Athens Digest 26.03.2019

• EWG doesn’t approve EUR 1bn disbursement to Greece as talks on foreclosure protection miss reaching deal

On Greek National Day, Turkish jets force PM’s helicopter to make evasive manoeuvres

Mosque Threat Rattles Athens

Piraeus Bank Chairman Handjinicolaou set to head HBA

# Negotiators from Greece and the European institutions have failed to clinch an agreement on new foreclosure protection rules, pushing the talks closer to next Eurogroup meeting on April 5. Yesterday, the Euroworking group didn’t approve further debt relief measures including a disbursement of approximately EUR 1bn. Talks between the Greek Authorities and the institutions will continue while reportedly the government intends to submit its proposals to Parliament early this week.

# Prime Minister Tsipras says a military helicopter transporting him to the remote island of Agathonisi in the eastern Aegean Sea was shadowed by Turkish fighters forcing his pilot to make evasive manoeuvres in an encounter that occurred as Greeks celebrated their National Day. Greek officials said the air force intervened and intercepted the pair of Turkish F-16s. “I had the honour a short while ago of being welcomed here on Agathonisi by some fighter jets from the Turkish air force,” Tsipras said. “They must know that these foolish actions do not make any sense. It’s just a waste of fuel.”

# Greece has expressed strong objection to a renewed call by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to reconvert Hagia Sophia into a mosque. Foreign Minister George Katrougalos, who visited Turkey last week, described the Istanbul site as one that “belongs to humanity.” He was responding to TV interview by Erdogan who said the site could be renamed as “Hagia Sophia Mosque”. “Doubting this status in any way is not just an insult to Christians. It is an insult to the international community and to international law,” Katrougalos said.

# Piraeus Bank Board Chairman George Handjinicolaou is reportedly standing as the sole candidate to become the next chairman of the Hellenic Bank Association, following an agreement between the two leading candidates. The appointment is due to be confirmed today, with Handjinicolaou succeeding Nikolaos Karamouzis whose term is ending. NBG Chairman Costas Michaelides withdrew his candidacy, according to news reports, as part of an agreement aimed at fostering greater interaction between the HBA and Greek society, and enhancing its role as the country’s banking system proceeds with a landmark transformation following the end of the final Greek economic adjustment programme.

On our Radar: Commission event highlights improvements and enduring risks
Organisers of last week’s European Commission event in Athens have published presentations made at the one-day meetings highlighting the country’s remaining major challenges. They include completing Greece’s land registry, energy market reforms, high long-term and youth unemployment, a worsening population structure, a vulnerable banking sector, limited credit supply, low investment, and weak productivity growth. The event was held to discuss ways of further integrating Greece into the Commission’s financial check-up system, the European Semester. Declan Costello, the EC mission chief for Greece, said despite multiple improvements, pressing on with reforms was essential to make Greece’s recovery stronger, sustainable, and more inclusive.