Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Has Greece found the formula for defeating populism?

by Aristides N. Hatzis

Washington Post

July 16, 2019

Greece has a new prime minister. Kyriakos Mitsotakis took office immediately after leading his conservative New Democracy party to a landslide victory in the country’s general election on July 7. His dramatic victory ended 4½ of government by Alexis Tsipras and his far-left Syriza party. And that’s why the significance of this election extends well beyond Greece: Mitsotakis has shown how a traditionally oriented party can take on populists — and defeat them.

Syriza’s left-wing populism was based mostly on anti-market bias, a bit of technophobia and a strong measure of social envy. This kind of populism can be defeated relatively easily in liberal democracies — simply because the numbers don’t add up. That leaves a government of the type led by Syriza with two options: it can either succumb to its own anti-establishment paranoia or opt for pragmatism. Tsipras ultimately tried both, neither very convincingly. The voters didn’t appreciate the blatant contradiction and grew impatient with the anemic growth. In the end, they abandoned him for Mitsotakis, the quintessential anti-populist.

The first blow to Tsipras came after an ill-advised referendum in 2015 when Greek voters, reeling from the country’s financial crisis, had the chance to take a stand on a proposed European Union bailout package. (Sixty-one percent voted “no.”) Tsipras’s plans failed miserably, and the episode transformed the prime minister from a radical naysayer into a compliant enforcer of the E.U.'s tough conditions. He ended up resorting to a left-wing populist ploy: hitting the middle class with tax increases to offer handouts to groups he groomed as his core supporters. This small-scale redistribution was not as successful as he hoped. The fierce backlash from middle-class voters led to his eventual demise.

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Saturday, July 13, 2019

Kyriakos Mitsotakis: the new Greek PM hits the ground running

by Helena Smith

Guardian

July 13, 2019

It’s been barely a week but Greece’s new prime minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, has hit the ground running. Assuming power on Monday, the New Democracy leader announced parliament would not be going into recess for the summer: there was no time to waste, and bills had to be drafted.

By Wednesday, as his cabinet of established politicians, technocrats and ex-socialist reformers convened for the first time, the philosophy of his centre-right government became clearer still: ministers would not only set targets, they’d be monitored too. Placed before them were blue folders containing benchmark goals. As in any good business, progress reports would have to be kept.

In an era where appearance is everything, Mitsotakis, a former banker, has gone out of his way to set a new tone after four-and-a-half years of often rollercoaster rule under his leftwing predecessor Alexis Tsipras.

Police vans and barriers – which had come to represent the Tsipras government’s fear of protest – have been removed from the road approaching the prime minister’s office.

For many Greeks the new style is not just symbolic. Their first post-bailout government is viewed as the beginning of a new era; the crossing of a psychological threshold after a decade of austerity-driven depression, bailouts, extremist splinter groups and near bankruptcy on the frontline of Europe’s debt crisis.

“What we are seeing is a fresh generation of politician, Harvard-educated, result-oriented and with a more technocratic approach coming to the fore,” Pantelis Kapsis, a prominent political journalist, says of Mitsotakis.

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Friday, July 12, 2019

European democracy began in Greece. Thanks to its voters, it won’t die there.

Washington Post
Editorial
July 12, 2019


European Democracy began in Greece; some say it almost ended there, too. About a decade ago, as the world reeled from the financial crisis, Athens’s official financial data were shown to be badly misstated. In truth, the country was nearing insolvency, with potentially catastrophic consequences not only for Greece but for the 18 other countries that use the common currency, the euro. As the country spiraled into depression and chaos, it seemed ripe for the taking by extreme populists of the right and left. And, indeed, a far-left political neophyte, Alexis Tsipras, did win the prime ministership in 2015, promising to defy Greece’s international creditors and carry out revolutionary change.

Last Sunday, however, Greek voters went peacefully to the polls and calmly but decisively voted Mr. Tsipras and his party out, in favor of the center-right New Democracy party headed by Kyriakos Mitsotakis. Overall, it’s a soft political landing for Greece, with hopeful implications for the resiliency of Greek, and European, democratic culture.

To give Mr. Tsipras his due, he eventually abandoned radical policies in favor of the only realistic option: acceptance of a long-term bailout from German-led creditors, which required strict debt-control measures and a prolonged recession but did enable Greece to maintain the euro. Today, Greece’s economy is 24 percent smaller than it was in 2007, but it has at least resumed growth and job creation, modest though they may be.

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Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Greek bond yields dip even lower than US Treasuries

by Robin Wigglesworth

Financial Times

July 10, 2019

Greece’s borrowing costs have tumbled to a record low — dipping below even the US — thanks to rising hopes of a renewed bond-buying programme from the European Central Bank and the centre-right New Democracy party’s sweeping victory in elections last weekend.

This marks a stark turnround for Athens, which underwent the world’s biggest government bankruptcy in 2012 and is still labouring with one of the largest debt burdens, at about 180 per cent of gross domestic product.

ECB president Mario Draghi has stirred expectations that the eurozone’s monetary authority is set to ease policy, hopes that were reinforced last week by the nomination of the IMF’s Christine Lagarde as his successor.

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Greece voted populism out. Now it has to make sure it doesn’t return.

by Yannis Palaiologos

Washington Post

July 10, 2019

Sunday’s parliamentary elections amounted to a stinging defeat for both left and right populism in Greece. After a long slog in bailout purgatory, and 4½ years under a populist government of the hard left and the nationalist right, Greeks turned decisively to the establishment center-right New Democracy party, led by Kyriakos Mitsotakis. Now it is up to the new prime minister to deliver the reforms that will permanently consign the forces of extremism to the margins.

Ousted prime minister Alexis Tsipras, leader of the leftist Syriza party, came to power promising to end austerity and rid the country of the endemic corruption of the old political system. Tsipras’s defeat is a testament to his failure on both those fronts — and indicative of the struggles of populists everywhere to turn their simplistic and overblown campaign rhetoric into practical political reality.

Sunday’s returns were also disastrous for the Golden Dawn, a racist party with Nazi roots that became Greece’s third-largest party in 2015, even though its leaders had been arrested for running a criminal organization. (The trial is still ongoing.) This time, the group failed to cross the 3 percent threshold and make it into Parliament.

It was another sign of the resilience of Greek democracy, which was severely tested by the deepest depression ever faced by a developed country in peacetime, in a period of resurgent authoritarianism in Europe and the world. As the various populist myths about the causes and possible solutions to Greece’s crisis have been revealed as delusions and outright lies, the fuel that sustained extremism has been depleted.

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Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Greece’s Experiment With Populism Holds Lessons for Europe

by Matina Stevis-Gridneff & Steven Erlanger

New York Times

July 9, 2019

With a quiet handshake at the door of Maximos Mansion on a tree-lined street in central Athens, Alexis Tsipras ceded the office of prime minister on Monday to the New Democracy leader, Kyriakos Mitsotakis.

It was the kind of uneventful handover of power that heralded Greece’s return to normality after being ground zero of one of the most tumultuous periods in global economic history.

The election victory on Sunday by a traditional center-right party was the end of Greece’s flirtation with radical left-wing populist politics, even as the radicals of Mr. Tsipras’s Syriza party transformed themselves into a mainstream force of the center-left.

The Tsipras experiment may hold important lessons for Europe and its new ranks of anti-establishment populists. While many, as in Italy, gleefully thumb their noses at the European Union and its rules, once in power the risks of following through on their rebelliousness may corral them from the extremes.

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Good news — and bad news — from Greece

by Anne Applebaum

Washington Post

July 9, 2019

It may have been the worst recession to hit any economy in modern times. Between 2007 and 2014, Greece lost a quarter of its economy; hundreds of thousands of people moved abroad; unemployment peaked at almost 28 percent, hitting nearly 1 in 3 of the working population. Extremist parties of the far left and far right came to power, railing against shadowy foreign enemies, spinning dark conspiracy theories and making impossible promises.

Under their leadership, the crisis grew worse. In the summer of 2015, the Greek government, led by a former young communist, Alexis Tsipras, nearly crashed out of the euro, the common European currency. Tsipras called a defiant referendum that rejected the terms of the bailout proposed by the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund, as well as the budget austerity that it required. There were rumors of military coups and the beginnings of a financial panic. In a stunning reversal, Tsipras threw in the towel a week later and accepted the terms anyway.

And then, somehow … it worked. The Greek economy turned the corner. Last summer, the country graduated from the European bailout program after eight years. Growth has returned, slowly. Unemployment is decreasing, also slowly. Most of all, democracy, though severely challenged, did not collapse, and that meant that alternative visions for the country’s future were allowed to gain strength. Greeks began asking if there weren’t better ways to run the country, and began tossing around words like “liberalism,” even “neoliberalism.” Now they might get to try some of them.

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New Greek government vows to get economy moving after election win

by Kerin Hope

Financial Times

July 8, 2019

A triumphant Kyriakos Mitsotakis was sworn in as Greece’s new prime minister on Monday after leading his New Democracy party to a resounding election victory.

“The people of Greece gave us a strong mandate yesterday to change this country. We will honour it to the full. The job begins today and I am absolutely certain we have the capacity to complete it,” Mr Mitsotakis said as he took the oath of office on a bible proffered by Archbishop Ieronymos of Athens, head of Greece’s Orthodox church.

The son of a centrist prime minister who tried unsuccessfully to reform Greece in the 1990s, Mr Mitsotakis has much to prove following Sunday’s convincing win. As a New Democracy MP he was rarely considered for even a junior minister’s post, even though he belonged to a powerful political dynasty. Now he has earned the top job by dint of his own efforts.

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The Rapid Fall of the Left

by Yascha Mounk

Atlantic

July 9, 2019

A few short years ago, the far left was resurgent. Fringe politicians such as Britain’s Jeremy Corbyn, Greece’s Alexis Tsipras, and France’s Jean-Luc Mélenchon were turning into the standard-bearers of the mainstream left. Meanwhile, in the United States, Bernie Sanders was staging a surprisingly robust primary challenge against Hillary Clinton, the anointed heir to the Democratic Party.

Progressive commentators, activists, and politicians argued that the far left was about to conquer Europe, and that the best way forward for Democrats was to ride the red wave to victory. “Jeremy Corbyn has given us a blueprint to follow for years to come,” wrote Bhaskar Sunkara, the founder of Jacobin. Representative Ro Khanna, the leader of the Justice Democrats in the House, argued that the populist message adopted by leftist leaders in Europe “is not just morally right—it’s also strategically smart.”

But reports of socialism’s resurrection were greatly exaggerated. Recent electoral defeats in Europe suggest that the much-heralded red wave crested before it reached the shore.

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Monday, July 8, 2019

Greece Is the Good News Story in Europe

by Roger Cohen

New York Times

July 8, 2019

If you’re looking for an optimistic story in Europe, try Greece. Yes, you read that right. Having lost a quarter of its economy in a devastating recession, Greece has turned the corner, its democracy intact, its extremist temptations defeated and its anti-Americanism defunct.

The landslide election on Sunday of Kyriakos Mitsotakis, the dynamic leader of the center-right New Democracy party, marked the end of a chapter. Greece rejected Alexis Tsipras, the leftist leader who took the country to the brink of ruin in 2015 before discovering a pragmatic streak. It also voted the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn out of Parliament. At the height of the crisis, Golden Dawn had become the country’s third-largest party.

First into populism, Greece is now first out. For a country in free fall, the anchors of the European Union and NATO are not so negligible after all. Europe is not simply a story of growing nationalism and xenophobia. It’s a continent in violent flux, torn between liberal democratic and nativist currents.

Despite unemployment that reached almost 30 percent, a chaotic near-exit from the euro, huge bailouts to save it from bankruptcy, mandated austerity programs and a wave of desperate refugees from Syria, Greece stabilized itself. It’s a reminder that reports of democracy’s demise are exaggerated.

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Kyriakos Mitsotakis sweeps to victory in Greece

Economist
July 8, 2019

Greece's center-right New Democracy party (ND) comfortably won a snap general election on July 7th, capturing 39.9% of the vote to 31.5% for the left-wing Syriza party of Alexis Tsipras, the current prime minister.

The result fell short of the sweeping victory for ND predicted by some pollsters, but gives the conservatives a workable overall majority with 158 seats in the 300-member parliament, thanks to a bonus of 50 seats that is awarded to the party that wins the most seats under Greece’s modified proportional representation electoral system. Syriza will have 86 seats.

This means that Kyriakos Mitsotakis, the ND leader, has enough seats to govern without having to form a coalition, unlike his predecessors as prime minister during the Greek debt crisis that has consumed the past decade.

The former McKinsey consultant has bold plans to overhaul the country’s creaking bureaucracy, attract foreign investment and create enough new jobs to stem the exodus of skilled young workers. He will face opposition from Syriza’s placemen in the civil service and regulatory bodies. Yet some worry that when Mr Mitsotakis’s political honeymoon is over, old rivalries and clientelism in ND will resurface and undermine his efforts to reform. Others see him as just the latest manifestation of the old dynastic establishment that got Greece into trouble in the first place. He is the son of a previous prime minister; his older sister served as mayor of Athens; and the mayor-elect of Athens is her son.

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Sunday, July 7, 2019

Greece’s centre-right on course for snap election victory

by Kerin Hope

Financial Times

July 7, 2019

The traditional centre-right party is set to regain power in Greece after a sweeping general election victory, raising hopes of a return to growth and stability in a country rocked by years of recession and three international bailouts.

Kyriakos Mitsotakis’s New Democracy party was forecast to win 38-42 per cent of the vote, according to exit polls, compared to 26-32 per cent for the leftist Syriza party of Alexis Tsipras, the prime minister.

Mr Mitsotakis, a US-educated McKinsey alumnus and son of a former prime minister, said he would focus first on cutting taxes, reducing red tape and attracting foreign investment to create jobs and stem migration abroad by skilled young Greeks.

The result is a heavy blow for Mr Tsipras, the one-time radical firebrand who abruptly reversed his policy stance and adopted a harsh austerity programme in return for an €86bn bailout after Greece came close to crashing out of the eurozone in 2015.

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Saturday, July 6, 2019

Let down by government, Greek voters expected to replace Tsipras with centre-right

by Jessica Bateman

Independent

July 6, 2019

There’s a general election in Greece on Sunday but, aside from a few roadside posters, it would be easy for visitors to pass through without realising.

In contrast to the huge demonstrations that were broadcast on news stations around the world when the current ruling party – radical leftists Syriza – swept to power in 2015, everything feels remarkably subdued.

The current government, lead by charismatic Alexis Tsipras, rose to power with a populist, anti-establishment message several years into the financial crisis that has engulfed Greece for a decade.

However, he disappointed many of his supporters when he ignored the results of a referendum on a bail-out package and adopted the same austerity policies he had previously stood against. Now it looks as though the country’s traditional centre-right party, New Democracy, will take power, having won the highest vote share in the recent European and local elections.

“Syriza supporters are disappointed, New Democracy voters are not too enthusiastic about voting New Democracy, and everybody knows the result already,” said Aris Hatzis, a political commentator and professor of philosophy and law at the University of Athens.

“The only question is whether they will get a majority or form a coalition government.”

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People’s anger over 2018 wildfires weighs on Greece elections

by Kerin Hope

Financial Times

July 6, 2019

In a defiant general election campaign that ends on Saturday, Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras has robustly defended some divisive decisions taken over more than four years in power — from a treaty struck with North Macedonia to pension reforms agreed with the country’s bailout creditors.

But Mr Tsipras has been far less comfortable on one issue that is adding to public discontent and his likely crushing defeat on Sunday: his government’s response to a devastating inferno in July 2018 at Mati, a summer resort near Athens.

High winds drove a fire that caused 102 deaths, the worst recorded toll in a Greek wildfire. Two inquiries by Greek prosecutors and international disaster prevention experts pointed to a fatal lack of co-ordination between emergency services.

As the election campaign drew to a close this week Mr Tsipras —whose Syriza party is around 8 percentage points behind the opposition centre-right New Democracy in polls —was asked again about Mati in a television interview. He sparked a storm of tweets demanding he apologise publicly for the government’s chaotic reaction after he tried to fend off questions and said officials at first failed to inform him about casualty numbers.

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Friday, July 5, 2019

Resurgent centre-right party poised for victory in Greek election

by Helena Smith

Guardian

July 5, 2019

As the sun sets over the Acropolis, bathing the monument in the gentle light of a dying day, Kyriakos Mitsotakis ascends the podium, punching the air in jubilant mood. The backdrop may be antiquity’s most famous site but before him is a sea of blue and white, the colour of the Greek flag being waved by the crowd.

The man poised to become Greece’s next prime minister takes in the scene. “On Sunday Greece will become blue, the blue of the sky, the blue of the sea,” he thunders. “On Sunday we vote, on Monday we turn a page.”

Three days before snap elections, the opposition leader is on a roll. Democracy can produce unexpected results but every analyst agrees this is an election of foregone conclusion.

All polls point to victory for Mitsotakis’s centre-right New Democracy, with most suggesting the party is on course to win an outright majority in what would be a significant shift for a country governed by fragile coalitions for the past decade.

On Thursday, a Pulse survey showed the conservatives leading the leftist Syriza by eight percentage points. If so, New Democracy would acquire between 155 and 159 seats in the 300-seat parliament repeating its spectacular performance in the European election in May which prompted the prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, to call the vote three months ahead of schedule.

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The end for Alexis

by Kerin Hope

Financial Times

July 5, 2019

It’s almost unheard of for Greece to hold an election in July and Kyriakos Mitsotakis, leader of the centre-right New Democracy party, is worried that his voters may decide to head for the beach instead of the ballot box.

At every campaign appearance, from neighbourhood café debates to television interviews, Mr Mitsotakis makes a point of reminding conservatives they should turn up to vote in the country’s general election on Sunday.

Opinion polls suggest he doesn’t need to fret. Almost every published poll during the campaign has given ND a lead of between 7.5 and 10 percentage points over the ruling leftwing Syriza party of Alexis Tsipras, Greece's current prime minister.

If the polls are right, the conservatives would score an outright majority, winning between 153 and 164 seats in the 300-member parliament.

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Europe Tamed a Populist and Now He’s Paying the Price

by Eleni Chrepa & Paul Tugwell

Bloomberg

July 5, 2019

Michalis Asikis and his brother aren’t your typical shoe-store owners, at least by most standards. One uses time away from the shop to teach at a music school while the other heads off to taxi tourists.

In Greece, though, scratching a living from multiple sources isn’t unusual nowadays. The struggle to make ends meet or keep businesses on life support has become the norm for many Greeks, despite the promise by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras that “hope is coming” when he surged to power in 2015. Indeed, to avoid shuttering his store in the northern town of Florina, Asikis has resorted to borrowing from family.

“People believed in Tsipras’s central slogan and not only didn’t hope come, there was also great disappointment,” Asikis, 47, says at his outlet on Florina’s main commercial street, which is littered with empty stores. “It’s like telling a kid that you will get them an ice cream and ending up giving them nothing, not even chewing gum.”

Such disillusionment is the harsh reality for Tsipras as he heads into elections on Sunday. While he managed to restore faith in Greece internationally, he lost it at home as his fresh face came to represent more of the same to a jaded nation. Opinion polls show power is likely to return to New Democracy, one of Greece’s two traditional parties of government, and back to the dynastic politics that Tsipras and his Coalition of the Radical Left vowed to break.

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In Greece, politics is a family affair

by Maria Petrakis

Politico

July 5, 2019

There may be no better place to understand Greek politics than the region of Achaia. Perched at the top of the Peloponnese peninsula west of Athens, it’s home to the country’s third-largest city — the bustling port city of Patras, famous for its annual Carnival parade, with its colorful costumes and floats.

It’s also the setting of a showdown between Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, the head of the radical-left Syriza party, and the man who will almost certainly become the Greece’s next prime minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, leader of the center-right New Democracy party.

In last month’s European Parliament election, Achaia — a Syriza stronghold — was one of just two constituencies in the country where New Democracy didn’t rake in the most votes. As Greeks return to the polls to elect a new government Sunday, Tsipras and Mitsotakis have both decided to lead their tickets in the region.

The outcome of the contest will determine not just Greece’s direction over the next four years. It will likely see the restoration of one of the country’s most powerful political families — after more than a decade of political and economic turmoil following the onset of the 2008 financial crisis.

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Monday, July 1, 2019

Greek election: Why frustrated young voters are turning conservative

by Jessica Bateman

BBC

July 1, 2019

Like many young Greeks, Tasos Stavridis plans to leave the country once he finishes his degree in political science.

"Our financial crisis has gone on much longer than we expected and we are so exhausted," says the 22-year-old.

His generation has been severely impacted by the country's decade-long financial crisis.

With a youth unemployment rate of almost 40%, between 350,000 and 400,000 graduates have emigrated since 2010.

"Most of my friends plan to leave too. In Greece the salaries are so low, and the economic situation is so bad," Mr Stavridis complains.

As Greeks prepare for a general election on 7 July, he and his peers are not backing a radical, youth-orientated party, such as the current-ruling Syriza which swept to victory in 2015.

In last month's European elections, the majority of 18- to 24-year-old voters (30.5%) backed New Democracy (ND), the traditional centre-right party widely considered partly responsible for the very crisis that still impacts them.

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Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Mitsotakis buoyed by Greeks’ desire for change after Syriza era

by Kerin Hope

Financial Times

June 26, 2019

Not so long ago the staunchly leftwing Athens neighbourhood of Petroupolis would have been hostile territory for Kyriakos Mitsotakis.

But when the leader of the centre-right New Democracy party campaigned in Petroupolis last week, he found enough support to be confident heading into Greece’s July 7 election.

“I’ve decided to take a chance on ND,” said Stamatis, a 28-year-old computer technician, who voted for prime minister Alexis Tsipras and his leftist Syriza party in 2015. “They promised to roll back austerity — but what we got was four more tough years and a slew of tax increases.”

Nektaria, 23, said she “wants to believe” the conservatives can deliver a better standard of living. “My parents don’t share my opinion but I think ND will try harder than Syriza did,” she said, as she pushed her two-year-old daughter in a stroller.

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Monday, June 10, 2019

Greece to hold snap elections after Syriza’s stinging EU defeat

by Kerin Hope

Financial Times

June 10, 2019

Greece is facing a snap general election after prime minister Alexis Tsipras and his ruling Syriza party suffered a heavy defeat in voting for the European Parliament last month.

The vote will be held on July 7, almost four months before the leftwing Syriza government’s term was due to expire. Mr Tsipras tendered his resignation to President Prokopis Pavlopoulos on Monday, saying the country had “entered a prolonged pre-electoral period from the day after the European elections.”

“I believe this could presage risks for the smooth course of the economy . . . endangering the virtuous circle we have entered and the sacrifices the Greek people have made,” he said.

Mr Pavlopoulos approved the premier’s request immediately.

The European Commission warned last week that handouts legislated by the Syriza government ahead of the European vote could derail Greece’s target for a primary budget surplus — before debt servicing costs — of 3.5 per cent of gross domestic product for this year.

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Monday, May 27, 2019

Tsipras pitches Greece into early election after EU poll setback

by Kerin Hope

Financial Times

May 27, 2019

Alexis Tsipras wanted to be the first Greek prime minister in three decades to see out a full term in office — but heavy defeat for his ruling Syriza party in European parliamentary elections has prompted him to throw in the towel and pitch the country into an early poll.

The conservative opposition New Democracy party of Kyriakos Mitsotakis will be the favourite for the election, which is most likely to be held on June 30. New Democracy took 33 per cent of the vote in Sunday’s EU vote, compared with less than 24 per cent for Syriza.

Greek equity and bond prices rose on Monday as investors priced in the likelihood of a more business-friendly government in a country still recovering from a deep economic and social crisis. The benchmark 10-year bond yield dropped 32.6 basis points to 3.036 per cent, the lowest recorded since 2000, according to Bloomberg data.

Mr Tsipras was braced for defeat on Sunday but was taken aback by the scale of his party’s losses. Most opinion polls ahead of the vote had given the conservatives a lead of between 5.5 and 8 percentage points.

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Thursday, May 23, 2019

Who Is Playing Politics With the Port of Piraeus?

by Nikos Konstandaras

New York Times

May 23, 2019

Piraeus, the gritty port city that has provided Athens’s naval and commercial power throughout its tumultuous history, is the theater of a new conflict, one that pits local interests against economic development and a superpower’s global strategy. At least that’s the story that Greece’s dueling politicians are telling.

Greek archaeologists have stalled an investment of more than 612 million euros offered by a Chinese-owned company seeking to revamp and expand Piraeus’s port as part of President Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative. Early last month, Greece’s Central Archaeological Council, an advisory body, proposed declaring everything within the limits of the ancient city of Piraeus — most of which overlaps with the modern-day port and commercial center — an archaeological site. This would give archaeologists greater power to monitor construction projects and determine building designs in order to preserve archaeological finds.

For its part, the Piraeus Port Authority, in which China’s state-owned Cosco Shipping holds a 51 percent stake, fears that a designation as an archaeological site could cause serious delays in its project. The Chinese embassy even got involved following the Council’s proposal, seeking assurances that the port development plans will not be derailed.

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Monday, May 20, 2019

Greek banks play long game on road to recovery

by Kerin Hope

Financial Times

May 20, 2019

When Martin Czurda devised a proposal last year to cut the huge pile of non-performing loans held by Greek banks, he was surprised initially to receive a non-committal response from the country’s finance ministry, given Greece’s push to improve its financial position.

“We put forward the idea of an asset protection scheme based on the GACS [state guarantee] model used in Italy. We thought it could be applied successfully to the Greek situation,” says Czurda, a veteran Austrian banker and chief executive of the Hellenic Financial Stability Fund (HFSF), the body established by Greece’s bailout creditors that manages the Greek state’s stakes in the banks.

“My concern was that the pace of eliminating bad loans was too slow and that unless it could be accelerated, the country would be unable to return to sustainable growth,” says Czurda, whose fund is a minority shareholder in the country’s four systemic banks after taking part in three recapitalisations during the financial crisis.

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Alexis Tsipras: ‘We need more reforms’

by Tony Barber & Kerin Hope

Financial Times

May 20, 2019

Alexis Tsipras wears a relaxed, confident, almost philosophical smile as he contemplates the prospect of Greece’s parliamentary elections, due to be held by October 20 at the latest.

Since early 2016 every opinion poll has placed Syriza, the party he leads, in second place behind the centre-right New Democracy opposition. Many polls have Syriza trailing by 10 percentage points — a gap that implies a clear-cut defeat for the prime minister and his leftist party. But Tsipras, who will turn 45 in July, is nothing if not resilient and forward-looking.

“I’m not thinking about losing the election, I’m thinking about how to win the election,” he says in an interview in the Maximos Mansion, the official seat of Greek prime ministers in Athens.

“There is a saying: if the soldier goes off to battle in order to lose, it’s better not to go to the fight . . . I wasn’t born to be prime minister. I’m not from a political family. I became the youngest prime minister in Greek history, at the age of 40.

“Life is life. In life you have to fight. This is the only thing. But the final decision is the decision of the people — it’s not ours.”

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From entrepreneurs to athletes: Six women to watch in Greece

by Kerin Hope

Financial Times
May 20, 2019

For some of Greece’s most talented women, the financial crisis was a signal to migrate to jobs abroad. Others, though, saw greater opportunities at home. Below are six high-achieving women who are building the future in Greece.


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Businesses in Greece await positive prospects

by Tony Barber

Financial Times

May 20, 2019

Emilios Markou and Alexis Pantazis, two Cypriot businessmen, defied conventional logic in 2013 and launched an online insurance company in Greece amid the turbulence of the eurozone’s sovereign debt and banking sector crises. “At that time the people who invested in Greece were contrarian investors. For us, it was a case of ‘because of the crisis, let’s come here’,” recalls Pantazis.

The success of Hellas Direct, which specialises in car insurance, illustrates that Greece can be a rewarding market for those who invest shrewdly and with an eye to the long term. “After a period of mishandling of the economy at different levels, there’s been more political stability over the past three years. We keep joking: ‘Greece is a re-emerging market’,” says Markou.

The nation’s overall investment picture is mixed. Company executives, investors and government officials speak of an improving domestic business climate and a change for the better in international perceptions of Greece as an investment destination. However, the fragility of Greek banks, the semi-reformed condition of the nation’s cumbersome public administration and the inefficiency of the legal system weigh on investors’ minds.

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Thursday, May 16, 2019

Greek central bank fires warning over risk of missed budget target

by Kerin Hope

Financial Times

May 16, 2019

Greece’s central bank governor has warned that a package of pre-electoral handouts due to take effect next week could derail the country’s budget target agreed with its bailout creditors.

Yannis Stournaras’s warning came as parliament on Wednesday approved hastily prepared measures that the leftwing Syriza government hopes will boost its popularity ahead of EU parliament elections on May 26.

The package of cuts in value added tax and a pension bonus would cost around €1bn, according to the finance ministry.

Speaking to the Financial Times on Thursday, Mr Stournaras said first-quarter budget figures indicated that the primary surplus — which excludes debt service costs — declined by 0.5 per cent of gross domestic product compared with the same period in 2018. He forecast the trend would continue as tax collection slowed ahead of a general election due in October.

“There is no fiscal space for handouts,” Mr Stournaras said. “The government is unlikely to collect taxes at the same pace as last year, while it will have to address this year a large body of further pension claims covering the crisis period.”

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Saturday, May 11, 2019

Greek government wins confidence vote

by Kerin Hope

Financial Times

May 11, 2019

Greece’s minority leftwing Syriza government narrowly won a parliamentary vote of confidence on Friday night after three days of heated debate over economic policy and prime minister Alexis Tsipras’ record during four years in power.

Mr Tsipras called the confidence vote after Kyriakos Mitsotakis, the opposition leader, proposed that MPs should censure the deputy health minister for criticising a disabled psychiatrist running in next week’s elections for the European Parliament with his centre-right New Democracy party.

Syriza captured 153 votes in the 300-member parliament thanks to support from a group of rightwing and independent lawmakers who have backed the government since the collapse in March of its coalition with Independent Greeks (Anel), a small nationalist party.

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Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Athens in Pieces: The Tragedy of Democracy

by Simon Critchley

New York Times

February 27, 2019

Our next location is a mere 100 steps from where I’m writing these essays. I pass it every day on my way to and from the library. It is the Monument of Lysicrates, built around 334 B.C.E., just about the time Aristotle returned to Athens to found his Lyceum. I always pause there, take in the view and watch the many seemingly well-fed and contented cats scattered around the place. If you let your eyes drift up from the monument, your vision is seized by the vast sacred rock of the Acropolis. It is skin-pinchingly sublime.

Indeed, New Yorkers might experience a feeling of déjà vu or double vision with this monument because you can find not one, but two copies of it atop the San Remo apartment building on Central Park West, just north of the Dakota, where John Lennon lived and died. The monument was also widely copied elsewhere.

The original Monument of Lysicrates is composed of a 9.5-foot-square limestone foundation topped with a 13-foot-high cylindrical edifice. There are six Corinthian columns, thought to be the earliest surviving examples of that style, made from marble from Mount Pentelicus, about 15 miles northeast of Athens. These support a sculpture divided into three bands that carry an inscription commemorating Lysicrates — a wealthy patron of the arts of whom little else is known — and a frieze depicting the adventures of the god Dionysus and some pirates whom he transformed into dolphins. The god sits caressing a panther as some satyrs serve him wine, while others, with torches and clubs, drive the pirates into the sea.

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Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Athens in Pieces: In Aristotle’s Garden

by Simon Critchley

New York Times

February 18, 2019

Aristotle had slender calves. His eyes were small. And he spoke with a lisp, which — according to Plutarch — was imitated by some. He wore many rings and had a distinctive, rather exotic style of dress — a kind of ancient bling.

I tried to piece together a picture of him as I arrived with my partner at the site of the Lyceum, Aristotle’s answer to Plato’s Academy, where I had visited the week before.

It is said that Aristotle was a difficult character — somewhat arrogant, thinking he was cleverer than everyone else (quite possibly true) and even criticizing his master of many years, Plato. He was a perhaps a bit of a dyskolos, a grouch, cantankerous, a curmudgeon.

Aristotle was not much loved by the Athenians. This might have been because he was a tricky customer or because he was a metic: a resident alien, an ancient green card holder; Greek, but decidedly not an Athenian citizen. Given his close ties to the Macedonian aristocracy, which was extending and tightening its military and political control across Greece, perhaps the Athenians were right to be suspicious of Aristotle.

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Monday, February 11, 2019

How Greece's PM hopes to solve his election riddle

by Renee Maltezou

Reuters

February 11, 2019

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has been implementing his re-election strategy to the letter over the past six months, steering Greece out of a humiliating bailout and resolving a decades-old dispute with neighboring Macedonia.

So far, it isn’t paying off. With a general election no more than eight months away, his Syriza party is far behind in opinion polls.

That is despite two signature projects since last summer, evidence that the economy is climbing out of years of depression and willingness at last among investors to lend.

Tsipras was elected as a firebrand leftist in 2015 on a promise to reject the austerity required in the bailout.

He later caved in to the lenders’ demands and has reinvented himself as a conformist. Now, after years of austerity many ordinary voters cannot afford to keep the lights on, others are deeply indebted, and almost one in five Greeks is unemployed.

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Thursday, February 7, 2019

New hopes for reopening of famous Greek Orthodox seminary on Turkish island

by Kareem Fahim

Washington Post

February 6, 2019

American presidents, religious freedom advocates, the European Union and Orthodox Christian leaders have for years issued desperate appeals to Turkey’s government to reopen a shuttered Greek Orthodox seminary on an island off Istanbul, but to no avail.

Before it was closed in 1971, the Theological School of Halki stood for more than a century as the primary center of scholarship and clerical training for generations of Greek Orthodox leaders. Now, stripped of its educational role, its classrooms — emptied by arguments over politics, nationalism and minority rights — are kept pristine in the stubborn hope the students will someday return.

The latest attempt to sway the Turkish government has come from Greece’s prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, who called this week for the seminary to be reopened during a two-day visit to Turkey. His cordial meetings with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan — despite a long history of conflict between the two nations and worrying recent flare-ups — has raised hopes among Orthodox leadership and members of Turkey’s ethnic Greek minority that a resolution to the deadlock over the seminary may finally be at hand.

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Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Tsipras seeks to mend Greece’s fractious relations with Turkey

by Ayla Jean Yackley & Kerin Hope

Financial Times

February 6, 2019

Alexis Tsipras became the first Greek prime minister to visit an Orthodox college that Turkey has kept closed for half a century as the two countries’ leaders pledged to do more to resolve several territorial and political disputes.

Mr Tsipras’s visit on Wednesday to the contentious seminary on a wooded Istanbul island was the symbolic high point of a two-day trip to Turkey and the Greek leader encouraged Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan to reopen the facility.

The closure of the Greek Orthodox school is one of multiple irritants between the two countries, whose relations became so bad in the mid-1990s that they were driven to the brink of war.

The two leaders have more recently found reason to mend fences, with Mr Tsipras’s visit to Turkey this week his fourth in as many years. But the obstacles to genuine warm relations are substantial.

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Athens in Pieces: The Stench of the Academy

by Simon Critchley

New York Times

February 6, 2019

The weekend traffic in the center of Athens was awful on the late January day I decided to visit the site of Plato’s Academy. Each of the narrow, slightly dog-legged streets in Plaka, the old city, was completely jammed, because recent angry protests, some of them violent, had forced the closing of roads around Syntagma, or Constitution Square.

Still, pedestrians were out in impressive force, filling the streets, intent on enjoying their Saturday shopping. Athenians take their weekends very seriously. Pantelis, my cabdriver, threaded his way delicately around people suddenly lurching, seemingly semi-oblivious, into the street and the constant chorus of motorcycles appearing out of nowhere and disappearing noisily into the distance.

Once past the clogged junction at Monastiraki Square, we pushed more easily along Ermou Street and headed northwest. We came to an area scattered with warehouses and former factories. The cab stopped by a huddle of abandoned buses. Ahead of us was what looked like an open area of greenery. Pantelis pointed and said, “Akadimia Platonos.” This must be the place, I thought.

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Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Athens in Pieces: The Art of Memory

by Simon Critchley

New York Times

January 30, 2019

There is an ancient tradition relating to the art of memory, which legend says began with the poet Simonides of Ceos (556-468 B.C.E.). Simonides was giving a recitation in the dining hall of the house of Scopas, a Thessalian nobleman, when he was called outside because two strangers wanted to speak to him.

When the poet exited, the strangers were nowhere to be found, and the dining hall suddenly and violently collapsed. Scopas and his guests were crushed to death and disfigured beyond recognition. But Simonides was able to identify each of the corpses by remembering the precise place where they were sitting or lounging before the calamity.

With this association of memory with place, or “topos,” the idea of mnemotechnics, or the art of memory, came into being. In order to recall something, one has to identify a locus either in the interior palace of one’s memory or by constructing an exterior, physical memory theater. Various attempts to build such memory theaters punctuate antiquity. It is a practice picked up again in the Italian Renaissance and continued into the architecture of Elizabethan theater — like Shakespeare’s Globe — and beyond.

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Monday, January 28, 2019

Greece plots return to debt market with new bond issue

by Kerin Hope

Financial Times

January 28, 2019

Greece plans to tap the international bond market for the first time since emerging last August from its third bailout programme, it was announced on Monday.

The country revealed plans to issue a five-year syndicated bond following a sharp fall in yields on the country’s debt. The bullish performance has come after the minority Syriza government ratified a deal to change Macedonia’s name, ending a 28-year dispute with its Balkan neighbour.

Yields on the benchmark 10-year bond declined to a four-month low on Monday, trading at 4.07 per cent. The five-year bond was trading at 2.85 per cent, just above a six-month low of 2.83 per cent last week.

“This issue was hanging in the balance last week while the government was scraping up extra votes to push the Macedonia deal through parliament, but the timing now looks good,” said one analyst in Athens.

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Friday, January 25, 2019

The Greek parliament votes to end the Macedonian dispute

Economist
January 25, 2019

Despite demonstrations and riots, the Greek parliament on January 25th voted to ratify a deal with Macedonia that ends a 27-year-old dispute over its name. “We are one step before a historic event,” said Alexis Tsipras, the embattled Greek prime minister, who has been accused of treachery by the opposition. “Nationalism in the Balkans has led to disasters...I believe the time has come to escape nationalism.” His plea succeeded. The change was approved by 153 of the 300 members of parliament, two more than needed.

The vote means that only technicalities remain before Macedonia formally changes its name to North Macedonia. One step is the formal ratification of a protocol by Greece by which it assents to its northern neighbour joining NATO, though this is not expected to cause any problems. The deal that brought all this about, which was signed in June by the Greek and Macedonian prime ministers, has already seen Greece lift its objection to Macedonia opening negotiations on EU accession. The agreement is a compromise. Macedonia has to change its name to suit Greece but its people will still be known as Macedonians and their language Macedonian, without the addition of the word “North”.

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Thursday, January 24, 2019

How Greece’s Alexis Tsipras went from firebrand to statesman

by Kerin Hope

Financial Times

January 24, 2018

Alexis Tsipras, Nobel laureate? The idea being touted for Greece’s prime minister by some of his senior officials might seem far-fetched. But Mr Tsipras can certainly expect international acclaim if, as expected, Greek MPs ratify a deal to end one of Europe’s longest bilateral disputes.

In a knife-edge vote, Greece is poised to sign off on Thursday on a plan for its neighbour, officially the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, to change its name to “North Macedonia”. Zoran Zaev, the Macedonian premier, has already won his parliament’s approval for the arrangement, which satisfies Athens by dropping an implied claim on the Greek region of the same name. The deal is strongly backed by the EU and Nato, which want to bring Macedonia into the western orbit.

Even if the Nobel committee does not consider Mr Tsipras and his Macedonian counterpart, the 44-year-old Greek prime minister is barely recognisable as the leftwing firebrand who threatened to denounce Greece’s eurozone bailout, ban German politicians from visiting Athens and pull the country out of the euro if its creditors rejected his demands for debt forgiveness.

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Monday, January 21, 2019

Greece seeks to ratify Macedonia deal despite protests

by Kerin Hope

Financial Times

January 21, 2019

Greece’s minority government kicks off its bid to ratify a historic accord with its neighbour, the Former Yugoslavia Republic of Macedonia, on Monday as the two states seek to put one of the Balkans’ longstanding disputes to rest.

Ratification for the deal to rename the country “North Macedonia” would pave the way for Skopje’s accession to the EU and Nato.

Alexis Tsipras, Greece’s prime minister, faces deep opposition over a compromise that many of his compatriots think endangers the territorial and cultural integrity of their own country. But he is expected to scrape together a slim majority on Friday at the end of a mammoth five-day parliamentary debate.

The government, which controls only 146 seats in the 300-member parliament, now appears to have the support of at least six lawmakers from several small parties, including two rebels from Mr Tsipras’s former coalition partner, the rightwing Independent Greeks party, which opposes the agreement with Skopje.

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Sunday, January 20, 2019

Macedonian solution is a positive step for Europe

Financial Times
Editorial
January 20, 2019


A deal to settle a 27-year-old dispute between Greece and Macedonia that comes to the Greek parliament for ratification this week provides a rare achievement to celebrate in the Western Balkans. Macedonia has been stuck in an economic and geopolitical no man’s land since it was carved out of a collapsing Yugoslavia in 1991. Many Greeks suspected a new nation calling itself Macedonia harboured territorial ambitions over parts of the northern Greek region of the same name. Spurred by frequent public protests, Greek politicians have long thwarted Skopje’s ambitions to join Nato and the EU for refusing to drop the name, leaving Macedonia’s 2m people with little prospect of economic improvement and no guarantee of its security.

Macedonia’s nationalist leader for a decade from 2006, Nikola Gruevski, tried to put pressure on Athens by manufacturing a spurious ancient Macedonian heritage for his nation, renaming airports and stations and erecting statues of Alexander the Great and Phillip II of Macedon. This crude exercise in nation-building further infuriated Greeks while helping distract Macedonians’ attention from official corruption and mismanagement.

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Saturday, January 19, 2019

Tsipras’ ANEL Breakup Gambit Didn’t Impress Disbelievers

by Andy Dabilis

National Herald

January 19, 2019

Like many Greeks worn down by more than 8 ½ years of an economic and austerity crisis that has decimated so many lives, Efrossini, a 56-year-old private class English teacher, was less than interested in the breakup of the country’s coalition and what elections this year might bring.

“It doesn’t matter to me anymore because whatever the promises that have come from SYRIZA it has never come true,” she told The National Herald, sounding the kind of apathy that seems to have settled like a shroud over so many who believe their lives won’t get better no matter who wins.

The ruling Radical Left SYRIZA came to power in January, 2015 on the back of anti-austerity promises only to see Prime Minister promptly renege and bring in an ideological enemy, the far-right Independent Greeks (ANEL) to have enough votes to control Parliament.

That blew up when ANEL leader Panos Kammenos stepped down as Defense Minister and took his party out of the government in apparent protest over a deal the anti-nationalist made with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), giving away the name of an ancient Greek province.

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Thursday, January 17, 2019

Tsipras Wins Greece Confidence Vote, Prepares for Next Challenge

by Eleni Chrepa and Sotiris Nikas

Bloomberg

January 17, 2018

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras saw off the latest challenge to his government, winning the fourth confidence vote of his term in office. Now comes the hard part.

After surviving a confidence motion late Wednesday with 151 votes in Greece’s 300-seat chamber, the 44-year-old premier needs to figure out how to ratify a landmark accord with the neighboring Republic of Macedonia, after his coalition partner pulled out of the government in protest over the deal.

While the vote allows Tsipras to extend his stay in power until September, when his term ends, he may find it difficult to legislate with a minority government. He will again need support from 151 lawmakers to approve the so-called Prespes agreement, which ends a decade-long dispute by allowing Greece’s northern neighbor to call itself Republic of North Macedonia.

“This is a Pyrrhic victory for the government,” said Aristides Hatzis, a professor of law and economics at the University of Athens. “The good thing is that before its fall, the government majority will pass the Prespes agreement. It is an agreement which has been justly criticized, has many weaknesses, however, it is a rather decent and fair compromise which will benefit Greece in the long run.”

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Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Can Greece’s Prime Minister Survive the Upcoming Confidence Vote?

by Eleni Chrepa

Bloomberg

January 15, 2019

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, who’s survived multiple elections, a disastrous referendum and previous confidence votes, will put his resilience to the test in a new confidence motion in parliament Wednesday, after his coalition partner withdrew support over a deal with the Republic of Macedonia to resolve a dispute about its name.

1. Will Tsipras survive the confidence vote?

Tsipras needs 151 votes in Greece’s 300-seat chamber to assure his government’s survival. With his Syriza party’s 145 seats, plus four likely votes from rebel members of ex-coalition partner Independent Greeks, one from independent lawmaker Katerina Papakosta and one from Potami lawmaker Spyros Danellis, it looks like Tsipras has the numbers, barely, to keep his administration going.

2. What happens if he loses?

If Tsipras fails to garner enough support, the pressure will be on to call new elections, though a new vote is not triggered automatically in the event of a defeat on a confidence measure. Tsipras maintains that he won’t call a new election before the government passes legislation including protections for homeowners and a higher minimum wage.

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Monday, January 14, 2019

Greece faces €200M fine for failing to stop Chinese fraud network

by Simon Marks

Politico

January 14, 2019

EU anti-fraud investigators are demanding that Greek customs pay more than €200 million for failing to act against a major Chinese fraud network dumping ultra-cheap clothing and footwear in Europe.

An investigation by the EU’s anti-fraud office, OLAF, focused on the Chinese-owned Piraeus port in Athens — part of Beijing's huge Belt and Road infrastructure project. Customs officials there failed to stop a sophisticated network of cross-border criminals fraudulently avoiding import duties and value-added tax on large amounts of footwear and clothing items such as T-shirts and trousers, investigators told POLITICO.

The findings, conveyed to the European Commission at the end of December, are the latest chapter in a campaign by OLAF to crack down on a criminal network that has avoided paying at least €2.5 billion in customs duties alone in six counties since 2015. Financial losses in VAT payments, which would be due to both national budgets and the EU budget, are of an even greater amount, investigators say.

"OLAF can confirm that it has concluded an investigation concerning the fraudulent import of undervalued textiles and shoes into Greece in the period 1 January 2015 to 31 May 2018," OLAF said in a statement when asked about the investigation.

"Based on its findings, OLAF has issued a Financial Recommendation to Greek Customs to recover the sum of €202.3 million in lost customs duties related to the fraudulently under-declared values for such products."

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