Daily Update


17-10-2019 | EYE ON GREECE 

Wednesday, October 17 2019

Greek PM sends message of unity, defends diaspora vote

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis sent a message of unity during an event held at the Zappeion Mansion on Wednesday to mark the 2,500-year anniversary since the Battle of Thermopylae and the Battle of Salamis.


EU Commission green-lights Greek 2020 draft budget

The European Commission on Wednesday approved the Greek draft budget for 2020, hailed by the center-right government as containing ambitious measures that will spur growth and bolster investments.


IMF revises forecasts for Greek state: 3.3% primary budget surplus in 2019; 2.6% in 2020

The IMF foresees the Greek state posting a 3.3-percent primary budget surplus this year, dropping to 2.6 percent in 2020, in revising its previous estimates downward.


Greek govt eyes 139-mln€ ‘bonus’ towards businesses in 2020

The Mitsotakis government has reportedly overcome fiscal obstacles and aims to allocate 139 million euros in the form of a one-off economic stimulus to eligible businesses in the country, a sum listed in the draft 2020 budget, which itself has already been tabled in Parliament.


Greek public order minister posts video of violence on Samos; promises ‘get tough’ policy

Greece’s public order minister on Wednesday promised a stricter reaction against third country nationals temporarily hosted on a handful of Greek isles after landing from the opposition Turkish coast, part of the ongoing migrant/refugee crisis that first erupted in 2015, underling that “…anyone that burned and stabbed will face the law. They will not move around Greece.”


Greece, China sign updated econ cooperation framework for 2020-22

Greece and China signed an updated economic cooperation framework for the 2020-2022 period this week, with relevant Development and Investments Minister signing the agreement on behalf of Athens while on a visit to Beijing.


ATHEX: Mid-caps steal the show in an otherwise quiet session

Another session of little change for the Greek bourse benchmark ended on Wednesday, with the most notable gains being reserved for mid-caps, such as realty firm REDS, which earned 5.36 percent after the approval of its Cambas development project.







KATHIMERINI:  Retroactive municipal taxes

TA NEA:  Airbnb: The noose tightens with new measures

EFIMERIDA TON SYNTAKTON:  Confession of guilt by Golden Dawn’s leadership [through statements of high-ranking party executive Kassidiaris]

AVGI:  They are placing landmines in public healthcare

RIZOSPASTIS:  Corporations express their content with the government which is handing them everything they desire

KONTRA NEWS:   The Greek state lost 70 million euros due to [convicted ex-Defense Minister] Akis’ kickbacks for armaments

TO PONTIKI:  Erdogan defies Greece, Cyprus, the USA and the EU and opts for a ‘gambling’ stance

DIMOKRATIA:  Applications regarding wrong calculation of pensions must be filed here and now

NAFTEMPORIKI:  How the acceleration of the National Strategic Reference Framework will be achieved


JUST 1 BREXIT ISSUE REMAINS UNRESOLVED … and it’s the future VAT regime. After all the drama, the potential hole in the single market for goods may seem minor: The U.K. has asked, according to diplomats, for Northern Ireland not to be subject to the EU’s VAT rules.

Three years of chaos and this is all that’s standing in the way? It may not seem like much, but it is problematic for the EU. Because if the U.K. decided to lower its tax rates, excuse my French, IKEA could sell the same couch cheaper in Northern Ireland than in the Republic. The technical language here, from back in 2018, which is where we are again on this issue, and, really, more generally. The bigger question: Will there be a level playing field in a future trade relationship? But that one’s not going to be resolved today.

Here’s the state of play as of the early hours of this morning, courtesy of Jacopo Barigazzi and David Herszenhorn.

Holding pattern: Between now and the start of the EU summit this afternoon, the EU side is waiting for two things: 1) An official OK from London on the VAT issue, at a more suitable hour for everybody except your Brussels and London Playbooks, news-cycle wise; and more importantly, 2) A legal text incorporating the compromises found.

Lawyers’ race against the clock: Some EU ambassadors at a meeting Wednesday evening, when they were briefed by EU negotiator Michel Barnier, said they need to see the text of the agreement before their big bosses do, according to diplomats. Takeaway: The devil’s in the detail, and details are best dealt with by experts. But the good news is we’re past political concerns, at least on the EU ends of things. Oh, and last night’s menu for negotiators: pizza.

NOW TAKE A STEP BACK: There’s a chance, to everybody’s relief really, that the European Council will sign off on Brexit today and send the file to the European Parliament, two weeks ahead of the current Brexit date. Worst case scenario: another statement saying there’s “sufficient progress” to engage in further talks, which would translate into … Brexit being stuck in limbo, again.

Happening today: On Brexit, the summit procedure is likely to be the same as last — and every — time: At this afternoon’s session, Johnson will be invited first to make a statement to the rest of the room, and then to leave. What’s regarded as best practice by European Council President Donald Tusk is to not let anybody respond to the British PM directly.

Then, EU27 leaders will discuss the matter among themselves. The question they’ll all be asking: Does Boris Johnson have the votes to get a new deal, should it materialize, through his parliament? The EU will be keeping an eye on domestic politics in the U.K. when it decides whether any concessions are likely to clear that hurdle and are therefore worth the risk. (Emilio Casalicchio reports on Johnson’s plan to sell Brexit to his side here.) And let’s not forget that on the Brussels side of things, there’s a parliament, too, and it too has been unpredictable lately.

GOOD MORNING, and welcome to the dawn of a summit of multiple crises, present and future, be they imposed on the EU externally or homemade. We’ve seen the latest set of draft conclusions, and they point to a potentially fractious meeting, or an actual debate on important issues among leaders — whichever version you prefer. The controversial matters are marked as “p.m.,” or “pour mémoir,” meaning open. Brexit is among them, of course, to be dealt with in a separate set of conclusions. Let’s go through what’s on the menu for today …


FIRST, THE TENTATIVE AGENDA: Leaders will start by talking Brexit, followed by a press conference featuring Donald Tusk and Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker. Over dinner, they’ll talk Turkey and enlargement, after which they’ll likely call it a night. On Friday, leaders will talk about the “next” institutional cycle — the one we’re in, that is — about the long-term EU budget and climate (in that order), diplomats were told, and told Playbook.

FOLLOW ALONG … with POLITICO’s traditional live blog, from noon today.

GEOPOLITICS: There will be a discussion on Turkey’s invasion in Northern Syria — it’s a major geopolitical incident, after all, and something that can hardly be ignored. The question to watch is whether EU leaders go beyond the conclusions issued at a foreign ministers’ meeting on the issue on Monday. Plus, there’s Turkey’s drilling in Cyprus’ territories and the future of the 2015 EU-Turkey migration deal to be discussed.

Conversation starter: Two Belgian ISIS militants escaped Kurdish custody in northern Syria during Turkey’s offensive, Paul Van Tigchelt, the head of Belgium’s security assessment agency, told a parliamentary committee on Wednesday. Three women and six children also fled.

ENLARGEMENT: How will leaders deal with the French-only resistance to beginning EU accession talks with North Macedonia (and Albania, to which a couple of others object to also)? That’s another open question in the draft conclusions. Chancellor Angela Merkel, speaking to the press alongside President Emmanuel Macron in Toulouse during Franco-German government consultations Wednesday, said accession talks can only begin after “certain questions” have been answered.

A touch of elegance: Perhaps, Merkel added, “there’s a few different nuances” between North Macedonia and Albania when assessing said answers. Merkel and Macron will try again today to come to a common position on the matter — which eventually would need to be shared by everybody else, Merkel said, pointing to the fact that France is alone in its opposition to opening talks with North Macedonia. (Message to Albania: Abandon all hope, ye shall not pass.)

On that note: There were reactions, both furious and defiant, from French diplomats, senior officials and fanboys to the mood in Brussels and almost every other EU capital, which we captured fairly accurately in Wednesday’s Playbook, judging from the response from pretty much everywhere else. But perhaps the French argument is true, and some governments — by some accounts even many — were just hiding behind Paris on Tuesday in Luxembourg because they don’t dare speak up.

That quite particular French view, which we’d never deprive you of, holds that Paris is blocking the EU from keeping its promises not because of any domestic issues (such as asylum seekers from Albania, who numbered some 8,000 last year, or the far right more generally). No, no, no, Paris is just doing this for Europe’s sake. According to that doctrine, Macron is graciously risking his intentions being understood only by future, less stubborn generations of good Europeans.

‘And other powers’: North Macedonia’s Prime Minister Zoran Zaev reminded everyone, speaking in Brussels Wednesday, that his country’s name was changed only due to EU pressure. A further postponement of the start of accession talks, he said, would result in a “high degree of disappointment” in his country, and “question the credibility of the EU.” In case that wasn’t understood, he added that the affair could “serve regressive forces” in the country, and “other powers.”

V4 pressing: “We must realize what is at stake: the decision that we are to take this week will irreversibly affect our credibility in the region and even more importantly, it will have serious and long-lasting consequences for our own stability and security. We have to honour our commitments; the time to act geopolitically is now,” wrote the prime ministers of the Visegrád group in a letter to fellow EU leaders.


THE MACRON METHOD: POLITICO’s Rym Momtaz had access to the French president and his entourage during his two-day visit to the U.N. last month, as Macron sought to broker the first face-to-face meeting between a U.S. and Iranian president in four decades. What emerged was an inside look at a hyperactive, disruptive foreign policy that’s highly dependent on Macron’s personal relations with other leaders.

“He first thinks in terms of France shining in the world,” said a high-level Elysée adviser. “Then in terms of European sovereignty. And then in terms of creating new dynamics.” All of which is exactly what his fans admire him for. “He has the courage to act,” the adviser said. “Today who is willing to expose himself on the Iranian file? Who is willing to expose himself on the Libyan issue? Who is willing to seek out Trump? If Macron doesn’t do it, who will?” Read Rym’s stunning, must-read report here.

IT’S OFFICIAL: The next European Commission will likely not take office before December 1, a month later than planned.

What does it all mean? Is Commission President-elect Ursula von der Leyen isolated, paranoid and stumbling? Or is she just keeping a strategically low profile? David Herszenhorn speaks with Commission officials, diplomats and transition insiders to get to the bottom of it.


SONDLAND 🚨: Former White House foreign policy adviser Fiona Hill was concerned Gordon Sondland could pose a national security risk as EU ambassador because he was unprepared for the job, the New York Times reports. Hill expressed these concerns to House impeachment investigators this week, the NYT writes.

Get out your popcorn: Sondland is due to testify before Congress in Washington today.

SONDLAND’S FIXER-UPPER: Trump’s envoy (who made his fortune in the hotel business) is undertaking an American-taxpayer-funded renovation of his Uccle residence, the Washington Post writes. “The work on the ambassador’s home on the outskirts of Brussels includes more than $400,000 in kitchen renovations, nearly $30,000 for a new sound system and $95,000 for an outdoor ‘living pod’ with a pergola and electric heating, LED lighting strips and a remote-control system,” according to government procurement records. The State Department said the renovations were part of a “regular 17-year cycle of reviewing and refreshing furnishings and interior décor in representational residences.”

HOW TO WOO ERDOĞAN: Donald Trump told Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan not to be “a tough guy” and “a fool” in a bombastic letter last week that was apparently delivered as the Turkish military launched its invasion of northeast Syria. “Let’s work out a good deal! You don’t want to be responsible for slaughtering thousands of people, and I don’t want to be responsible for destroying the Turkish economy — and I will.” Full letter here.

In comes Pompeo: U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is traveling to Turkey, Jerusalem and Brussels this week. In Turkey, Pompeo and Vice President Mike Pence will today meet with Erdoğan “to see if we can get a ceasefire,” Pompeo said. Pompeo will then fly to Israel to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, then to Brussels for a meeting with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg. Jake Sherman has the details of the trip.

GOOD READ: Meet John Eisenberg, the White House attorney at the center of Trump’s Ukraine vortex, by Daniel Lippman.