Athens Digest 16.05.2019

• Greece has rainy-day ‘kitty’ says MinFIn Tsakalotos in Parliament

• Creditors’ warnings and a … trip to the Bahamas

• Stournaras: Primary surplus won’t have any fiscal space in 2019

• Latest poll gives New Democracy 8-point lead

• Anarchist group attacks home of US ambassador

# Greece is not on the agenda of today’s Eurogroup meeting but a European official says explanations may be sought over handouts announced by the prime minister that are due to take effect next week. Parliament approved VAT reductions for food and catering, covering a range of products and businesses including coffee and chocolate, as well as grill houses and bakeries. Also approved were extended repayment schemes for tax and social security _ an initiative creditors have warned could hurt the country’s payment culture. Speaking in Parliament, Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos said the measures were fully covered by the over-target primary surplus. “We have costed the measures worth more than EUR 1 billion, and we will gain EUR 200 million from the tax settlements,” he said. “These figures are conservative, and if something goes wrong, we have a kitty.”

# Tsakalotos dismissed earlier criticism attributed to a European official that Athens’ plan to meet primary deficit targets was confusing. “I read today in the pro-opposition press that a European official is conflicted, anxious, and confused about our plan for 2019 and for 2020,” he said, starting off his speech in Parliament. “Mr Speaker, if I had a euro for every time a European official, speaking off the record, expressed concern, was troubled, or sad, I would have saved up enough to go to Santorini for 10 days with my friends. And if I had a euro for ever time those off-the-record remarks were ‘reproduced’, then that would be enough to spend a year in the Bahamas.”

# Yannis Stournaras, the Bank of Greece governor, has warned that the primary surplus this year is set to hit the 3.5 percent target this year _ but not produce the extra money needed for additional benefits. Speaking to the  Athens News Agency,  he said: “The prevailing trend cannot be reversed for this year. There will not be fiscal space for additional benefits beyond those included in the 2019 budget.” Stournaras also stuck to the central bank forecast of 1.9 percent growth for this year, contrasting with the government’s 2.3 percent forecast.

# A poll for Antenna television by Marc for the European elections has given New Democracy an 8-point lead over rulling Syriza. Factoring invalid responses, the poll gave New Democracy 30.6 percent, and Syriza 22.6 percent. They were followed by the Movement for Change at 6.6 percent, Golden Dawn 6.3 percent, KKE 5.3 percent. The fringe right-wing Hellenic Solution led smaller parties with 2.3 percent. A 12.7 percent of undecided voters is monitored. The poll ran after the announcement of relief measures by the government.

On our Radar: ‘Childish vandalism’ 
The governments of Greece and the United States have condemned an attack on the home on the home of US ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt, in which at least 10 people wearing crash helmets threw bottles filled with black paint at the white perimeter wall. The anarchist group Rubicon posted a video of the attack on the internet and said it had been carried out in support of November 17 terror group gunman Dimitris Koufodinas who has been on hunger strike since May 2, demanding that he be granted prison leave. “This kind of hooliganism detracts from everything that is so attractive about Athens right now as a destination for tourism for investment. And I’m grateful for the indications that law enforcement intends quickly to follow up,” Pyatt said. Earlier, he posted a message on Twitter: “I woke up to more childish vandalism this morning outside the residence and will continue to work with Greek authorities to punish the culprits according to law. Destruction of property is not (a) peaceful protest.”