Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Italy’s state railway buys struggling Greek operator

by Kerin Hope

Financial Times

January 18, 2017

Greece has wrapped up the sale of its struggling rail operator TrainOSE to Italy’s state railway company as the leftwing government comes under pressure from bailout lenders to accelerate the country’s flagging privatisation programme.

The sale of 100 per cent of TrainOSE to Ferrovie dello Stato Italiane will bring in only €45m. But privatisation officials say it completes a series of infrastructure sales to international investors that will boost Greece’s role as a transport and tourism hub for the eastern Mediterranean.

TrainOSE runs a lossmaking international freight business and a subsidised passenger service linking mainland Greece with central Europe through Macedonia and Serbia. FS is expected to take over the operation of TrainOSE this year.

“[FS] is making an important commitment to strengthen and develop TrainOSE with its expertise and experience, thus creating a major provider of railway services,” Antonis Leousis, chief executive of the Hellenic Asset Development Fund (Taiped), the Greek privatisation agency, said at Wednesday’s signing ceremony.

The sale has still to be approved by the European Commission and ratified by the Greek parliament. Following the signing of the sale agreement, the commission is expected to drop an investigation into allegations that €700m of government subsidies pumped into TrainOSE amounted to illegal state aid, Taiped officials said.

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Monday, January 16, 2017

Will Cyprus be reunified?

Economist
January 15, 2017

The formal split of Cyprus dates to Turkey’s invasion of the island in 1974, which followed a Greece-inspired coup aimed at enosis (union with Greece). Since then Cyprus has been divided between the Greek-Cypriot republic in the south, a full member of the UN and the European Union; and the self-proclaimed Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, recognised only by Turkey. Periodic attempts to reunify Cyprus have floundered, most recently in 2004 when the so-called Annan plan was backed by Turkish-Cypriot voters but rejected by three-quarters of the Greek-Cypriot majority. But since 2015 the leaders of the two communities have stepped up efforts to produce a fresh agreement they can sell to their voters. UN-brokered talks in Geneva broke up last week without a deal, but hopes remain high that the two sides will resolve their outstanding disagreements in time to hold dual referendums in the summer. Will Cyprus be reunified?

The constitutional model for a reunified state is a “bi-zonal, bi-communal federation”, based on deep decentralisation to the two communities and power-sharing arrangements at the centre. The recent talks have covered several contentious elements, including governance arrangements, territorial adjustments and compensation for Greek Cypriots who fled the north in 1974. There are also thorny economic issues to settle. But the trickiest matter is security. Under the republic’s 1960 constitution, Britain, Greece and Turkey have the right to military intervention in Cyprus should its integrity be threatened (this was the pretext for the Turkish invasion). The Greek Cypriots want to scrap these provisions, arguing that security is guaranteed by EU membership (Cyprus joined in 2004, although the EU’s writ extends only to the south). But the Turkish-Cypriot minority, harbouring bitter memories of intercommunal fighting that racked the island in the 1960s and ’70s, is wary of giving up protection from Turkish troops, some 30,000-40,000 of whom are stationed in the north. The three guarantor powers, which have been involved in the latest round of talks, must approve any security arrangements. Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s mercurial president, may be a stumbling block. He needs the support of Turkish nationalists in parliament for a set of proposed domestic constitutional changes, and they may balk at concessions on Cyprus.

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Friday, January 13, 2017

Cyprus talks end amid divisions over security

by Arthur Beesley

Financial Times

January 13, 2016

Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan insisted on his country’s right to maintain troops in Cyprus “forever” after talks in Geneva to reunite the Mediterranean island broke up amid sharp divisions over security arrangements.

After the most intensive effort for years to resolve Cyprus’s longstanding division along ethnic lines, differences over Turkey’s presence on the island seemed more entrenched than at the start of this week’s round of negotiations, officials at the talks in Geneva said.

Mr Erdogan said that pulling out all 30,000 Turkish troops in northern Cyprus was out of the question. “We will be there forever,” Mr Erdogan said in Istanbul on Friday.

Cyprus has been split since 1974, when Turkey invaded and occupied its northern third in response to an Athens-inspired coup aimed at uniting the island with Greece.

A UN buffer zone divides the breakaway Turkish-Cypriot state, recognised only by Ankara, from the Greek-Cypriot state, an EU member. Negotiators for the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities plan a fresh effort next week to break the logjam.

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Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Greece sends ship to Lesbos to help freezing migrants

by Kerin Hope

Financial Times

January 11, 2017

A Greek navy vessel arrived at the island of Lesbos on Wednesday to provide emergency shelter for 500 refugees and migrants living in unheated tents days after the Aegean Islands were hit by snowstorms and sub-zero temperatures.

The navy said the landing craft had been equipped with beds, mattresses and blankets to cater for asylum seekers from the Moria camp.

“We don’t know yet how long they’ll be on the ship . . . but everyone aboard will be staying a warm and secure environment,” a spokesman said.

The leftwing Syriza government is trying to defuse criticism over its slow response to the latest challenge in looking after 62,000 asylum seekers, mainly from Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq.

More than 40,000 refugees were stranded in Greece when countries along the Balkan migrant route to Germany abruptly shut their borders a year ago.

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Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Cyprus deal carries rewards and risks

by Tony Barber

Financial Times

January 10, 2017

Should this week’s talks on a Cyprus settlement succeed there would be a host of reasons to welcome the outcome. There are, however, just as many grounds to be cautious about a breakthrough.

Nicos Anastasiades, the Greek Cypriot president of the internationally recognised government of Cyprus, and Mustafa Akinci, the head of the self-proclaimed Turkish Cypriot breakaway state in the north, are in Geneva to try to solve one of the world’s most intractable diplomatic disputes. The east Mediterranean island’s split dates to Turkey’s invasion in 1974, launched after a military junta in Athens tried to unite Cyprus with Greece.

But the political separation of the island’s two communities began in the early 1960s, soon after Cyprus won independence from British colonial rule. For more than five decades, a UN peacekeeping force has served as a buffer between Greek and Turkish Cypriots.

The reasons to welcome a settlement start with the nearby Middle East. A Cyprus solution would help the US, its European allies and friendly governments to concentrate on what they see as the regional menace of Isis and violent Islamist extremism.

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Monday, January 9, 2017

‘Moment of truth’ arrives for Cyprus as reunification talks begin

by Arthur Beesley

Financial Times

January 9, 2017

Cypriot leaders started the most intense effort in years to reunite the Mediterranean island on Monday as the UN said “the moment of truth” had arrived to settle decades of ethnic division.

Nicos Anastasiades, the Greek Cypriot president, and Mustafa Akinci, his Turkish Cypriot counterpart, began talks in Geneva after several previous failed reunification attempts. Greek, Turkish and British leaders will join the negotiations on Thursday.

“It is going to be difficult but not impossible,” said Espen Barth Eide, the former Norwegian minister who is UN chairman of the Geneva negotiation, on Monday. “We are now in the final moment.”

Cyprus has been split along ethnic lines since 1974, when Turkey invaded and occupied its northern third in response to an Athens-inspired coup aimed at uniting the island with Greece. A UN buffer zone divides the breakaway Turkish-Cypriot state, recognised only by Ankara, from the Greek-Cypriot state, an EU member.

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Friday, January 6, 2017

Η Απελευθέρωση της Ελλάδας

του Αριστείδη Ν. Χατζή

Τα Νέα

6-8 Ιανουαρίου 2017


Απόλυτος σεβασμός προς την νομιμότητα. Υποταγή τυφλή εις τους νόμους της χώρας. Ουδείς συμβιβασμός, ουδεμία συναλλαγή ούτε με τα ανώτερα ούτε με τα κατώτερα στρώματα της κοινωνίας. Αντίστασις εις πάσαν δημαγωγίαν, είτε άνωθεν είτε κάτωθεν προερχομένην. Η κυβέρνησις να είναι το μέσον και ουχί ο σκοπός. Να μη θυσιασθή ουδεμία των ιδεών, τας οποίας θεωρώ ωφελίμους εις την χώραν. Να εγκαταλείψω μάλλον την αρχήν παρά να κατέλθω εις συμβιβασμούς, οίτινες ατιμάζουσι τας κυβερνήσεις και εισίν εμπόδια εις την πρόοδον των λαών.
[Ελευθέριος Βενιζέλος (10 Οκτωβρίου 1910)]


Στις 6 Οκτωβρίου 1910 ο Ελευθέριος Βενιζέλος σχηματίζει την πρώτη του κυβέρνηση, αν και έχει εκλεγεί για πρώτη φορά βουλευτής πριν από δύο μόλις μήνες, ενώ το κόμμα που ίδρυσε (Κόμμα Φιλελευθέρων) εκπροσωπείται στη Βουλή από ελάχιστους βουλευτές. Αφού λάβει ψήφο εμπιστοσύνης θα προκηρύξει εκλογές στις 28 Νοεμβρίου, θα θριαμβεύσει και θα κυριαρχήσει στην ελληνική πολιτική ζωή μέχρι το 1933. Δεν υπάρχει αμφιβολία ότι ο Ελευθέριος Βενιζέλος είναι η μεγαλύτερη πολιτική προσωπικότητα της Ελλάδας του 20ου αιώνα, όπως δεν υπάρχει αμφιβολία ότι μπορεί να του ασκηθεί αυστηρή αλλά δίκαιη κριτική για πολλές από τις επιλογές του. Όμως από την αρχή της πολιτικής καριέρας του στην Ελλάδα υπόσχεται ότι θα παλέψει με τον λαϊκισμό και τη δημαγωγία. Ότι θα κάνει αυτό που νομίζει ότι είναι το σωστό μακροπρόθεσμα για τη χώρα και δεν θα συμβιβαστεί υποχωρώντας μπροστά στο πολιτικό κόστος. Η ιστορία μας διδάσκει ότι αυτό έκανε. Κάποιες επιλογές του ήταν ορθές (οι περισσότερες) και κάποιες λανθασμένες. Σχεδόν σε κάθε περίπτωση ο ελληνικός λαός τον εμπιστεύτηκε (με τη μοιραία εξαίρεση των εκλογών του 1920) και ο Βενιζέλος δικαίωσε αυτή την εμπιστοσύνη.

Ο λόγος που θυμίζω εκείνη την περίοδο, έναν αιώνα μετά, δεν είναι βέβαια για να αναπολήσουμε ή να σας πείσω για την ανάγκη χαρισματικών ηγετών. Αλλά για να σας θυμίσω ότι στην ιστορία της νεότερης και σύγχρονης Ελλάδας, υπήρξαν σπουδαίοι εκσυγχρονιστές πολιτικοί, που προχώρησαν μπροστά, κάνοντας περισσότερες μεταρρυθμίσεις από συμβιβασμούς και πέτυχαν έτσι να αλλάξουν τη χώρα. Και ο ελληνικός λαός τους εμπιστεύθηκε και τους βοήθησε αν και δεν ήταν πάντα εύκολο. Από τον Αλέξανδρο Μαυροκορδάτο μέχρι τον ανιψιό του Χαρίλαο Τρικούπη κι από τον Ελευθέριο Βενιζέλο μέχρι τον Κωνσταντίνο Καραμανλή, η Ελλάδα προχώρησε και ξεπέρασε το τέλμα, ορισμένες φορές ακόμα και με εντυπωσιακά άλματα. Ήταν ηγέτες με μεγαλύτερο ή μικρότερο χάρισμα, με περισσότερες ή λιγότερες ικανότητες. Όμως τους διέκρινε κάτι που τους ξεχωρίζει από τους υπόλοιπους: είχαν ένα, πολύ ξεκάθαρο στο μυαλό τους, σχέδιο για την πορεία της χώρας. Ένα σχέδιο, που ήταν σαφέστατα εκσυγχρονιστικό και βασίζονταν σε ένα όραμα για την Ελλάδα, αδιαπραγμάτευτα ευρωπαϊκό. Δεν ήταν διαχειριστές, ήταν ηγέτες, που δεν αντιμετώπιζαν με δέος το πολιτικό κόστος, αλλά μόνο την αδυναμία να πείσουν τον ελληνικό λαό. Γι’ αυτό και πέτυχαν σε τόσο μεγάλο βαθμό.

Για να καταλάβετε τη σημασία, όχι τόσο του ηγέτη (αν και ο ηγέτης είναι πάντα σημαντικός) όσο του πολιτικού προγράμματος, διαβάστε ξανά το κείμενο του Βενιζέλου και μετά σκεφτείτε τι είδος διακυβέρνησης έχει ανάγκη σήμερα η χώρα μας και τι είδος διακυβέρνησης υφίσταται.

Η σημερινή κυβέρνηση είναι το αποτέλεσμα μιας τερατογένεσης. Είναι μια κυβέρνηση που έχει υιοθετήσει πλήρως την ιδεολογία της αντιμεταρρύθμισης σχεδόν στα πάντα, από την οικονομία μέχρι την παιδεία. Είναι ταυτόχρονα μια κυβέρνηση που υποχρεώνεται, σχεδόν βίαια, να υιοθετήσει μεταρρυθμιστικές πολιτικές στις οποίες δεν πιστεύει και κάνει ό,τι μπορεί για να υπονομεύσει. Είναι μια κυβέρνηση που με εκπληκτικό τρόπο κατορθώνει να συμπυκνώσει όλη την παθογένεια της μεταπολίτευσης: τον καιροσκοπισμό, την περιφρόνηση στους θεσμούς, τον χυδαίο λαϊκισμό, τον κομματισμό και τον νεποτισμό και κυρίως την πολιτική μυωπία. Είναι ταυτόχρονα μια κυβέρνηση ανίκανη και μια κυβέρνηση που δεν φιλοδοξεί να είναι ικανή γιατί η ιδεολογία της είναι η πάση θυσία διατήρηση του status quo. Είναι μια κυβέρνηση που ανέδειξε η απελπισία στην οποία οδήγησε τον ελληνικό λαό η διπλή αποτυχία του παλιού πολιτικού συστήματος: του συστήματος που μας οδήγησε στην κρίση και που δεν κατάφερε να μας διασώσει από αυτήν. Είναι ταυτόχρονα μια κυβέρνηση-άλλοθι για τις ενοχές του ελληνικού λαού. Που στήριξε το απαξιωμένο πολιτικό σύστημα για τρεις δεκαετίες και τώρα προσπαθεί να κρυφτεί πίσω από το δάκτυλό του, δηλαδή τη δύσμορφη καρικατούρα αυτού του πολιτικού συστήματος.

Η χώρα μας έχει βρεθεί αρκετές φορές στην ιστορία της σε αυτό το σημείο που ο Στάθης Καλύβας (Καταστροφές και Θρίαμβοι, 3η εκδ. 2016) ονομάζει «μεγάλες καταστροφές επικών διαστάσεων» που είναι όμως το αποτέλεσμα «υπερφιλόδοξων εγχειρημάτων». Όμως, σύμφωνα με τον Καλύβα, αυτές οι καταστροφές οδήγησαν αργότερα παραδόξως σε θριάμβους. Αλλά η ιστορία ποτέ δεν μας υπόσχεται ότι θα αντιγράψει τον εαυτό της. Ο ελληνικός λαός και οι ηγεσίες του έχουν την ευθύνη.

Στην αυγή λοιπόν της νέας χρονιάς, σχεδόν 200 χρόνια από τον αγώνα για την ελληνική ανεξαρτησία, η χώρα μας θα πρέπει να παλέψει και πάλι για να απελευθερωθεί. Θα πρέπει να ελευθερώσει την πολιτική, την οικονομία και την κοινωνία από όλα τα βαρίδια που την περιορίζουν και την εμποδίζουν να απογειωθεί.

Θα πρέπει να πετάξει από πάνω της τα θλιβερά υπολείμματα του παλαιοκομματισμού, της αντιμεταρρυθμιστικής αντίδρασης, του θεσμικού συντηρητισμού. Θα πρέπει να απαλλαγεί από τις προκαταλήψεις της κατά της Δύσης, του ορθολογισμού, της ελεύθερης ανταγωνιστικής αγοράς, της τεχνολογίας και της καινοτομίας. Θα πρέπει να πετάξει στα σκουπίδια τη μισαλλοδοξία, την ξενοφοβία, τον εθνικισμό, τη συνωμοσιολογία. Μόνο αν απελευθερωθεί η Ελλάδα από τα βαρίδια της οπισθοδρόμησης και μετατραπεί σε μια πραγματικά ανοιχτή κοινωνία θα έχει ελπίδες όχι μόνο να ξεπεράσει την κρίση αλλά και να θριαμβεύσει. Διαφορετικά την περιμένουν νέες μεγάλες αλλά και μικρές καταστροφές. Ακόμα χειρότερα, την περιμένει το τέλμα χωρίς προοπτική. Αυτό που βιώνουμε σήμερα.

* Ο Αριστείδης Χατζής είναι αναπληρωτής καθηγητής Φιλοσοφίας Δικαίου και Θεωρίας Θεσμών στο Πανεπιστήμιο Αθηνών. Το βιβλίο του Φιλελευθερισμός θα κυκλοφορήσει στη νέα σειρά «Μικρές Εισαγωγές» των Εκδόσεων Παπαδόπουλος στα τέλη Ιανουαρίου.

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Thursday, January 5, 2017

Turkey’s Coup and Europe’s Rule of Law

by Apostolos Doxiadis

Wall Street Journal

January 5, 2017

The urgent order from their commander was to pick up casualties from an “emergency situation in the center of Istanbul.” As the responding members of three Turkish search-and-rescue teams approached Vatan Avenue in their Black Hawk helicopters, they encountered gunfire so intense that only one of the three helicopters could land and collect the injured soldiers. All three then evacuated to nearby Topkule base.

There, they were instructed by their commander not to return to their home base as it was “unsafe.” A few minutes later Topkule came under attack, with incoming fire aimed at the helicopters. Eight officers escaped in one Black Hawk to a nearby forest, where they turned to their iPads for news.

It was July 15, 2016. A coup was under way, but little else was known. It wasn’t even clear to them for which side, if any, the three Black Hawk crews had just flown their mission.

The officers repeatedly called their commander for further instructions, but without success. When they saw on the news scenes of killings and lynchings of soldiers and officers by “enraged citizens,” they decided to flee, choosing to go to Greece because, as they said, “It’s a European country.” They eventually told me their story in a series of interviews conducted through their lawyer from the detention center here where they are being kept.

To these eight, like hundreds of others who sought asylum in European Union countries in July, “European” represents a certain set of values. The expectation was that they would find safety in the EU until the chaos in Turkey died down.

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For Greece and Turkey, an Old Rivalry Flares

by Nikos Konstandaras

New York Times

January 5, 2017

Eight Turkish military officers who may or may not have been involved in the attempted coup against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan last July are now at the center of a tense standoff between Greece and Turkey. At a time when Greece’s economy is still in limbo and Turks are caught between an increasingly authoritarian government and a surge in terrorist attacks, neither country can afford such a distraction. Yet the two neighbors find themselves at odds once again.

The men — two majors, four captains and two noncommissioned officers — turned up in the northern Greek town of Alexandroupolis in a military helicopter the day after the attempted coup. They have claimed that they were not knowingly involved in the rebellion — that they followed orders but were not aware a coup was in progress — but fled to escape persecution, asking for political asylum.

The government in Athens, one of the first to condemn the coup attempt while it was developing, was flustered. On the day the men turned up in Greece, Turkey’s foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, spoke by telephone with his Greek counterpart, Nikos Kotzias, and demanded their extradition. On Twitter, he wrote that Mr. Kotzias told him “that eight traitors who fled to Greece will be returned to Turkey as soon as possible.” The Greek Foreign Ministry said the asylum request would be examined on the basis of “the provisions of Greek and international law,” but “it will be borne very seriously in mind that the arrested parties stand accused in their country of violating constitutional legality and attempting to overthrow democracy.”

Since then, the officers have become a touchstone by which many Greeks are testing the independence of their own judiciary and their country’s democratic principles. Those Greeks feel that even if the eight were involved in trying to topple a legitimate government, they should not be sent back to face a judicial system that, they fear, cannot guarantee fair trials. For the Turkish government, however, the eight are traitors, and their flight to Greece was in itself a provocation.

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Greece’s Most-Wanted Terrorist, on Run Since 2012, Is Arrested and Charged

by Iliana Magra

New York Times

January 5, 2017

She was a leader of an anarchist group called Revolutionary Struggle. She helped organize, officials say, a car bombing near the country’s central bank. Later, the authorities say, she rented a helicopter using a fake name and then tried to hijack it in an effort to rescue her imprisoned partner.

On Friday, the anarchist leader, Panagiota Roupa, was charged with theft, forgery and participating in a terrorist organization. She was arrested on Thursday in a house in Ilioupoli, a middle-class suburb southeast of Athens, where she was living under an assumed identity. Her 6-year-old was taken into protective custody.

“Be careful with my son,” she told the officers, according to Theodoros Chronopoulos, the chief spokesman for the national police.

Greek officials called Ms. Roupa, 47 — known by her nickname, Pola — the country’s “No. 1 most-wanted” terrorist. With her partner, Nikos Maziotis, she was a leader of Revolutionary Struggle, which carried out a string of bombings and shootings targeting the police and others starting in 2003, and fired an antitank grenade at the United States Embassy in Athens in 2007. The attacks caused several injuries, but no deaths.

“She is the No. 1 most-wanted domestic terrorist, as she has been crucial in managing the Revolutionary Struggle, but more specifically in recruiting,” Mr. Chronopoulos said in a phone interview.

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Tuesday, January 3, 2017

How Greece’s Troubled Economy Could Turn Around in 2017

by Nicholas Economides

Fortune

January 3, 2017

Violating the terms of its bailout program, the Greek government recently announced that it will distribute a sizeable “Christmas gift” to Greek pensioners even though this requires additional borrowing from the EU since the Greek budget is not balanced and Greece cannot borrow from money markets. The move has prompted the EU finance ministers to freeze implementation of debt restructuring. Greece is at the brink again.

This is the modern-day, Greek economic tragedy. But unlike the three-acts ancient Greek tragedies, we’ve seen many acts and often the horrible events happen on stage. Of the main actors, the Greek government repeatedly threatens with suicide elections; the IMF tries to apply the same rules to all countries irrespective of development level; the EU bureaucrats paint a rosy picture with no grounding in reality or economics, and German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble keeps reading the same austerity rulebook no matter what the circumstances. Even worse, there is practically no dialogue among the actors – they deliver their monologues past each other, each trying to please a different chorus. How did we get here (again), is there hope, and, more importantly, and how does it end?

After two large bailouts in 2010 and 2012 from the EU and the IMF, and after a negotiated haircut of €100 billion off its bonds, Greece was close to recovery in 2014. It had reversed the 2010 15-plus percent deficit and achieved a small primary surplus (before paying interest), reached growth after four years of recession, and even issued new bonds. However, the fiscal consolidation did not happen through spending cuts but rather through large increases in taxation, resulting in a multi-year recession. With Greeks having lost 25% of their income, and unemployment at 25%, disaffected voters brought to power a tiny, radical left party in early 2015.

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Sunday, January 1, 2017

'Patients who should live are dying': Greece's public health meltdown

by Helena Smith

Guardian

January 1, 2017

Rising mortality rates, an increase in life-threatening infections and a shortage of staff and medical equipment are crippling Greece’s health system as the country’s dogged pursuit of austerity hammers the weakest in society.

Data and anecdote, backed up by doctors and trade unions, suggest the EU’s most chaotic state is in the midst of a public health meltdown. “In the name of tough fiscal targets, people who might otherwise survive are dying,” said Michalis Giannakos who heads the Panhellenic Federation of Public Hospital Employees. “Our hospitals have become danger zones.”

Figures released by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control recently revealed that about 10% of patients in Greece were at risk of developing potentially fatal hospital infections, with an estimated 3,000 deaths attributed to them.

The occurrence rate was dramatically higher in intensive care units and neonatal wards, the body said. Although the data referred to outbreaks between 2011 and 2012 – the last official figures available – Giannakos said the problem had only got worse.

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Thursday, December 29, 2016

Greece: A question of independence

by Jim Brunsden & Kerin Hope

Financial Times

December 29, 2016

As Yannis Stournaras, the governor of the central bank of Greece, settled into his seat for the three-hour flight from Athens to Frankfurt, he felt a sense of relief that one of the many problems in his in-tray was about to be resolved.

Attica Bank, the country’s fifth-largest lender, was poised to install a new management team he thought was capable of turning round the struggling lender. The only step left was for Attica’s board to officially approve the appointment of Theodoros Pantalakis, a former chairman of Agricultural Bank of Greece, as its new chief executive.

When he landed in the German city that afternoon in early September, however, he realised something had gone wrong. While he was in the air, the government in Athens reversedthe decision to award the job to Mr Pantalakis. It was his introduction to a web of allegedly related events, ranging from a raid on his wife’s business to an unsuccessful bid for TV rights backed by Attica loans.

According to sources, government figures arranged with the Engineers and Public Contractors Pension Fund (TSMEDE), Attica’s largest shareholder, to hand the job instead to Constantine Makedos, a civil engineer with little banking knowledge. Attica has close ties to Syriza, Greece’s ruling party, through links with the trade union that controls TSMEDE.

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Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Greece’s New Year of Living Dangerously

by Yannis Palaiologos

Wall Street Journal

December 21, 2016

If last year was the year of upheaval and survival for Alexis Tsipras, this year has been the year of the slow grind. As we near the end of 2016, Mr. Tsipras finds himself squeezed—by Germany and the International Monetary Fund, by Turkey and the refugee crisis, by his false promises and collapsing popularity—to the point of political extinction.

The pace of decline in the Greek prime minister’s fortunes is remarkable. Coming into the final quarter of the year, the government appeared to have a narrative and a plan. In early October it put the finishing touches on the first review of its third bailout program—albeit a year later than initially expected. Mr. Tsipras and his economic team then set the ambitious target of finalizing the second review by the Dec. 5 meeting of the eurozone finance ministers. This would have cleared the way for the European Central Bank to buy Greek government bonds under its quantitative-easing program, sending a strong signal of confidence to investors.

There were warning signs, of course, that all would not go smoothly. Mr. Tsipras’s government ministers continued, for instance, to obstruct central planks of the bailout program, especially the privatization of state-owned assets. But doubters were told to ignore the noise. A cabinet reshuffle in early November, sidelining some members of this internal resistance, was an encouraging sign.

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Monday, December 19, 2016

The drawn-out drama of Greek debt has no end in sight

by Kerin Hope

Financial Times

December 19, 2016

In Athenian cafés where politics are discussed, a furious debate rages over when in 2017 Greece is likely to hold the next general election.

The question might seem premature, given that the current government of Alexis Tsipras, prime minister and leader of the leftwing Syriza party, is only 14 months into its four-year term.

However, as café analysts point out, the average lifespan of administrations since the country plunged into an economic abyss in 2009 is below two years.

“It [the election] will be early spring or early autumn next year. I’m betting on autumn,” says Miltiades, a civil servant who claims to have predicted correctly the timing and outcome of three recent elections. “Regardless of when it happens, it’s likely there’ll be a change of government,” he adds.

Some observers argue that the country’s political instability reflects the unwillingness of successive Greek governments to take decisive “ownership” of reforms despite urging by their main creditors, the eurozone countries and the International Monetary Fund.

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Greek asset sell-offs begin to attract foreign investors

by Kerin Hope

Financial Times

December 19, 2016

Stergios Pitsiorlas admits without hesitation that Greece has a problem with attracting foreign investors. “There’s a culture here that’s not friendly to investors and it’s deep-rooted,” he says. “But it’s beginning to change.”

To underline his point, Mr Pitsiorlas lists half a dozen disposals of state-controlled companies, infrastructure and chunks of real estate that were completed while he served as executive chairman of the Hellenic Republic Asset Development Fund (Taiped), the country’s privatisation agency.

All were eventually approved by the Greek parliament in spite of strong resistance from hard-left cabinet ministers in the Syriza-led government, trade unions and local municipalities.

Promoted recently to deputy economy minister for investment, Mr Pitsiorlas is optimistic that the country may finally be turning a corner. “There is serious interest now in Greece,” he says. Manufacturing is among the areas of interest, “as wages have fallen significantly during the crisis”. The fact that the country’s two biggest privatisation deals are now being implemented has given an overall boost to investor confidence, Mr Pitsiorlas argues.

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Tsipras walks tightrope of reform

by Kerin Hope

Financial Times

December 19, 2016

The fiery rhetoric against austerity is gone, at least for now. A more composed Alexis Tsipras says he welcomes foreign investment as “mutually beneficial” for business and for the country.

The prime minister and leader of the leftwing Syriza party is anxious to see Greece return to borrowing on international capital markets in 2017 after a three-year gap.

He has sacked some, though not all, of the far leftists in his cabinet who opposed an ambitious new €50bn privatisation programme agreed with the Greece’s creditors, the eurozone bloc and the International Monetary Fund.

Syriza’s policymaking has turned upside down since mid-2015 when voters in a referendum rejected tough new bailout proposals, heightening fears that Greece would crash out of the euro.

Mr Tsipras capitulated within days, signing up to a €86bn third bailout that carries harsh conditions. Nonetheless, Syriza won a snap general election in September last year and immediately renewed an unlikely coalition with the rightwing nationalist Independent Greeks (Anel) party formed after its first electoral victory in January 2015.

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The drawn-out drama of Greek debt has no end in sight

by Tony Barber

Financial Times

December 19, 2016

The geopolitical, economic and moral themes of the Greek debt crisis are engrossing. They make it one of the great international dramas of the early 21st century. But 2016 was the year when much of the audience lost interest and turned its attention elsewhere.

Britain’s vote to leave the EU, Matteo Renzi’s defeat in Italy’s constitutional reforms referendum and Donald Trump’s US presidential election victory were compelling theatrical spectacles. The repercussions will be profound for the UK, Europe and the post-1945 US-led liberal world order.

By contrast, spectators of the Greek drama feel cheated. It is a play that seems stuck in its third or fourth act, still a long way from either a happy or unhappy ending and not as likely to shake the world as seemed possible in 2015.

For the drama’s failure to reach a denouement, blame the scriptwriters. These include Greece’s political and administrative classes, the nation’s eurozone partners and the International Monetary Fund. Year after year, each contributes a farrago of actors’ lines and stage directions. Yet the curtain never falls and the play drags interminably on.

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Hangover cure and clutching at straws drive Greece’s export sales

by Kerin Hope

Financial Times

December 19, 2016

The challenges faced by Greece’s many small companies have mounted as the financial crisis has gone on. The country’s manufacturers in particular have been hit hard by falling domestic sales and a desperate lack of bank credit to finance export drives.

“Small producers are among the worst hit by capital controls and the squeeze on bank liquidity, especially companies that have to import raw materials,” says Kostis Michalos, chairman of the Athens chamber of commerce and industry.

Yet small companies in sectors such as food and beverages and specialised plastic products are improving their international competitiveness by targeting niche markets.

The makers of Tuvunu, a low-calorie soft drink, uses Greek mountain tea, a local herb, as the raw material for making a rival to international iced-tea brands, doing away with the need for imported raw materials.

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Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Tsipras will put pensioner bonus to Greek parliament

BBC News
December 14, 2016

The Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has refused to back down over his plans to give poor Greek pensioners a pre-Christmas bonus.

A government official said Mr Tsipras would ask parliament on Thursday to approve the payment, worth €617m (£517m) in total.

Earlier, eurozone lenders suspended their recently agreed short-term debt-relief plan for Greece.

They said they had not been asked to approve the bonuses plan.

The European Stability Mechanism (ESM), the body that helps eurozone governments in trouble, said it would now be scrutinising the proposed handout.

"Following recent proposals by the Greek government to spend additional fiscal resources for pensions and VAT, our governing bodies have put their decisions temporarily on hold," a spokesman for the ESM said.

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Monday, December 12, 2016

IMF denies it is trying to force more austerity in Greece

by Jim Brunsden

Financial Times

December 12, 2016

Senior International Monetary Fund officials have rejected claims that the organisation is seeking to impose more austerity on Greece, in a sign of tension over whether the fund will join the eurozone’s €86bn bailout of the country.

In a blog post published on Monday afternoon, Poul Thomsen, director of the IMF’s European department, and Maurice Obstfeld, the fund’s chief economist, say that their main worries are that Greece is pursuing policies that are “unfriendly to growth” and that country’s debt is “highly unsustainable”.

The post lays bare the gulf between eurozone and IMF visions of what the Greek bailout programme should look like. It also shows the level of frustration at the fund over what is sees as misrepresentation of its stance by leading eurozone policymakers.

Recent discussions have “spurred some misinformation about the role and views of the IMF”, the officials said. “We have not changed our view that Greece does not need more austerity at this time.”

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The IMF is Not Asking Greece for More Austerity

by Maurice Obstfeld & Poul M. Thomsen

iMFdirect

December 12, 2016

Greece is once again in the headlines as discussions for the second review of its European Stability Mechanism (ESM) program are gaining pace. Unfortunately, the discussions have also spurred some misinformation about the role and the views of the IMF. Above all, the IMF is being criticized for demanding more fiscal austerity, in particular for making this a condition for urgently needed debt relief. This is not true, and clarifications are in order.

The IMF is not demanding more austerity. On the contrary, when the Greek Government agreed with its European partners in the context of the ESM program to push the Greek economy to a primary fiscal surplus of 3.5 percent by 2018, we warned that this would generate a degree of austerity that could prevent the nascent recovery from taking hold. We projected that the measures in the ESM program will deliver a surplus of only 1.5 percent of GDP, and said this would be enough for us to support a program. We did not call for additional measures to achieve a higher surplus. But contrary to our advice, the Greek Government agreed with the European institutions to temporarily compress spending further if needed to ensure that the surplus would reach 3.5 percent of GDP.

We have not changed our view that Greece does not need more austerity at this time. Claiming that it is the IMF who is calling for this turns the truth upside down.

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Greece Heads Toward New Crisis in Debt Saga as Support for Tsipras Slumps

by Nektaria Stamouli & Marcus Walker

Wall Street Journal

December 12, 2016

Greece’s crisis is approaching a potential breaking point after a year of relative calm, as a government with declining political stamina confronts creditors’ unyielding demands.

The ruling left-wing Syriza party, grappling with slumping popularity, is considering the option of calling snap elections in 2017, as it loses hope of winning concessions on debt relief or austerity from the eurozone and International Monetary Fund.

No decision for elections has been made, said Greek officials, who added that they would review the state of negotiations in January, after pressing creditors again to show more flexibility.

Elections would allow Syriza—if not Greece—to escape from the pressures of an unpopular bailout program whose strained math has eventually brought down every Greek government since the crisis began in 2009. Syriza’s leader and Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, like his predecessors, is struggling to meet strict fiscal targets in a recession-scarred country weary of austerity.

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