Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Top judge to become Greece’s first female president

by Kerin Hope

Financial Times

January 22, 2020

Katerina Sakellaropoulou, a senior Greek judge, has won the overwhelming backing of MPs to become the county’s first female president.

The 63-year-old head of the state council, Greece’s highest court, was supported in a vote by 261 deputies in the 300-seat parliament, after securing endorsements from the ruling centre-right New Democracy party of prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and the leftwing opposition Syriza.

The prime minister’s decision to nominate Ms Sakellaropoulou, rather than backing a second term for president Prokopis Pavlopoulos, threw down a challenge to the overwhelmingly male members of Greece’s parliament, many of whom hold deeply conservative attitudes towards women.

“I think it’s time the country had a distinguished woman in the highest state role,” Mr Mitsotakis said ahead of her appointment. “Let’s not try to ignore it: Greek society still discriminates against women. This is going to change, starting from the top.”

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Katerina Sakellaropoulou: High court judge becomes Greece's first female president

Euronews
January 22, 2020

High court judge, Katerina Sakellaropoulou, has become Greece's first female president, after a vote in Parliament on Wednesday.

Two opposition parties sided with the centre-right government's nomination to give Sakellaropoulou 261 votes, way more than the 200 needed.

Centre-left opposition parties had already backed Sakellaropoulou's nomination before Wednesday's vote.

She will take up a five-year term in the largely ceremonial post in March.

Opposition leader and former Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said Sakellaropoulou was an "exceptional judge" and a defender of human rights.

Aristides Hatzis is Professor of Law at the University of Athens. He says she'll be a positive force in Greek politics.

"She's a great judge, an excellent consensus builder, she's liberal in the broadest sense of the word, and she's not partisan. This is very important for Greek politics. Most importantly, she's a generous person, she's empathetic, she very perceptive."



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Thursday, January 16, 2020

The Greek Debt Crisis: No easy way out

Peterson Institute for International Economics
January 2020

After World War II, farsighted European leaders sought to overcome centuries of hatred and warfare by striving step-by-step toward economic and political integration. Today an ongoing economic crisis in Greece poses a grave threat to that vision, bearing major lessons for the future of global economic cooperation.

Europe’s postwar drive toward unity began with the removal of tariff barriers and proceeded with harmonizing regulations and making it easier for people to move across the region. The European Union (EU), a quasi-political confederation that allowed for the free movement of goods, capital, services, and people, was launched in 1992.

But the introduction of a common currency, the euro, in 1999 proved to be Europe’s riskiest step. (The euro is the official currency of 19 of the 28 EU member countries.)

A decade after the euro was introduced, an unforeseen financial crisis engulfed Europe. It came in the form of a global financial shock that started in the United States after the failure of Lehman Brothers. Major European banks and economies suffered.

One country, Greece, plunged into virtual bankruptcy. In 2015, its leaders threatened to exit the euro. That step might have unraveled the common currency altogether and undermined the “European project,” which took decades to build. The debate over Greece’s threat revived long-dormant nationalist tensions throughout Europe.

Today Greece’s economy has stabilized and is slowly recovering. But the huge debts owed by Greece to the rest of the euro area cast a shadow over its future and the future of the European project. The Greek populace has suffered painful budget cuts, tax increases, high unemployment, and shrunken living standards and social services. Many still fear their future.

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Monday, January 13, 2020

Greece deploys cultural heritage to lure foreign students

by Kerin Hope

Financial Times

January 13, 2020

Greece plans to use its cultural and historical riches to lure Chinese and other foreign students to its universities as part of an overhaul of the state-run higher education system.

Niki Kerameus, the education minister, said in an interview that by 2024, she hoped about 40,000 to 50,000 foreign students would be taking part in English-language courses in classical literature, philosophy and ancient history.

“During past years Greek universities have been inward-looking institutions. We want to internationalise them and render them a hub for [tertiary] education in south-east Europe,” said Ms Kerameus. “We are working with academic institutions, with governments and through personal contacts at universities abroad.”

Universities would be offered extra state funding if they participated, she added.

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Saturday, January 11, 2020

Trapped on Lesbos: the child refugees waiting to start a new life

by Harriet Grant

Guardian

January 11, 2020

Outside the Moria refugee camp in Lesbos, a shanty town made of tarpaulin strung between olive trees is getting bigger every week. There are now 18,000 people living in this second camp, designed for just over 2,000.

Ahmed (not his real name), 17, and his friend Musa wind their way up muddy tracks towards their tent, swerving to avoid groups of children running in flip-flops through the dirt.

The boys have made their home under plastic and they want to show us how they are living, huddling in a group of three to keep warm. Ahmed has been here since October, when he arrived from Syria expecting to move quickly onwards.

Although he knew nothing of the laws on family reunion when he set out from his village near Aleppo, Ahmed knows now that his family in the north of England – a brother and cousin who are desperate to give him a home – are his only hope of escaping Moria. But he is worried. “It is so slow, and I know if we do not get into the system quickly it might not happen.”

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Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Greek economy: will reality collide with fresh optimism in Athens?

by Ben Hall & Kerin Hope

Financial Times

January 8, 2020

Odos Lekka, a narrow street in the commercial heart of Athens, has not been this bustling in a decade.

Workers are busy refurbishing a drab warehouse left unoccupied during Greece’s prolonged recession. A clutch of new cafés and a smart boutique hotel, one of scores that have sprung up in the capital to cater for a surge in tourism, suggest that Lekka, a stone’s throw from the parliament building, is moving upmarket as the country’s economy gradually recovers.

Alecos, a carpenter, says: “There wasn’t any work round here for several years because of the crisis, but it’s quite different now. I’ve more job offers than I can handle. New businesses are opening and old ones are getting a makeover.”

The burst of optimism is a stark contrast to the experience of recent years. Almost 30 per cent of shops in the area, from high-end retailers of international brands to outlets selling handworked silverware, shut down or changed hands during the country’s deepest recession in memory. Property prices plunged as Greece came to the brink of crashing out of the euro in 2015.

It took Greece nine years to escape from a grinding recession following the 2008 global financial crisis, but the recovery has been weak. This year will test whether the country’s fresh political leadership and renewed business confidence can overcome deep-seated problems holding back fast growth.

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Thursday, January 2, 2020

Israel, Greece and Cyprus set to seal €6bn gas pipeline deal

by Ilan Ben Zion & Ayla Jean Yackley

Financial Times

January 2, 2020

Israel, Greece and Cyprus are set to sign a trilateral agreement that will lay the groundwork for a planned gas pipeline connecting Israel’s offshore fields with Europe but which risks raising tensions with Turkey over what Ankara sees as its exclusion from the Mediterranean region’s hydrocarbon boom.

The €6bn EastMed pipeline project, which will link Cyprus and Israel’s offshore gas reserves to mainland Greece and Italy, bypasses Turkey and aims to provide an estimated 10 per cent of Europe’s natural gas.

Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s caretaker prime minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, the Greek prime minister, and Nicos Anastasiades, the Cypriot president, will sign the deal in Athens on Thursday.

Israel has developed close economic and security co-operation with Greece and Cyprus over the past decade. Discovery of natural gas, and the countries’ mutual interests in getting it to market, have helped deepen their ties.

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Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Greek Wines Get Back to Their Roots

by Florence Fabricant

New York Times

December 24, 2019

The landscape of the Macedonian region in northern Greece is tapestried with vineyards. They supply wineries that are producing some of the best red wines Greece has to offer.

The Alpha Estate here in the northwestern corner of Macedonia is a fine example. In a tasting of Greek reds by the wine panel of The Times last August, its 2016 xinomavro, from the Hedgehog Vineyard, came out on top.

That wine tasting covered only wines made from indigenous grapes, notably xinomavro (zee-no-MAHV-ro), the grape used to make the Alpha Estate wine. It’s a name that should become increasingly familiar to wine lovers willing to explore the wines of Greece.

While high-profile Greek winemakers are busy cultivating international varieties like merlot and sauvignon blanc, the spotlight is starting to shine on some of the hundreds of the country’s native grapes, many of which have probably existed since the days of Homer.

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Sunday, December 22, 2019

Surprise Exception to the Global Manufacturing Slowdown: Greece

by Sarah Chaney & Soo Oh

Wall Street Journal

December 22, 2019

Just a few years ago, Greece stood out from the rest of the developed world for its devastated economy. Its unemployment rate was 25% and its high debt levels had brought on default and crisis.

Today, it stands out for a more upbeat reason. At a time when factories around the world have slumped, Greece has the world’s strongest manufacturing sector, based on indexes of manufacturing activity.

Greece offers a lesson in how a country’s economic makeup can be a curse at certain times but a blessing at others.

“The negative side of the coin is that we are not as open as other economies,” said Panos Tsakloglou, an economics professor at the Athens University of Economics and Business. “The positive flip side is if there is a slowdown in the world economy, the impact is not as great in Greece.”

Greece’s manufacturing sector is relatively small and concentrated in industries such as food and drink, which have largely been spared the global manufacturing slowdown. Contrast that with Germany, which two years ago had the strongest manufacturing sector, and today one of the weakest.

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Monday, October 21, 2019

Greece’s half-miracle

by Paul Taylor

Politico

October 21, 2019

A little-noticed semi-miracle has occurred in Greece.

After a devastating decade of depression and three wrenching austerity programs, the ancestral home of European democracy has emerged with its democratic institutions intact, social cohesion improbably resilient, its budget in surplus and extremists of both the far left and far right in retreat.

The new center-right government of Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis hit the ground running after winning a July election, bringing a younger generation of internationally minded, business-friendly technocrats into office rather than the clientelist, nationalist old guard of his New Democracy party.

Mitsotakis has kickstarted long stalled privatizations and is racing around Europe trying to build confidence so Athens can loosen its fiscal straitjacket and attract desperately needed investment.

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Monday, October 7, 2019

Greece sets out ambitious budget based on faster growth

by Kerin Hope

Financial Times

October 7, 2019

Greece revealed an ambitious budget for next year that assumes growth will accelerate to 2.8 per cent from a projected 2.0 per cent this year, driven by higher investment inflows and cuts in corporate and personal income tax.

Theodoros Skylakakis, deputy finance minister, said on Monday the centre-right government was also committed to achieving a 3.5 per cent primary budget surplus next year — before making debt repayments — as agreed with Greece’s international creditors.

Greece will hit the 3.5 per cent surplus target this year, but faces a projected fiscal gap of about €800m in 2020, according to EU monitoring officials visiting Athens last week.

Mr Skylakakis gave reassurances the government will find enough additional measures to close the gap before the budget is presented to the European Commission on Friday.

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Sunday, October 6, 2019

In Lesbos’s Moria camp, I see what happens when a child loses all hope

by Jules Montague

Guardian

October 6, 2019

Ayesha is nine years old. As her father lays her down gently on a mattress at the clinic, the only perceptible sign of life is the slow movement of her ribcage as she breathes in and out. She otherwise remains almost motionless, in stark contrast to the other children who run around this Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) paediatric clinic by Moria camp.

For two weeks now, Ayesha has not opened her eyes. She has not spoken. She has not walked. She has what the mental health team believe could be one of the first cases of resignation syndrome it has seen here.

I’m in Lesbos researching the psychological effects of trauma in these children who have often fled violent conflict in their home countries, only to arrive at a squalid camp where conditions are chaotic and inhumane. I quickly realise that Ayesha’s state embodies what can happen when a child loses all hope.

Resignation syndrome represents a state of extreme withdrawal that can last for months or even years and occurs in the context of severe psychological trauma. Hundreds of cases have been seen in Swedish refugee and asylum-seeking children, with others reported at Australia’s offshore immigration detention centre on Nauru. These children simply close their eyes and stop speaking, eating and drinking, their muscles wasting away. Children who were perfectly well weeks before need to be dressed in nappies and tube-fed. The prognosis is uncertain, but those who do recover often only do so when they and their family reach a place of stability, especially if their residency status becomes secure.

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Thursday, October 3, 2019

Can Kyriakos Mitsotakis ensure the Greek economy starts growing again?

Economist
October 3, 2019

The airport at Hellinikon, a few miles south of Athens, closed in 2001. Planes belonging to Greece’s now-defunct national carrier still litter the runway. Nearby a stadium built for the Olympics in 2004 gently crumbles. In the distance, a marina borders the glistening Aegean. In 2011, when Greece was in the throes of a sovereign-debt crisis, the government put the site, which is three times as large as Monaco, up for sale. In 2014 it was snapped up by a consortium that planned to build homes, hotels and a casino. At an expected cost of some €8bn ($8.7bn), it was Greece’s largest investment project.

Five years on, ground has yet to be broken. When Syriza, a left-wing party, formed the government in 2015, it reopened the terms of the sale. Ambivalent ministers held up licences. The authorities demanded numerous archaeological surveys. Locals sued. Apart from boats docking in the marina and the occasional security guard on patrol, the site now lies desolate.

Officials from the imf and European Union who flew into Athens’s new airport in September are thus not short of examples of the difficulties of doing business in Greece. When the sovereign-debt crisis struck they bailed the country out on condition that it enact deep fiscal cuts and far-reaching regulatory reforms. Last year the eu struck a debt-relief deal, allowing Greece to exit its third and final bail-out, despite a public-debt burden of 180% of gdp. It required Greece to continue with reforms while hitting eye-watering targets for the primary-budget surplus (that is, before interest payments) of 3.5% until 2022, and then 2.2%, on average, all the way to 2060. In return it offered some interest-rate relief and extended the maturity of some loans.

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Monday, September 30, 2019

Greeks sneer as Yanis Varoufakis reveals fortune

by Anthee Carassava

The Times

September 30, 2019

He made his name as the face of the anti-austerity movement but Yanis Varoufakis, Greece’s rebel economist, is now one of the country’s wealthiest politicians.

After being removed from a left-wing government in which as finance minister he became too radical, Mr Varoufakis wrote a book and built a media and speaking career that has proved so lucrative that he has bank accounts in Switzerland, a property portfolio and a boat.

His income in the past three years was €1 million, his tax returns have shown. Critics accused him of profiting from Greece’s misery and being a champagne socialist.

Mr Varoufakis, 58, who appealed publicly for Greeks to adopt “humble and frugal” lifestyles during the financial crisis, leads MeRA25, an anti-austerity party that won its first seats in July. As such he is required to disclose assets and earnings, which showed that he was making far more than other party leaders. The professor of game theory entered Greek politics in 2015, becoming the face of the left-wing government and its defiant strategy against debt negotiations with European leaders and international lenders at the height of the country’s financial crisis. His brinkmanship led to banks being closed and queues at cash machines.

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Thursday, September 19, 2019

There are reasons for moderate optimism about Greece

by Tony Barber

Financial Times

September 19, 2019

Ten years ago Greece plunged into a debt crisis that threatened to sweep away much of the political, social and economic progress achieved after democracy replaced military dictatorship in 1974. The economy shrank by a quarter, unemployment soared and Greece came close to crashing out of the eurozone. The crisis tore at the fabric of society and demolished one of the two political parties that had alternated in power since the return of civilian rule.

Today, on the face of things, the emergency is over and the outlook is bright. The authorities have lifted capital controls, imposed four years ago. Greece’s 10-year bond yield touched an all-time low in July. Consumer confidence is at its highest level since 2000. Elections in July produced a comfortable parliamentary majority for New Democracy, a conservative party committed under prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis to a well-designed programme of economic reform, fiscal responsibility and administrative modernisation.

New Democracy’s victory represented the delayed revenge of the Greek bourgeoisie against the Syriza party, which came to power in January 2015 as the most radical leftist government seen in a European democracy since the second world war. However, even critics of Alexis Tsipras, Mr Mitsotakis’s predecessor, ought to acknowledge that some of the credit for Greece’s recovery goes to the Syriza leader, who eventually swallowed the medicine prescribed by Greece’s creditors.

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Sunday, September 8, 2019

Greek PM announces fast-track reforms and red tape cuts

by Helena Smith

Guardian

September 8, 2019

Greece’s prime minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, has pledged that after almost a decade of being dependent on international rescue funds, his debt-stricken country will soon prove to be a “pleasant surprise for Europe”.

With investor confidence in Greek bonds better than at any time in the past 10 years, Mitsotakis said the country long at the forefront of the euro crisis had finally turned the corner. “Greece is no longer Europe’s black sheep,” he told the Thessaloniki trade fair, where Greek leaders traditionally outline economic policy.

“It is a country with self-confidence now,” he added in the keynote speech on Saturday.

Addressing Greece’s business elite two months after his centre-right New Democracy party ousted the leftist Syriza on a platform to revamp the economy, Mitsotakis said implementation of fast-track reforms to modernise the state and cut red tape were a priority if the EU member was to regain political credibility.

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Greece’s Mitsotakis calls for tax cuts and reforms

by Kerin Hope

Financial Times

September 8, 2019

Greece’s new prime minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, has announced tax cuts and structural reforms aimed at rebuilding the country’s credibility with investors, after three international bailouts and a grinding eight-year recession.

“Greece has turned a page,” the prime minister said in a speech on Saturday evening to businesspeople in the northern city of Thessaloniki. “Greece is no longer the black sheep of the EU, we’re a self-confident country now.”

The premier said the country was still committed to achieving high primary budget surpluses — before debt repayments — of 3.5 per cent of gross domestic product in 2019 and 2020, as agreed with European creditors.

Mr Mitsotakis hopes that if Greece delivers on reforms, the 2021 surplus targets will be cut to 2 per cent of GDP, freeing up funds for public investment projects frozen during years of austerity.

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