Athens Digest 28.03.2019

• Govt plays down differences with creditors ahead of April 5 Eurogroup meeting

• Ruling Syriza slips in poll as Greeks doubt recovery

ECB study raises debt concern over Italy, not Greece

Government defies anti-smoking ruling for nightclubs, casinos

# Government officials have defended new insolvency rules, playing down differences with lenders ahead of next Friday’s Eurogroup. “There are only two or three remaining issues but we are in agreement on all other matters,” Dimitris Tzanakopoulos, the government spokesman, said. “Obviously we reserve the right as the government of Greece to have a better understanding than our partners do of the Greek real estate market,” he added.

# New Democracy maintain a strong lead over ruling Syriza in a new opinion poll as Greeks overwhelmingly responded (71 vs 23 percent) that the economy is not yet in recovery. The Alco poll for Open TV, gauging opinion for the European Parliament elections in May, gave the conservatives a 6.9-point lead over Syriza for the European elections. Alco found a 6.5 percent gap in February, measuring responses for a general election scenario. The results were: New Democracy 26.6 percent, SYRIZA’s 19.7 percent, Golden Dawn 7 percent, Socialists 5.6 percent, and the Greek Communist Party 5.3 percent (undecided 19.4 percent).

# A presentation by ECB senior economist Cristina Checherita-Westphal has suggested that Italy’s sovereign debt dynamics are of greater concern than those of Greece. “The difference between the average interest rate that governments pay on their debt and the nominal growth rate of the economy is a key variable for debt dynamics and sovereign sustainability analysis,” Checherita-Westphal wrote in the ECB Economic Bulletin. “According to the European Commission’s Autumn 2018 forecast, all euro area countries except Italy had a negative (difference) in 2017. The differential is projected to increase in 12 euro area countries by 2020, but to remain in negative territory for all countries except Italy.”

On our Radar: Government defies anti-smoking ruling for nightclubs, casinos  
The government has renewed an exemption for smoking at casinos and nightclubs in defiance of a recent court ban. The Council of State high court ruled in favour of the group of plaintiffs that smoking areas at nightclubs and casinos should be banned in line with general anti-smoking regulations. But the ruling promoted a renewal of the exemption by ministerial decree. Despite falling rates, about a third of Greeks are regular smokers with legal bans in 2010 and tax increasing and advertising restrictions that followed having an impact.