With German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s visit now a memory, Greek labor unions have called a general strike for the day the coalition government has been ordered to hand in its cuts. We’ve got the press spinning contrarian tales, Specuial Froces protesters, the 89 Troika demands, Russophobic worries, more meetings with the Men in Black, a Greek version of Roshomon, a day in court for busted protesters, and the emigration of a venerable Greek company.
General strike called for deadline day
The Europols have set an 18 October deadline for Greece to hand in their homework, that full list of Troika-sanctioned cuts needed to get the next tranche of bailout cash, and Greek unions will be marking the day with a general strike.
The country’s two main labor unions on Tuesday called a 24-hour general strike for October 18 to protest the enforcement of an austerity package currently being negotiated between government and troika officials.
The strike has been called to coincide with the first day of a European Union summit next week at which Greece hopes to present a finalized package of 13.5 billion euros in austerity measures in order to clinch a 31.5-billion-euro rescue loan.
Two days before the strike, on October 16, unionists are scheduled to meet with President Karolos Papoulias.
A pressing issue: Media spinning Merkel
Seems the German papers covered their chancellor’s Greek visit much differently than their Hellenic counterparts.
From Stephen Brown of Reuters:
German newspapers attacked “ungrateful” Greeks for the hostile public reception they gave Angela Merkel in Athens and some criticized the chancellor’s generosity for promising they would stay in the euro zone – a message welcomed in Greece.
Pictures of a small group of Greek anti-austerity demonstrators dressed as Nazis, including one with a Hitler moustache waving a swastika, dominated German coverage of Merkel’s first visit to Athens since the sovereign debt crisis began three years ago.
“Germany does not deserve this!” protested the biggest selling Bild tabloid on its front page.
In stark contrast to the German reaction, Greek newspapers hailed the visit as a show of support for the sacrifices of the Greek people and the reform efforts.
“With her trip to Athens yesterday Angela Merkel put an end to 2-1/2 years of Greek isolation,” wrote centre-left daily Ta Nea in a front page editorial with the headline: “She came… she saw… she promised.”
Ah, yes. The press, spinning.
Special Forces Reserve protested Merkel visit
An astounding display against what one Greek SEAL called the invasion of Greece by the Fourth Reich.
From Athens News:
The Iron Chancellor and the 89 demands
Some more details are emerging about just what went down between Angela Merkel and Prime Minister Antonis Samaras during Tuesday’s sit-down.
From Maria Petrakis and Brian Parkin of Bloomberg:
The German leader kept up pressure on Samaras to maintain the austerity required in exchange for a rescue worth 240 billion euros. In exchange, she repeated her desire to keep the country in the euro. They met as more than 25,000 rallied outside Parliament to protest against the German-led budget cuts that have deepened a recession heading into its sixth year.
“I want Greece to remain in the euro,” Merkel told reporters yesterday during her six-hour visit. “A lot has been done, much remains to be done.”
Hours earlier, finance ministers meeting in Luxembourg paired their encouragement with a demand that Greece commit to a list of 89 policy steps before an Oct. 18-19 leaders’ summit. A deal with the troika on the new package of cuts is needed to unlock a 31 billion-euro aid installment. Greece may ask for the 5 billion euros due from September to be added to the payment, Naftemporiki newspaper reported today, citing comments from Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras.
European Union economy chief Olli Rehn said policy makers intended to clear the release in the coming weeks.
Deep Politics: Merkel’s secret reason for easing up?
Speculation from Ambrose Evans-Pritchard of the London Telegraph:
Christian Schulz, from the German bank Berenberg, said Mrs Merkel has come under heavy pressure from the US and NATO allies to prevent a strategic debacle in the Eastern Mediterranean. “There is a geopolitical story behind this. The Samaras coalition is seen as the last chance for a stable, pro-European government. If they let Greece go into default and leave the euro, the next government will either be extreme Right-wing or Left-wing. You could have a situation where Greece starts offering naval bases to Russia, or the risk of further instability in Syria, Egypt, and Turkey. President Obama has been in close touch with Merkel over this,” he said.
The International Institute for Strategic Studies has warned that chaos in Greece would spill over into the Balkans and the Near East, opening the way for a rearmed Russia to gain a foothold.
Mr Schulz said the Kanzleramt in Berlin is in any case wary of disturbing the fragile calm achieved in the eurozone since the European Central Bank promised unlimited bond purchases to hold EMU together. “It has been a learning process for the German government but they are aware that contagion can still spread via bank runs even with a bigger firewall. They don’t want to risk it.”
The Coalition Meets Troikarchs, Act MCMXXXVIII
Yep, no sooner had the Iron Chancellor decamped with her green jacket that the Men in Black were back at the “bargaining” table, dictating away.
From Christine Pirovolakis of Deutsche Presse-Agentur:
Greece‘s finance minister commenced a new round of austerity negotiations with the country‘s creditors on Wednesday, hours after Germany‘s chancellor praised Athens for picking up the pace of reforms.
Negotiations between the Greek government and the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), collectively known as the troika, are focusing on a series of highly unpopular cuts totaling 13.5-billion-euros (17.4-billion-dollars).
Athens must meet the demands of the troika if it hopes to receive the next tranche of 31.5-billion-euros in bailout funding by November.
The Greek daily newspaper Kathimerini reported that Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras is also seeking the release of an extra 5-billion-euros which were part of a tranche due in September, but which has not been given.
Among the more than 89 issues on the negotiating table include the reinforcement of a tax collection system, the liberalization of closed professions, the opening of the Greek energy sector, the establishment of a public procurement system as well as labour issues.
Rashomon, the Greek version
Two Greeks, one a former money minister and the other the country’s man in the IMF, provided starkly different account of just how the country wound up with its 2010 bailout.
It’s a curious tale, told by two key participants, each seeking to blame the other.
From Tom Ellis of Ekathemerini:
Greece’s ex-Finance Minister Giorgos Papaconstantinou and the country’s former representative at the International Monetary Fund, Panayiotis Roumeliotis, give diametrically opposite views on how Athens’s signing up to the EU-IMF bailout mechanism in May 2010 was handled.
Speaking to Sunday’s Kathimerini, Roumeliotis, who served at the IMF as alternate executive director under Dominique Strauss-Kahn, said that both he and the IMF chief had pushed the government in Athens at the time to bring up the issue of a restructuring of privately held Greek debt, believing that the fiscal adjustment program designed for Greece would be difficult, if not impossible, to implement without a significant write-down.
Roumeliotis argues that close aides to then-Prime Minister George Papandreou reacted negatively to the proposal, adding that a recent report by the IMF acknowledges that internal devaluation is very difficult for a country with a high public debt to achieve.
For his part, Papaconstantinou, who was the country’s finance chief during that crucial period, says that Greece’s eurozone partners and the European Central Bank would never have consented to restructuring the debt of a country with a primary deficit of 24 billion euros, arguing that such a move would have triggered panic in the banking sector and led to an immediate default and an economic and social meltdown.
As far as the IMF’s involvement in the Greek rescue is concerned, Papaconstantinou says that Athens applied not to the Fund, but to the European stabilization mechanism after being shut out from borrowing on international markets.
Arrested protesters get their day in court
Two dozen people were busted on an assortment of charges, including an American streaker.
A total of 24 Greeks arrested during Tuesday’s anti-austerity rally in central Athens faced a prosecutor on Wednesday on a string of charges including disturbing the peace, resisting arrest, causing grievous bodily harm and illegal weapons’ possesion.
A 56-year-old American national who paraded naked in front of Parliament after yesterday’s rally was cleared of charges of lewd behavior but received a four-month suspended jail term for being in the country illegally.
The man, a New Yorker who had been residing in northern Athens, reportedly claimed to have been suffering from psychological problems.
A second man who ran naked through Syntagma Square appears to have eluded arrest.
Greek dairy giant emigrates
A family-owned Athens-born firm that dominates the country’s milk and milk products trade is heading North.
We presume the threat of new taxes and other austerian measures may have played a role, though the official version is that the move is a natural for an increasingly globalizing company.
From Anastasios Papapostolou of Greek Reporter:
Dairy giant FAGE announced that is transferring its headquarters to Luxembourg from Greece. The move is considered a step for the company to reduce its exposure to the Greek financial crisis. Luxembourg also offers a favorable tax environment and better access to bank funding.
The newly formed Luxembourg corporation is the parent company for all of the Group’s operations and it will be controlled by Messrs. Ioannis and Kyriakos Filippou.
FAGE’s operations in Greece are held though its Greek subsidiary, FAGE Dairy Industry S.A. (the Group’s former parent company).
The FAGE Group began its business in 1926 with the establishment of the first dairy shop in Athens by the family of Mr. Athanassios Filippou, the grandfather of today’s Chief Executive Officer and Chairman. Following the restructuring, the Group remains 100% owned and strategically led by members of the Filippou family.