would like to return home. The study by the National Documentation Centre, which promotes open access to scientific content, found that 70 percent of the homesick missed the quality of life in Greece, and 42 percent wanted to be closer to their families. Some 44 percent cited improving pay for specialized jobs in Greece, while 36 percent were motivated by improving job opportunities. Also: 86 percent said they hoped to help transfer the knowledge gained abroad and understanding of different work practices to their new jobs if they returned to Greece.

On our Radar: Cyberdefense Pledge 
Mariya Gabriel , the digital economy commissioner, has told a conference in Athens that improving Europe’s cybersecurity is a top priority for the Commission, along with building trust in business and the public in digital commerce and administration. Gabriel spoke in a video message to a conference in Greec organised by The Economist and entitled “Taking Cybersphere to the Next Level: A peek into the future boardroom.” Gabriel has described major incidents like the WannaCry and other global ransomware attacks ago as “wake-up calls” for EU authorities.