Saturday, October 29, 2016

Greek Homeowners Scramble as Repossession Looms: ‘It’s Like a Horror Movie’

by Niki Kitsantonis

New York Times

October 29, 2016

Even after retiring as an accountant, Michalis Hanis dutifully kept up with the mortgage payments on the small house in a suburb of Athens where he has lived for 23 years. That was until several years ago, when Greece’s economic crisis hit.

As part of belt-tightening measures demanded by Greece’s creditors, the government cut his pension by 35 percent. Like his country’s debts, his debts grew.

Now he has joined the tens of thousands of Greeks fighting to save their homes as a sudden wave of repossessions has struck this year, prompting mounting protests across Greece.

“It’s like a horror movie,” said Mr. Hanis, 63, who takes antidepressants and sleeping pills to cope. “You can never relax. I just want to protect my home.”

The country’s creditors have pressed the government to allow the auction of delinquent debtors’ properties, collecting billions of euros that could be used to prop up tottering Greek banks.


Thursday, October 27, 2016

Greece’s Syriza Defiant After Judges Annul Key Policy

by Marcus Walker & Nektaria Stamouli

Wall Street Journal

October 27, 2016

Greece’s ruling Syriza party vowed on Thursday to continue fighting for its radical agenda after judges struck down its plan to revamp Greece’s media sector, the culmination of a weekslong power struggle that produced allegations of blackmail and “fascist” methods.

Greece’s supreme administrative court, the Council of State, ruled late Wednesday that the government, led by the left-wing Syriza party, acted unconstitutionally by licensing TV broadcasters itself, a power that the constitution reserves for an independent media regulator.

“The decision creates a feeling of injustice,” said State Minister Nikos Pappas, an aide of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras who has overseen the auction. “Governments are not brought down by judicial decisions, but only by the people.”

In early September, the government auctioned broadcast permits for only four private TV channels, leaving several existing TV stations facing closure. The court ruling annuls the government’s auction and removes the threat of forced closures.

The government billed its reform of Greek TV as necessary to combat corruption and dismantle a network of vested interests among media moguls, banks and the political establishment.


Highest Greek court blocks Syriza media law

by Kerin Hope

Financial Times

October 27, 2016

Greece’s highest court has ruled that a media law pushed through parliament by the leftwing Syriza-led government is unconstitutional, raising the stakes in a dispute over the award last month of nationwide television licences to four local business magnates.

Wednesday night’s decision by the 25-member council of state, comprising the country’s leading judges, came after more than five hours of bitter argument, according to people briefed on the deliberations.

The ruling was passed by 14 votes for to 11. Nikos Sakellariou, president of the council, declined to comment, saying details of the decision “must remain confidential”.

According to one person with knowledge of the discussions, the court upheld a constitutional provision that the broadcasting regulator, not the government, was responsible for licensing commercial TV stations.

The ruling marks a damaging setback for the Syriza government, which went ahead with the auction after failing to reach agreement with opposition parties over appointing new members to the regulator’s board.


Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Greek court blocks Syriza plan to shut TV channels

by Kerin Hope

Financial Times

October 19, 2016

The Syriza-led government’s plan to exert greater control over local media by limiting the number of nationwide television licences suffered a setback when Greece’s highest court upheld an appeal by six private channels facing imminent closure.

The decision by the 25-member Council of State, made up of the country’s leading judges, came five days before the six channels were due to shut down with the loss of more than 2,000 jobs.

The private channels had argued in their appeal that the decision by the government to shut down their stations was unconstitutional.

The court’s ruling has now opened the way for the council to hold a full discussion on whether a new media law allowing only four nationwide channels to operate in Greece is at odds with the country’s constitution.

Tuesday night’s ruling, which was approved by a 16 to nine majority after hours of fractious argument, is also likely to derail a procedure in which four local bidders were awarded nationwide licences at a closed auction last month for a total price of €246m.


Saturday, October 15, 2016

‘We’re never getting out of here’: How refugees became stranded in Greece

by Anthony Faiola

Washington Post

October 14, 2016

When Europe abruptly closed its land borders last spring to refugees fleeing war, it made a much-heralded promise: Wealthy nations across the European Union would take in tens of thousands of desperate Syrians and Iraqis who had made it as far as near-bankrupt Greece only to find themselves trapped.

But one by one, those nations have reneged, turning primitive camps such as this one into dire symbols of Europe’s broken pledge.

Amid allegations of Greek mismanagement, this site on the grounds of an abandoned toilet-paper factory still lacks basic heat, even as nighttime temperatures dip into the low 50s.

Mosquitoes infest the white canvas tents of refugee families stranded here for months. A 14-year-old Syrian girl was recently raped. There are reports of stabbings, thefts, suicide attempts and drug dealing.

“I won’t go out alone anymore,” said Rama Wahed, a 16-year-old Syrian girl hugging herself in her family’s tent.

In the opposite corner, her 17-year-old brother, Kamal, stared blankly ahead. Since their father died in Syria, he is the “man of the family.” But he looks like a lost little boy. Like so many other families here, their family of five has been waiting for word to go somewhere, anywhere but here. Caught in a broken system, they are losing hope.


Friday, October 14, 2016

Syriza at odds with Orthodox clergy over religious teaching plans

by Kerin Hope

Financial Times

October 14, 2016

Damned as a “wretched man” and “religious racist” who should be excommunicated, Greece’s minister of education has ignited the anger of hardline Orthodox clerics with his plans to reduce their role in religious teaching.

Under the reforms, due to be introduced next year, the state will take control of religious education in schools, broadening it out to include other faiths.

“In our [party’s] opinion, religious studies are too confessional — they try to persuade pupils of the correctness of Orthodoxy, which is not the job of the educational system,” said Nikos Filis. “We’ve taken the decision to go ahead with changes [in the religious studies curriculum] to reflect the increasing diversity of faiths in our society, especially following the arrival in Greece of so many refugees.”

It is the latest salvo in a battle between Syriza — a hard left party which once campaigned for the separation of church and state — and a religious establishment that still holds huge political sway.


Thursday, October 13, 2016

Greek yogurt is no longer the trendiest yogurt

by Abha Bhattarai

Washington Post

October 13, 2016

Move over, Greek yogurt.

The protein-rich breakfast staple, which has enjoyed an astronomical ascent in recent years, is being replaced by a new form of dairy.

The latest fad: Yogurt drinks, according to a report by research firm Mintel.

Yogurt smoothies, kefir and other drinks are experiencing double-digit growth because, researchers say, they offer a more portable, spoon-less alternative to traditional forms of yogurt. As a result, sales of yogurt drinks have climbed 62 percent over the past five years and are projected to grow another 11 percent this year, according to Mintel. (Sales of “spoonable” yogurt, by comparison, grew 27 percent since 2011.)

Meanwhile, year-over-year sales of traditional forms of yogurt have been sliding since 2013.


Tuesday, October 11, 2016

The IMF should stay in the Greek rescue squad

Financial Times
October 11, 2016

Good news coming out of the dismal mess of the Greek economy and its international bailout has been a rare commodity over the past six years. So it is tempting to celebrate the decision of the eurogroup of finance ministers that Athens has done enough structural reform to receive the latest €2.8bn tranche of its bailout.

In practice, a quiet measure of relief would be more appropriate than unbridled joy. While Greece’s government has done better than many sceptics feared following the shambles of last year’s referendum and re-election of Alexis Tsipras as prime minister, the measures it has enacted are highly unlikely to make a material difference to growth in the short to medium run.

The repeated warnings from the International Monetary Fund that Greece needs more fiscal space — and, if necessary, debt relief — are more apposite in addressing the country’s immediate priorities. If the eurozone authorities want to translate Athens’ fragile recent achievements into growth, they will need to look at the demand side of the economy as well as its productive efficiency.

Despite some grumbling from the usual quarters (Berlin), the eurogroup ministers have decided that Greece has done enough to reform its expensive pension system, liberalise the energy sector and set up a new privatisation agency to warrant the release of the final part of a tranche of money originally due earlier this year.


Monday, October 10, 2016

Greek reforms on target for €2.8bn EU bailout

Jim Brunsden & Mehreen Khan

Financial Times

October 10, 2016

Eurozone ministers gave the go-ahead for Greece to receive €2.8bn in bailout money, as Athens met the deadline to implement reforms needed to unlock the funds.

Ministers meeting on Monday in Luxembourg confirmed that Greece has successfully met all the policy “milestones” in areas such as liberalising of the energy sector, pensions reform, bank governance and management of a new privatisation agency.

This marks a turnround compared with last month, when Greece’s finance minister, Euclid Tsakalotos, was chastised by eurozone counterparts for Athens’ slowness in implementing the measures needed to release the funds. At the time, Athens had completed only two of 15 reforms.

Speaking after the meeting, Pierre Moscovici, EU economic affairs commissioner, said “all remaining milestones have been completed”. Earlier he praised the “tremendous” work done by the government of Alexis Tsipras in implementing “difficult reforms for Greek society”.

The €2.8bn, which is a leftover from a larger tranche of money released earlier this year, had threatened to become a symbol of the euro area’s difficulties in getting Greece to comply with the conditions of its bailout programme.


Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Greece forecasts economic growth of 2.7% in 2017

by Helena Smith


October 2, 2016

After more than half a decade of gruelling, austerity-driven recession, Greece has forecast economic growth in 2017, in what would be its first annual rebound in seven years.

Europe’s most indebted country will see growth of 2.7% next year partly as a result of an upsurge in tourism, according to the draft budget that Athens’s leftist-led coalition will table in parliament on Monday.

“We are at a turning point at which we can say, with certainty, that we are leaving the recession behind us,” the national economy minister, Giorgos Stathakis, said last week.

The blueprint, which officials hope will form the basis of talks when lenders begin a second review of the economy later this month, is expected to highlight better-than-expected tax revenues and renewed interest in investments under the country’s privatisation programme.

Insiders said Greece would easily meet its bailout goal of achieving a surplus – excluding debt-servicing costs – of 0.5% GDP this year. Its draft budget is projecting a 1.75% surplus for next year in line with last summer’s €86bn (£74bn) rescue programme.


Monday, October 3, 2016

Greece’s 2017 Budget Plan Sticks With Robust Growth Forecast

by Stelios Bouras

Wall Street Journal

October 3, 2016

Greece’s budget plan for 2017 sees the economy rebounding strongly after a seven-year slump, but analysts say continued austerity and tight credit conditions are likely to weigh on its recovery prospects amid uncertainty over the country’s public debt.

Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos submitted a draft copy of the budget to parliament on Monday that is expected to be finalized in coming weeks after the country resumes talks with lenders on its reform program.

The 53-page budget sticks with Greece’s previous forecasts that the economy is expected to contract by 0.3% this year before growing by 2.7% in 2017. Many see these targets as too optimistic, saying the economy is now entering a period of stagnation, rather than growth, having shrunk by more than 25% since the debt crisis erupted in 2010.

“Although there are some indications pointing to some stabilization in the economy, tight fiscal policy, difficult credit conditions and muted external growth are expected to limit the recovery in 2017,” said Diego Iscaro, senior economist at consulting firm IHS Global Insight. Mr. Iscaro projects the Greek economy will grow by 0.7% next year.


What’s Derailing Greece’s Plan to Sell State Assets? Its Own Government

by Nektaria Stamouli

Wall Street Journal

October 3, 2016

The day that Christos Spirtzis became responsible for much of Greece’s ambitious privatization program, he vowed to ensure it failed.

Greece’s leftist infrastructure minister has resisted every sale of roads, airports and trains, even though he and his government have promised to raise €50 billion from privatizations as part of the country’s international bailout.

“I hope the deal will not bear fruit,” the combative, chain-smoking former labor unionist said after his government, under pressure from Greece’s creditors, confirmed the sale of 14 regional airports to a German investor. He backed calls for local referendums to scuttle the deal. When he finally had to sign the contract, he did so “with a great deal of pain,” he told Greek radio listeners in a trembling voice.

The Greek government is at war with itself, and that is threatening to derail a key plank of Greece’s bailout, which consists of selling state assets to pay down debt and bring in foreign investment. Leaders in the ruling left-wing Syriza party are touring the world, from New York to Shanghai, lobbying investors to come to Greece and help kick-start its depressed economy. But Syriza’s roots in the Marxist, anti-globalization left make privatization a bitter pill.