Daily Update

19-03-2019 | EYE ON GREECE 

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Greek PM Tsipras rules out Europarliament, general elections together

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras on Monday evening again pledged that he will not declare snap elections in the country coinciding with May’s European Parliament elections.


Russia recognizes North Macedonia under new name

The Kremlin on Monday finally recognized the newly christened Republic of North Macedonia under its new constitutional name, despite previous reservations expressed over the legality, as it claimed, of a name change envisioned under the Prespa Agreement.


Bill secures right of MPs to take part in Euro elections

The right of a Greek lawmaker to take part in European Parliament elections is enshrined in an amended multi-bill drafted by the Interior Ministry that will be submitted Tuesday and voted on in a parliamentary plenary session.


Former prime minister Costas Simitis blasts government tactics

Greece’s former socialist prime minister Costas Simitis slammed the SYRIZA government’s economic policy for fueling uncertainty among investors and condemning the country to “systematic economic decline.”


Clashes break out during student protest in central Athens

Clashes broke out on Monday in central Athens during a protest by students over planned changes to the higher education system.


Four suitors express interest in Thriasio II hub

Four suitors have expressed an interest in the Thriasio II project, a 1.45-sq-kilometer rail-linked logistics and transit hub in the same-name industrial district due west of the port of Piraeus.


ATHEX: Stocks appear to be running out of steam

The bourse benchmark at Athinon Avenue headed higher for a fifth session in a row on Monday, although it appeared to have run out of steam as it closed some way below its day-high and trading volume left a lot to be desired. The majority of stocks ended up in the red, too.







KATHIMERINI:  Erdogan against everyone   

ETHNOS:  New retroactive payments ahead for special payrolls of the public sector

TA NEA:  Behold the new real estate ENFIA fees

EFIMERIDA TON SYNTAKTON:  Hooliganism in Greek football can’t be tolerated any more

AVGI:  New xenophobia incident

RIZOSPASTIS:  Zero tolerance towards the unionist mafia! We upgrade our battle for unions of workers!

KONTRA NEWS:  Erdogan’s nationalistic rhetoric armed the hand of the Turkish extreme islamist

DIMOKRATIA:  Retroactive payments of up to 24,000 euros for special payrolls in the public sector

NAFTEMPORIKI:  Triple ‘bill’ for 250,000 insured individuals


ABSURD INTERVENTION: Just two weeks before we hit default Brexit Day, the U.K. voluntarily opted into EU policies it doesn’t need to be a part of.

Seriously? In a letter dated March 14 and obtained by Playbook, U.K. Ambassador Tim Barrow told the Romanian presidency of the Council that Britain “wishes to accept” recent changes to the rules governing Eurojust, the EU agency coordinating cross-border judicial cooperation. (Reminder: The U.K. is allowed to not take part in common legislation on matters of security, justice and home affairs.)

There’s more: In a similar letter, also dated March 14 and obtained by Playbook, Barrow informed the Romanians the U.K. wants in on a beefed-up Eurodac, the common database that stores fingerprints of migrants who cross external EU borders. Britain’s formal notifications — a unilateral affair which needs neither permission nor sanction by the EU — were filed March 14 with the Council Registry.

Let us spell this out for you: The United Kingdom, halfway out the door of the European Union, has decided to integrate its own security policies more deeply with the rest of the bloc, in a last-minute move to get access to EU data.

UK reaction: “The U.K. is committed to the security and safety of U.K. and EU citizens, as set out in the joint Political Declaration,” a U.K. spokesperson told Playbook when asked about the rationale behind the decisions. Britain particularly “values the role of Eurojust in helping law enforcement and prosecution agencies coordinate investigations in cross-border organized crime and terrorism,” they added.

GOOD MORNING! Britain never stops surprising us. An EU diplomat branded its move “another Brexit craziness” — but honestly, wouldn’t you also return to the trough one last time if you knew it would soon run dry?

On a related — have-your-cake-and-eat-it — note: Commissioner Phil Hogan said after Monday’s agriculture ministers’ meeting that recent U.K.’s tariff proposals in the event of a no-deal Brexit would be “illegal under WTO [World Trade Organization] rules.” He added: “I think the fact that the United Kingdom used the word temporary means that they probably accept that as well.” Simon Marks has more for POLITICO Brexit, Food & Agri and Trade Pros.

Always be prepared! Meanwhile, the Netherlands is preparing for a Brexit that may never come by spending millions of euros and hiring hundreds of people to get ready for no-deal. “There is no alternative but to hope for the best but prepare for the worst,” Dutch Foreign Minister Stef Blok told POLITICO’s Joshua Posaner.


1. WHAT YOU COULD HAVE (HAD): The prime ministers of the three European Economic Area countries — Iceland, Liechtenstein, and Norway — are invited to meet EU leaders at the EU summit. (Side note: Britain on Monday reached a no-deal trade deal with Norway and Iceland.)

2. BUILDING CONSENSUS: European Council President Donald Tusk is on tour to prepare the summit — mainly he’s gauging the appetite for his preferred Brexit solution, a longish extension of the negotiating period. After Monday’s meetings with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin and French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris, Tusk is expected in Dublin today.

3. ORDER! The House of Commons will not vote again on May’s deal unless it’s changed, Speaker John Bercow said Monday. That paves the way for a longer extension — or bust at the end of next week. (A short extension would require the deal on the table to be ratified, according to all recent EU statements.) And none of us should be so foolhardy as to rule out bust, given avoiding it would require action from the British side. (Bercow fans, this way.)

4. THING IS: The U.K. will need to ask for an extension. Expectations among EU diplomats are that Prime Minister Theresa May will also indicate whether she would prefer a short-term delay or a longer one, and to what end the latter: a second referendum (previously ruled out by her parliament), a fresh election (perhaps not something she really wants), or something else. Just about anything would probably be enough, given the cluelessness in Brussels about what Britain wants. May just needs to come up with something she can credibly say her MPs would back. Admittedly, that seems a rare commodity at the moment.

But but but: If EU leaders do agree to scrap March 29 as exit day, the pressure to agree or reject the prime minister’s deal will all-but disappear. As Tom McTague points out, that means Downing Street can no longer rely on its tactic of using the impending Brexit date as leverage with MPs.

5. GOOD NEWS FOR MAY: Spain will not make a fuss again over Gibraltar. Or at least Madrid won’t use a possible extension request to reopen the matter, Spain’s Foreign Minister Josep Borrell told reporters as he arrived for a ministerial meeting in Brussels on Monday. “Forget about Gibraltar, everything has been settled about Gibraltar. Don’t go back to that,” Borrell said. More from Jacopo Barigazzi for POLITICO Brexit Pros.


INDUSTRIAL POLICY: Aside from its Brexit business, the upcoming EU summit will issue a few requests to the Commission, according to the draft conclusions on the table of Europe ministers at their meeting today, obtained by Playbook. Leaders will call for an “integrated approach” in order to foster growth in the EU — comprising “an assertive industrial policy allowing the EU to remain an industrial powerhouse.” That’s new, and comes after years of de-industrialization of core EU countries.

Other ingredients in the growth strategy: “The single market in all its dimensions” as well as “a forward-looking digital policy, fit for an age of digital transformation and the rise of the data economy; an ambitious and robust trade policy ensuring fair competition and reciprocity.”

Roll up your sleeves: Leaders want the Commission to get down to business over the next year — and given the risk the next College won’t start its term on time, it’ll largely be the current crop of commissioners who are tasked with the homework. “The Commission is invited to develop by March 2020, in close coordination with the member states, a long-term action plan for better implementation and enforcement of single market rules,” the conclusions read. Likewise, the Commission is “invited to present, by March 2020, a long-term vision for the EU’s industrial future, with concrete measures to implement it.”

Not enough EU-China relations in Monday’s Playbook? Here’s a deep-dive into what to expect from discussions this week, by POLITICO’s Jakob Hanke and Jacopo Barigazzi.


IT’S RAINING RULE-OF-LAW PROPOSALS: “Along with Belgium, we’re proposing a peer review mechanism since the rule of law is one of the pillars of the EU,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said in Brussels Monday. The gist of the proposal is that EU countries are to “assess each other on an annual basis,” Maas said. Curious? Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders and German Europe Minister Michael Roth will brief reporters this morning about it on the margins of the General Affairs Council, or GAC. But you, dear readers, can get a preview below.

Here’s the proposal: Such a mechanism “would allow a substantive exchange of views on the way the rule of law is implemented, monitored, guaranteed and enhanced,” a Belgo-German paper on the “general principles” behind it, obtained by Playbook, says. “The scope of the mechanism should be on the rule of law, including judicial independence, effective judicial protection and legal certainty.”

Some features: Procedures would start with input from “a predefined set of sources, including national, European and international organizations” and would entail “interactive discussions” on the expert level, “and on [the] political level in the margins of the GAC.” It would also be a procedure that lays the groundwork for escalation into the Article 7 process. As the paper says, the proposed mechanism itself “would not allow for any sanctions against participating member states.”

‘Participating?’ The mechanism is meant to be “voluntary, but it should seek the participation of all EU member states.”

Where’s the leverage to trigger change? Not in the proposal itself, but Playbook readers know how to read between the lines. It’s in the signatories’ (and other net-contributor governments’) vow to link rule of law to payments out of the next long-term EU budget.

RUSSIA MARKS 5 YEARS IN CRIMEA: Monday marked the fifth anniversary of the Kremlin’s annexation of the Black Sea peninsula. Vladimir Putin visited Simferopol, the largest city in Crimea, to put in a brief appearance at a concert, which featured rock bands and a pro-Kremlin rapper. It was the culmination of four days of celebrations in Crimea that included the participation of the Night Wolves, a notorious pro-government motorbike gang, as well as a demonstration of Russian military equipment in Sevastopol, the peninsula’s second biggest city. Marc Bennetts reports.


EPP SHOWDOWN: Wednesday (from 3 p.m.) is D-Day for the EPP’s political assembly decision on whether to boot Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz party out of the EU’s center-right party family.

LIBERAL ‘TEAM EUROPE’: On Thursday, ALDE will announce its batch of almost-Spitzenkandidaten for the EU election, at a pre-summit of the liberal family. Note the fact the — women-heavy, we hear! — team is presented by ALDE leaders, not the party organization, let alone the parliamentary group under Guy Verhofstadt.