Athens Digest 20.09.2019

• New government garners early approval, poll finds

EU Commission approves Greek house protection scheme

Government to reverse gas utility split for privatisation

Greece to boost Aegean patrols after spike in migrant arrivals

# Kyriakos Mitsotakis is retaining strong public support in the early stages of his premiership, according to a new opinion poll. A Pulse survey for Skai TV found 64 percent of respondents believed the new government was “heading in the right direction,” while 29 percent disagreed with that statement. The poll gave Mitsotakis’ New Democracy party a 13.5 percentage point lead, signalling a consolidation of popular support after the general election. The findings were: New Democracy 39.5 percent, Syriza 26, Movement for Change 6, KKE 4.5, Mera25 4.0, Greek Solution 3.0. New Democracy won just shy of 40 percent of the vote in the July 7 election, nearly 8.5 points ahead of Alexis Tsipras’ Syriza.

# The European Commission has formally approved a scheme introduced by the previous government in Greece to protect primary residences from foreclosure. The Commission found that the programme did not violate EU rules on illegal state aid. “The scheme, which has an annual budget of around EUR 132 million, sets strict eligibility criteria in terms of the value of the primary residence and income of the borrower to ensure it is targeted at those in need. Eligible borrowers will receive a grant corresponding to 20 to 50 percent of their monthly loan payment depending on their income,” a Commission statement said. It described the scheme as “well targeted” adding that it would not “create undue distortions of competition” in the market.

# The government is reportedly planning to scrap plans by the Tsipras administration to split natural gas utility DEPA and instead opt for a full-fledged privatisation process. Officials in the Mitsotakis government are seeking to revert to original sell-off plans that would see an end to state control of the company _ and not proceed with the two-track sale of subsidiaries DEPA Trade and DEPA Infrastructure. The state holds a 65 percent stake in DEPA, while Hellenic Petroleum owns the remaining 35 percent. Draft legislation revising the previous government’s plan is due to be submitted to Parliament next month.

On Our Radar: Aegean Patrols
Greece will boost coast guard patrols in the Aegean Sea to counter a spike in arrivals by refugees and migrants on its islands. “We are already preparing ways to reinforce our sea borders but it is very difficult to seal them off,” Giorgos Koumoutsakos, a minister responsible for migration policy, told Skai radio. He did not give any details of the plan. The minister said the government was closely watching a build up in the Turkish coastal city of Izmir of Syrian refugees who have fled the rebel-held enclave in the northwestern Idlib province. Greece has again overtaken Italy as the European Union’s busiest entry point for illegal migration. Some 38,313 arrivals were detected in the first eight months of 2019, according to Frontex, while arrivals in Spain reached 14,832 and Italy were 6,570.