Presidential election will not lead to snap elections, Samaras tells ND deputies

Prime Minister Antonis Samaras has told New Democracy MPs that he does not think Greece will go to snap elections early next year over the election of a new president.

Speaking off the record to New Democracy deputies at the Parliament’s cafe following the unveiling of an exhibition commemorating 40 years since the restoration of democracy in 1974, Samaras appeared confident that early elections would not be needed.

“It looks like we are not heading toward elections. It seems we have the 180 [the number of deputies that need to approve the election of the President],” Samaras told ND MPs, according to Kathimerini sources.

Earlier in the day Parliament Speaker Evangelos Meimarakis also noted that the current House was in a position to elect a new president but expressed his concern over the fact that discussion about the vote had been “premature” leading to an “extended pre-election period.”

Greece needs more EU funds for immigration, minister says

Greece needs more funding from the European Union to deal with the increased flow of undocumented immigrants in the eastern Aegean, Public Order Minister Vassilis Kikilias said in an interview with Sunday’s Kathimerini.

According to the minister, there has been an 800 percent increase in the number of irregular migrants reaching Greece via boat from Turkey over the last two years.

He said that Greece was finding it increasingly difficult to deal with this influx and that it would require further funding from the EU, which has recently reduced the budget for its Frontex border agency.

Kikilias said Greece has asked for emergency funding to cover the cost of hosting migrants in reception centers and to create a mobile unit to process asylum applications.

“On the one hand it is our duty to protect our borders, on the other it is also our duty to provide humane holding conditions to migrants, who are, after all, human souls in absolute misery,” he said.

Hardouvelis reminds fellow ministers of tasks before troika return in September

Greek Finance Minister Gikas Hardouvelis has written to fellow cabinet members to remind them of their tasks as the government seeks to complete some 600 action in time for the troika’s return in September.

Representatives of Greece’s lenders are due back in Athens in mid-September to conduct the fifth review of the country’s adjustment program and the government wants to ensure that it is on target for that visit.

Government sources said that Hardouvelis would like to attend the October 13 Eurogroup in Brussels with at least an agreement in principle with the troika to pave the way for debt relief talks to begin.

Greece also has six “prior actions” to complete in August in order to receive another 1 billion euros in bailout funding.

PM presents Greece’s case to German chancellor

Prime Minister Antonis Samaras met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday as part of an effort to convince key leaders ahead of the troika review in September that Greece should be allowed to reduce taxes and increase the payment period for businesses and individuals who owe money to the state.

The two politicians met on the sidelines of a European People’s Party gathering in Brussels and ahead of a European Council dinner. There were no statements after their talks but sources on the Greek side said that Samaras presented Merkel with Greece’s recent fiscal statistics and the figures concerning rising tourist arrivals. They also discussed Greece’s return to international bond markets and the growing investment interest from China.

Greek government sources insisted that there was no attempt by Samaras – nor will there be – to convince the country’s lenders to relax structural adjustment targets. Greece still has some 600 actions to carry out by the fall. Instead, Samaras wants to focus on the coalition’s desire to lower taxes and provide debtors with some breathing space. It is expected that after Wednesday’s talks with Merkel, he will promote this line in meetings with other eurozone leaders too.

The two leaders also discussed appointments to key European Union positions. Greece has yet to name its nominee for a position on the European Commission. Ex-Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis and former Development Minister Costis Hatzidakis remain favorites for the post, although it is not yet known which portfolio will be awarded to Greece.

Negotiations between Greece and Troika will take place in September

The discussions between the Greek government and Troika regarding the main open issues will take place in September.

The government seems to be satisfied from Troika’s “preview visit”, as the government characterized it, since it was short and they did not have time to deal with the issues in details creating, thus, a negative economic and political climate with their requirements.

Greek government insists that the plan made will be followed and the government staff members are working on tax relief measures and populist measures in collaboration with the Ministry of Finance.

Among the measures that the government considers are reducing the heating oil price, reducing emergency levy in 2015, reducing the cost of production for farmers, reducing VAT for selected sectors.

The government pledged to present equivalent measures to meet the financial burden that has come up due to the court decisions concerning the wages restoration of some employees groups. There are still some open issues, though, such as employment relations.

The government hopes that the package of measures that will be presented will reduce the political cost and control the internal political developments in autumn concerning also the presidential election and the early elections.

The Prime Minister, though, assured that his plan has not changed and that he will call for elections if the opposition cause early elections and in case the government’s term of office has come to an end.

Mr. Antonis Samaras will visit Brussels in order to meet the European leaders and discuss the state of economic affairs in Greece as well as to prepare the ground for the package of tax relief measures and the negotiation of debt relief.

Troika sees light at the end of the tunnel

Greece’s international creditors couldn’t help but be impressed by the primary surplus of the state budget worth 712 million euros that was recorded for the first six months of 2014. With the result exceeding the target by 251 million euros, it is possible that an agreement for tax cuts and a lightening of austerity measures may be reached in September.

A government source says that the government’s plan foresees:

* “Lump sum” tax reductions from October, such as in heating oil

* A first “packet” of reductions from January 1, 2015, that will incorporate the new state budget.

* The presentation or legislation of a binding time schedule for further tax reductions, possibly over a three-year period.

A source in the Ministry of Finance says that international creditors’ envoys appear interested in ending negotiations by September so that a discussion on the alleviation of Greece’s debt burden can follow.

The meeting between Finance Minister Gikas Hardouvelis and troika chiefs yesterday focused on Greece’s lagging efforts to privatize state assets with international creditors giving Greece the “yellow card” for these delays. They understand that the situation hasn’t helped attract investment capital but they believe that this could change in the fall as efforts are intensified.

Finance Minister Gikas Hardouvelis gave a presentation of the consequences of privatizations on the reduction of debt (from revenue) and the increase of the GDP (from investments) over the coming months and years.

Greek PM, Chinese leader discuss energy

Energy-sector matters were included on the agenda during a meeting between Greece’s Prime Minister, Mr. Antonis Samaras, and the Chinese president Xi Jinping on the Greek island of Rhodes.

The two leaders, who were joined by Greek ministers, discussed numerous subjects, including energy, infrastructure, and tourism.

Mr. Samaras underlined what he described as being a deep friendship between the two nations, while noting that, geopolitically, Greece stood as a pillar of stability in a wider region of heightened political instability.

“I firmly believe that our strategic partnership will continue to expand as your country’s presence on the international map continues to grow,” the Greek Prime Minister told the Chinese president.

Mr. Samaras also expressed “deep appreciation towards China”, explaining that the country’s leadership had displayed friendship, responsibility, and support for Greece’s effort to overcome its economic crisis.

The Greek Prime Minister also spoke about the prospects offered by Greece’s geographical location, which, he noted, enabled the provision of services for the support, maintenance and repair work of China’s naval fleet in the wider area. Mr. Samaras mentioned the Greek island of Crete as a base that was fully equipped to handle the refuelling, maintenance and service needs of China’s fleet. Mr. Samaras  also said the two countries could undertake joint naval patrol missions.

Commenting on his country’s partnership with Greece, the Chinese president noted: “China places great importance on its partnership with Greece. We want to pursue common efforts with Greece and establish a new era for our bilateral ties with regards to overall Chinese-Greek strategic partnerships.”

Mr. Xi Jinping also described Greece as being China’s closest European ally. “China and Greece share a natural friendship and, naturally, very close feelings. We can say that, for China, Greece is the friendliest and most reliable country in Europe.”

PM attacks SYRIZA over its PPC position

Greece’s Prime Minister unleashed scathing remarks against the main opposition party, leftist SYRIZA, for its position on the 30% part-privatization plan of the public power corporation, PPC, while delivering a speech at an Economist conference in Athens this week. The Prime Minister, Mr. Antonis Samaras, said the leftist party’s view on the matter converged with that of the neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn.

“Now, as Greece is seeking to gain lost ground in this domain, too, certain parties are attempting to prevent it from happening, obstruct it, stall it. And they’re not even hesitating to use even the Golden Dawn MPs,” Mr. Samaras remarked. “Everybody,  marvel at the so-called progressive democrats, hand-in-hand with Golden Dawn,” he continued.

The Prime Minister also elaborated on his coalition’s part-privatization plan of PPC, following preceding comments on the matter, at the same conference, by SYRIZA’s leader, Mr. Alexis Tsipras.

“Greece, just like every member state of the European Union, is obliged to liberalize its energy market. All countries are doing it, and all are benefiting as a result,” noted Mr. Samaras. “Not all are going about it the same way, or at the same speed. But all countries agree that it needs to be done, and each decides on the method that suits it best. So that they can abolish state monopolies…”, he continued.

Brussels pressuring Socar to forsake 17% of DESFA

Russian National Energy Security Fund head Konstantin Simonov’s disapproval of the acquisition of DESFA, Greece’s Natural Gas Transmission System Operator, by Azerbaijani state-run firm Socar, a deal which he described as a breach of European law while speaking at an Economist conference in Athens earlier this week, cannot be overlooked as merely a general remark that lacks purpose.

Russian officials are closely monitoring the deal’s progress, as, from their vantage point, it essentially provides an early indication of the European Union’s position on the acquisition of EU energy-sector firms and infrastructure by non-EU members. Despite optimistic remarks on the deal’s progress by Mr. Ben Van Houtte, legal adviser of the Directorate General for Energy at the European Commission, at an Athens energy-sector conference last week, the European Commission is continuing to provide further obstacles to the deal’s finalization.

According to information that has not been refuted, Brussels wants Socar to forsake  17% of DESFA, which would decrease the Azerbaijani firm’s stake in DESFA to less than 50%.  After reportedly consulting its own legal advisers, Socar has responded by stating that it does not intend to take such action, meaning that Greece’s only successful energy-sector privatization deal, to date, currently finds itself in jeopardy.

Sources have noted that the Commission’s demand is based on its reading of market regulations concerning the supply of natural gas, as well as an EU directive that regulates the natural gas market. It demands an “assessment of the network’s independence as well as the degree of energy supply dependence by the EU and various member states on non-EU countries.”


Troika envoys delve into talks with ministers’ on reforms

Following a first day of talks between Greece’s new finance minister Gikas Hardouvelis and troika envoys on Thursday, the foreign inspectors were to meet on Friday with several other ministers for briefings on the progress of a series of economic reforms pledged by Athens in return for continued rescue loans.

The first meeting of the day began at 10 a.m. and was at the office of Labor Minister Yiannis Vroutsis where issues of labor market and pension reform were expected to dominate the agenda. The envoys were scheduled to meet subsequently with Health Minister Makis Voridis and Development Minister Nikos Dendias for updates on their sectors.

Representatives of the European Commission and the European Central Bank were to be joined on Friday by the envoy from the International Monetary Fund, Poul Thomsen, who had been held up in Ukraine. The troika mission chiefs are scheduled to leave Athens next Thursday.

According to sources, troika officials expressed dissatisfaction during Thursday’s initial talks with Hardouvelis over repeated pledges by Greek government officials for tax breaks and the possible renegotiation of levies imposed as part of the country’s two loan programs such as the special solidarity tax.

On the other hand, the inspectors were said to be satisfied with overall progress in implementing a second set of six prior actions, particularly the approval of the partial sell-off of the Public Power Corporation in Parliament earlier this week. They were also impressed that Greece managed to sell three-year bonds on Thursday despite adverse market conditions, sources said.

Simonov: DESFA sale to Socar breaches European law

The sale of DESFA, Greece’s Natural Gas Transmission System Operator, to Azerbaijani firm Socar, breaches European law, the Russian managing director of National Energy Security Fund, Mr. Konstantin Simonov, supported during a speech at an Economist conference in Athens yesterday.

“The decision by Greece to sell DESFA to Socar breaches the energy-sector package,” Mr. Simonov remarked. “This, however, is something that Brussels is not responding to with clarity.”

Referring to the ongoing crisis in Ukraine, Mr. Simonov noted: “We will face a new natural gas crisis in the winter, and Russia will not be responsible.”

According to Mr. Simonov, Russian was prepared to offer discounts, but the Ukrainians refused. “Ukraine will have a serious problem next winter, so what are they going to do? [Ukraine] will need to take transit orders destined for other European countries, so we will have a new crisis,” he noted.

Commenting on South Stream – a planned pipeline to transport Russian natural gas through the Black Sea to Bulgaria, Serbia, Hungary, Slovenia, and Austria – the Russian official noted that the project did not intend to bolster Russia’s monopoly, and, by extension, the country’s geopolitical power. Instead, he noted, the project represented a wider plan aimed at securing gas supply to the European Union.


Democratic Left loses second MP in a day, bringing party to 11 deputies

Democratic Left (DIMAR), a former partner in the Greek government coalition that departed last year after a rift over the closure of state broadcaster ERT, lost a second MP in one day on Thursday after party chief Fotis Kouvelis ousted Grigoris Psarianos.

In a tersely worded letter addressed to the Parliamentary Speaker, Kouvelis said that the MP for Athens’s Second Constituency “has completely broken away from the coordinated functions and directions of DIMAR’s parliamentary group.”

Kouvelis ordered the deputy’s ouster after the latter failed to back the party’s proposal for a Parliamentary debate on a referendum regarding the part-privatization of Public Power Corporation (PPC).

“DIMAR has exhausted all limits for his remainder in the Parliamentary group, despite his blatant contempt for a long period of time toward collective decisions,” Kouvelis wrote.

Earlier on Thursday, the party’s MP for Thessaloniki’s Second Constituency, Katerina Markou, tendered her resignation in a letter accusing the party of being “old-fashioned, insular and plodding.”

Markou had also failed to back the party’s proposal over the PPC referendum.

The departure of the two MPs means DIMAR now has 11 deputies in the 300-seat House.

Both the deputies are rumored to be gravitating toward recently founded party To Potami (The River).

Kouvelis bids for unifying role in Greek center-left

Democratic Left (DIMAR) leader Fotis Kouvelis wrote on Tuesday to several political leaders, including PASOK’s Evangelos Venizelos and SYRIZA’s Alexis Tsipras, in a bid to create common ground between center-left parties.

Kouvelis, whose party is in a state of disarray after polling at just 1.2 percent in May’s European elections, sent two letters. One was destined for Tsipras, while the other was addressed jointly to Venizelos and four other politicians: To Potami leader Stavros Theodorakis, Education Minister Andreas Loverdos, who also heads Pact for a New Greece, former PASOK minister Louka Katseli and the leadership of the Ecologist Greens. Kouvelis also wrote to a number of independent lawmakers.

Kouvelis called for “alliances with deeply political content” that would help take Greece in a more progressive direction. “The country needs an alternative plan to exit the crisis that will secure its European course,” the DIMAR leader said in his notes.

He set out 12 policy points on which all the parties should agree. These include committing to a future in the euro area, restructuring Greek debt so it becomes sustainable, reforming the tax system, rolling out programs to tackle unemployment, restoring labor rights and decoupling public sector reform from across-the-board sackings.

Venizelos, who headed the three-party Olive Tree alliance in the European elections, is expected to give his response on Wednesday.

Cyprus leader plays down row between Venizelos, Cypriot MEP

Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades on Monday sought to play down a recent row between Greek Foreign Minister Evangelos Venizelos and Cypriot MEP Eleni Theocharous amid reports that he plans to visit Athens for talks with the Greek premier in late July.

The controversy was sparked by a document submitted by Turkey in June 23 – during Greece’s EU Presidency – that described the Republic of Cyprus as a “defunct” state. Theocharous, of the center-right DISY party, urged Venizelos to resign after failing to react to Ankara’s gesture, with the Greek minister slamming her reaction as “irresponsible petty politicking” and “personal demagoguery for the sake of short-lived publicity.”

“I would like to clarify once and for all that the incidents of the last few hours, which have created the false impression of a possible rift between the Greek and Cypriot governments, that our relations are beyond excellent and that our communication with both Prime Minister [Antonis] Samaras and Foreign Minister Venizelos is daily and in full cooperation,” Anastasiades said on Monday. The exact date of his visit was not made known.

Theodorakis confirmed as To Potami leader at founding congress

Journalist Stavros Theodorakis was confirmed as leader of To Potami on Sunday as the centrist party concluded its founding congress in Lavrio, southeast of Athens.

Theodorakis, who ran unopposed, will not be called party president as To Potami has decided to avoid such titles. The journalist founded the party earlier this year, leading it to 6.6 percent of the vote in the European Parliament elections on May 25. A ballot was not held on Sunday as nobody chose to challenge him for the leadership.

“To Potami has a big pool of supporters to draw from,” Theodorakis told party delegates, claiming that opinion polls show that a much larger proportion of the Greek public than 6.6 percent sees the party in a positive light.

Of 486 delegates, 86 were elected to the party’s national committee. These include the two MEPs To Potami elected in May.

EU presidency ‘paved way’ for Greece to exit crisis

Taking stock of Greece’s six-month European Union presidency on the day before Italy takes over, Foreign Minister Evangelos Venizelos on Monday called it “successful,” noting it had paved the way for the country to finally emerge from a protracted financial crisis.

Venizelos, who is also deputy prime minister and leads junior partner PASOK in the coalition, noted that Athens had scored several significant achievements over the past six months, not least the reporting of a primary surplus which the country’s international creditors had set as a precondition for the launch of much-desired talks on debt relief. The achievement of the surplus was confirmed by the European Commission in April “with all that that signifies for the completion of fiscal adjustment and the process toward exiting the crisis,” Venizelos told a press conference. The country’s success in hosting an “organized, effective, professional and ultimately successful” presidency highlights “a different Greece, a Greece of normality, of stability,” he said.

Venizelos again ruled out the prospect of snap general elections, scheduled for 2016. He did not respond directly to reporters’ questions about a possible cooperation between PASOK and the main leftist opposition SYRIZA, which opposes the terms of the country’s international loan programs. He did observe, however, that Greece “has entered an era of parliamentary cooperations,” noting that PASOK had expressed its backing for such alliances as early as 2012.

As regards the cost of the Greek presidency, Venizelos said Athens kept expenses to a minimum. Of the 50-million-euro budget, 19 million was spent, meaning the remaining 31 million will be returned to the Finance Ministry.

Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, who is on Tuesday to attend a ceremony in Luxembourg marking Greece’s completion of its EU presidency, made a similar speech later yesterday. “Greece proved everyone wrong by achieving fiscal streamlining and stabilizing the country’s position in the euro,” he said. Last week, the premier described the country’s approach to the EU presidency as “result-oriented,” noting that 67 pieces of legislation were drawn up. Samaras is to meet with Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi in Rome this month and it is thought the two men will discuss promoting issues of joint concern such as maritime and immigration policies.

Samaras: Greece proved naysayers wrong

Greece and Europe proved wrong all those who bet on their failure and dissolution, Prime Minister Antonis Samaras said in his brief review of the Greek EU Presidency, during the closing ceremonies held at Zappio Hall on Monday night.

According to AMNA, Greece proved them all wrong, achieved a fiscal clean-up, stabilised the country΄s position, implemented reforms, accessed the markets again and is now exiting the long-term recession, he stressed.

In his review, the premier said that the presidency strengthened the Economic and Monetary Union integration and gave priority to the banking integration so the inherent weaknesses of the euro could be dealt with; economic stagnation was fought; and, most importantly, the Greek EU Presidency made growth and job opportunities the main political issue Europe is facing at present.

Greece, which only used 40% of the available funds for the Presidency, promoted the protection of European borders, he said, and the management of migration flows, with a humane approach. Guidelines for the legislative and business planning in justice and internal affairs were set – the Presidency΄s major achievement, he noted – while migration has now become an inseparable part of the EU΄s foreign policy.

Among other achievements, the premier mentioned actions in maritime policy, especially as Greece holds an important position in global shipping and also has the longest shoreline in the EU, which are also the EU΄s external sea borders.

Concerning an agreement among EU members to establish means of securing the external, maritime borders of the EU, which Greece worked on, Samaras said, “We will stand by the next, Italian Presidency, which will assume the drafting of an action plan, and this is something I will note in Strasbourg on Wednesday, at the closing ceremony there of the Greek EU Presidency.”

The prime minister concluded, “The Greek EU Presidency coincided with the European Parliament elections. European citizens did not vote against the European Union, but requested more and better Union. They turned down the Europe of statistics, impersonal bureaucratic automation and one-sided economics, demanding a Europe that is at the same time visionary and realistic.”

OLME unionists protest outside Education Ministry

Members of the secondary school teachers’ union (OLME) were on Monday holding a protest outside the Education Ministry in the northern Athens suburb of Maroussi against a so-called mobility scheme of forced transfers and layoffs.

A delegation was expected to meet with newly-appointed Education Minister Andreas Loverdos to discuss the issue later in the day.

Loverdos, a socialist, has previously called for the rehiring of a large number of public sector workers who have been put in the scheme.

Tsipras seeks alliance to fight austerity

The leader of the main opposition SYRIZA party, Alexis Tsipras, appealed over the weekend to other leftist forces and independents opposed to the government’s austerity program to cooperate.

Addressing a session of his party’s central committee on Saturday, Tsipras proposed the creation of a coalition of parties “with a clear direction, radical characteristics, clear commitments and a realistic alternative plan.” He reached out to the Communist Party and the Ecologist Greens and said his party was “observing developments” at Democratic Left (DIMAR), the former junior coalition partner which was plunged into crisis after a disastrous showing in last month’s European Parliament elections.

He also made overtures to independent MPs and groups who oppose austerity. “We’re not asking for certificates of ideology and political purity,” he said.

Reacting, government spokesperson Sofia Voultepsi said Tsipras should resolve the rifts in his party before seeking to govern.

Meanwhile, DIMAR leader Fotis Kouvelis, whose party’s central committee also convened over the weekend, highlighted the need for “progressive alliances” with both the left and center-left.