Athens Digest 12.08.2019 [weekly edition]

• Midsummer amendments: Campus ban for police is abolished

• Government acts on Competition Committee’s Head controversy

• PM Mitsotakis meets Bruno Le Maire ahead of his visit to France

• MinFin Staikouras letter to Commission seeks roadmap for new budget targets

• Commissioner Hahn stresses out challenges on EU co-financed projects

• Minister says PPC needs EUR 750 million for survival

• Piraeus Bank: Greece’s crisis-era exports were lifted by global recovery

# Parliament has approved additional legislative proposals put forward by the government, leading with the replacement of a law nearly four decades old that bans police presence on campuses without special permission from the academic senate of each university. The conservatives have long argued that the rules had been abused by violent protest groups and petty criminals. Other changes approved by parliament reinstated executive powers to regional governors and mayors that had been ceded to municipal and regional councils, and changes to private sector dismissal rules that have implications for court challenges by fired workers. Employers are no longer obliged to provide written justification for lay-offs unless demanded by a judge.

# The new conservative government also fast-tracked legislative changes to introduce new conflict-of-interest provisions for the directors of powerful independent agencies _ changes aimed directly at Competition Committee director Vassiliki Thanou, the former senior judge who had been a senior aide to former PM Alexis Tsipras. PM Mitsotakis reportedly discussed the issue with Margrethe Vestager, the EU competition commissioner.

# French Finance and Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire has met in Athens with PM Kyriakos Mitsotakis ahead of the prime minister’s visit to France. The meeting took place after Greece sided with France in nominating Bulgaria’s Kristalina Georgieva as the EU’s candidate to head the IMF. The decision was made despite a last minute visit to Athens by former Dutch finance minister and Eurogroup president Jeroen Dijsselbloem, who met with the PM as well as the Greek Finance Minister Christos Staikouras. Mitsotakis is also planning visits to Germany the Netherlands over the next few weeks.

# Government officials say Finance Minister Christos Staikouras has written to senior Commission officials, expressing the government’s wish to revise the Greek debt sustainability analysis, indirectly opening the discussion for lower primary budget surplus targets. The July letter reportedly contains commitments by the new conservative government to back a strong reform agenda and address persisting imbalances in the economy, as well as to work closely with European creditors to review the primary surplus target worth 3.5 percent of GDP that is currently required through 2022. Greece meanwhile, continued to see a continued drop in market borrowing rates with the yield at a 13-week T-Bill auction on Wednesday falling to 0.095 percent from 0.23 in July.

# EU Commissioner Johannes Hahn has called on the government to focus on facing significant challenges ahead, avoiding delays of the past regarding EU co-financed projects. In a letter, Hahn cited challenges on the implementation of pending projects (waste management in Greek cities, improvements in transport logistics, financial instruments, digital transformation of Greece’s public administration) as well as the design of the post 2020 delivery system.

# Greece’s struggling Public Power Corporation will need financial support worth EUR 750 million over the next 45 days to remain solvent, Environment and Energy Minister Kostis Hatzidakis has warned. In an interview with Ta Nea newspaper, he said the funds would have to be raised from a “variety of sources.” He said September 24 would be the first crucial deadline for the utility’s viability when a new auditor’s report is due to be released. In addition to further liberalisation of the energy market, significant steps in that direction include the gradual withdrawal of coal-fired power plants and the partial privatization of Hellenic Electricity Distribution Network Operator. The minister also announced his intention to proceed to the fast-track the privatisation Public Gas Company’s marketing and distribution branch and of Hellenic Petroleum, as well as a rescue plan for troubled mining company Larco.

# Improved competitiveness alone does not account for the strong recovery in Greek exports during the country’s financial crisis, according to a new report from Piraeus Bank. The study, “Structural Reforms, Competitiveness and Greek Exports 2010-2017,” argues that Greece’s strong export performance in 2010-2014 was driven by the highly favorable global economic environment, amid rapid recovery from the global financial crisis and expansionary monetary and fiscal policies in the United States and China. The positive impact of competitiveness, the study said, was more evident in 2014-2017.
Piraeus Bank also announced that together with its real estate arm, it had completed its seventh e-bidding in July, approving the sale of 32 properties, at a total price of EUR 4.2 million. More than 240 individuals and legal entities expressed an interest in participating in the latest open electronic auction, the bank said.

On our Radar: Light fades for sculpting great
Greek sculptor Takis, known for innovative artwork that combined art and science, and whose fans included John Lennon and Swiss sculptor Alberto Giacometti, has died at the age of 93. Born Panayiotis Vassilakis in Athens, Takis bacame internationally known after moving to mid-war Paris. Some of his work _ famously using sound, magnets, and lights _ is currently being exhibited at the Tate Modern in London. The gallery described his creations as “some of the most innovative art of the 20th Century.”