Tuesday, January 15, 2019

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

by Eleni Chrepa


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.


Monday, January 14, 2019

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

by Simon Marks


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."


Sunday, January 13, 2019

Greece's Tsipras on the Brink as Confidence Vote Looms This Week

by Eleni Chrepa & Sotiris Nikas


January 13, 2019

Greece’s government unraveled, prompting Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras to call a confidence vote that could trigger an early election and end the leftist leader’s four years in power.

In the euro area’s latest sign of political instability, Defense Minister Panos Kammenos withdrew his party from the governing coalition on Sunday over a name dispute with neighboring Macedonia. Lawmakers in Athens tentatively planned to hold the confidence vote on Wednesday, months before regular elections are due in September.

“An early election is good news for investors,” said Wolfango Piccoli, co-president of London-based consultants Teneo Intelligence. “The country has been in a election campaign mode for weeks, and the sooner the elections take place the better.”

The survival of Tsipras, who led Greece through high-drama moments of Greece’s bailouts and forged an unlikely bond with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, may depend on whether Kammenos’s Independent Greeks lawmakers stay united against him. Tsipras, 44, may also seek support from other parties and independent lawmakers to avoid an early vote.


Greece PM faces confidence vote after coalition partner quits

by Kerin Hope

Financial Times

January 13, 2019

Alexis Tsipras, the Greek prime minister, faces a confidence vote in parliament next week after the ruling Syriza party’s coalition partner announced it was pulling out of the government.

The move by Independent Greeks (Anel), a small rightwing nationalist party, had been expected since Panos Kammenos, the defence minister and Anel leader, declared his opposition to Greece’s naming deal with neighbouring Macedonia.

Mr Kammenos’s decision to leave the four-year-old coalition came after the Skopje parliament voted on Friday to approve constitutional changes renaming the country North Macedonia and opening the way for it to begin talks this year on joining Nato and the EU. The deal has still to be ratified by the Greek parliament.

“The issue of Macedonia is such that I can’t avoid stepping down from my cabinet post,” Mr Kammenos said after meeting with Mr Tsipras at the premier’s office on Sunday.


Thursday, January 10, 2019

Greece’s Great Hemorrhaging

by Nikos Konstandaras

New York Times

January 10, 2019

Greece’s government, a coalition of a radical left-wing movement and a nationalist right-wing party in power since 2015, celebrated the end of the country’s third bailout agreement last August as a “return to normalcy.” Our European Union partners and creditors, who disbursed 288.7 billion euros in loans over the previous years, also rushed to declare victory in the crisis that began in 2010.

Everyone wants to see an end to the Greek crisis — not least the Greek people, who have been exhausted by the long and deep recession, by the continued austerity and reforms whose benefits they have not seen.

But Greece is a long way from “normalcy.” Much has been done to make the economy viable, but the country needs an explosion of confidence and business activity: Recovery would take major new investments, political stability and further reforms to the public administration. But not only is the public debt greater than it was in 2009; citizens’ incomes have been slashed, their assets devalued, their property lost, their debts multiplied.

National elections must be held by the fall. Polls show the center-right opposition New Democracy party leading Syriza, the ruling coalition’s senior partner, in a contest that is already worsening the polarization of our politics. The government, which was always halfhearted about austerity and reforms, promises handouts; the opposition vows to overturn policies and decisions with which it disagrees.


Thursday, January 3, 2019

The EU and Euro Keep Defying the Doomsayers

by Alan Crawford


January 3, 2019

The Hotel Grande Bretagne is an Athens institution. The opulent 19th century mansion on Syntagma Square has been the backdrop to key episodes in modern European history: The first International Olympic Committee convened here in 1896; Adolf Hitler and Field Marshal Erwin Rommel bunked here after the Nazis seized the hotel in 1941 at the start of the wartime occupation. More recently, it was witness to the most existential threat yet to Europe’s experiment in unification.

The debt crisis that emerged in Greece in late 2009 and rippled through the euro region played out on the hotel’s doorstep. Rioters protesting successive waves of austerity measures—and the international auditors who imposed them—smashed the hotel’s marble steps, hurling fist-size lumps at police guarding the adjacent Greek Parliament. The shock of percussion grenades and the bitter taste of tear gas underscored divisions within the 28-member European Union and the failings of the euro, the signature project intended to bind the bloc more closely together.

Of course, the doomsayers were proved wrong. The single European currency survives to mark its 20th year in 2019, and predictions of the EU’s demise have gone unfulfilled. But lately the pessimists have resurfaced. They point to the U.K.’s imminent departure from the EU, the populist Italian government’s attacks on Brussels, and the spread of nationalism in the bloc’s east as evidence that the European project is again in mortal danger. With Germany’s Angela Merkel in the final years of a chancellorship that began in 2005 and France reeling from popular protests against President Emmanuel Macron, the EU’s center looks more vulnerable than ever to forces tearing at its fabric.