Athens Digest 05.08.2019 [weekly edition]

• MinFin Staikouras: Talks to lower surpluses already started

• Fitch Affirms Greece at ‘BB-‘; Outlook Stable

• Central bank seeking to end capital controls after summer

• PM Mitsotakis promises Greeks abroad the right to vote

# Finance Minister Christos Staikouras says talks with creditors to eventually lower annual primary surplus targets are already underway.  “We are already discussing this crucial issue with our partners and lenders,” Staikouras told the Athens daily Kathimerini in an interview. “Conditions are maturing to set more realistic goals.” Greece’s new government has committed to keeping to the 3.5 percent target in 2019 and 2020 but Stairouras said the government was aiming to build a “step-by-step” negotiation with lenders to ease restraints on public finances. The minister added that Greece still wanted to pay down expensive portions of its bailout debt early, make savings by promoting expanded online use for transactions and administrative tasks, and introduce additional tax cuts in 2020, the extent of which would depend on this year’s budget performance.

# Fitch has held Greece’s sovereign rating at BB- with a stable outlook, citing enduring weaknesses slowing the country’s recovery. Improvements, the ratings agency said, are “set against weak medium-term growth potential, extremely high level of non-performing loans in the banking sector, and high stocks of general government debt and net external debt.” The clear general election result last month as well as the government’s promised business-friendly agenda were encouraging signs that “could further underpin Greece’s economic recovery,” Fitch said. The government is planning its next market test on Wednesday with a 13-week T-Bill auction worth a planned EUR 625 million.

# The Bank of Greece is seeking an end to capital controls after the summer, according to a Reuters report. Quoting a senior official, the agency said the final restrictions could be scrapped by the end of October in a move that would end measures imposed in the summer of 2015 when Greece was in a standoff with bailout creditors that threatened its place in the euro zone. The decision on whether to act on the central bank recommendation rests with the government, but Prime Minister Mitsotakis has already signalled a strong willingness to boost the business climate in Greece with a return to normal banking activity.

# The prime minister has promised Greeks abroad the right to vote in a legislative initiative he said will be separate from plans to restore a majority voting system in general elections. Speaking to New Democracy’s party executive, Kyriakos Mitsotakis said the diaspora voting initiative would be brought to parliament very soon. “The right of Greeks abroad to vote from their place of residence has become, for me, a central political priority,” he said. The move would expand the Greek electorate and put pressure on opposition parties to endorse the initiative. Separately, the new conservative government has also promised to scrap a reform led by the previous government to introduce full proportional representation before the measure would take effect at the next general election.

On our Radar: Return Campaign Gets New Backer
Greek gas grid operator DESFA has endorsed a private campaign aimed at attracting back Greek professionals who left the country during the crisis. Desfa, which last year sold a majority stake to a consortium led by Italy’s Snam SpA, joins other Greek-based firms including Aegean Airlines, Piraeus Bank, and Cosmote in support of the so-called Brain Regain initiative _ deliberately named to counter the huge brain drain phenomenon seen during the financial crisis when more than 400,000 workers are estimated to have left Greece to find jobs.