NEWS ARCHIVE - FEBRUARY 2013
Greece and the economic crisis
February 28, 2013
"Greece is facing a serious shortage of medicines amid claims that pharmaceutical multinationals have halted shipments to the country because of the economic crisis and concerns that the drugs will be exported by middlemen because prices are higher in other European countries.
Hundreds of drugs are in short supply and the situation is getting worse, according to the Greek drug regulator. The government has drawn up a list of more than 50 pharmaceutical companies it accuses of halting or planning to halt supplies because of low prices in the country."
"The European Court of Justice ruled Thursday that the European Commission was right to ask Greece to recover 310 million euros ($405.6 million) in state aid it had provided to a shipyard, now owned by German defence company ThyssenKrup AG."
"Greece hopes that by mid-2013 a seismic survey will help determine its offshore natural gas deposits, estimated to be large enough to generate $600 billion in government royalties over 25 years. "
"The Greek government has pledged to revise blanket cuts in funding for sport and allocate an extra $14.38 million to stop some beleaguered federations from closing down.
Rowing was one of the sports that would benefit, officials said. Last month, world championship silver medallists Nikos and Apostolos Gountoulas quit the sport, complaining that elite athletes could no longer afford to compete for Greece because of funding cuts.
The budget for Olympic sports federations has been slashed by 50 percent year on year since 2010, while cuts of between 60 and 80 percent were due to be put into effect for 2013 under the country's austerity measures."
February 27, 2013
"The troika mission has returned to Greece, but this time things are different.
...Athens is going on the offensive this time, presenting its own list of demands. The Greek government is determined to push lenders to agree on a list of concessions it hopes will help to alleviate the crisis. They include a lower VAT, or sales tax, for restaurants, the allocation of EU funds to combat unemployment and a new law aimed at making life easier for indebted households.
The Der Spiegel article lists the measures Greece is under obligation to take and has yet to deliver, such as:
Privatization: With a target of €25 billion in monies from sales for 2020, but with only €2 billion sold so far, and a target of €2.5 billion by the end of 2013, Der Spiegel is very pessimistic. They also ask why Athens is selling off the OPAP gambling enterprise, which is one of the few the state owned companies which turns a profit.
The sale of the Greek natural gas company DEPA (and subsidiary DESFA) is mired in competition and European fears about Russian expansionism in energy, since Russian company Gazprom wants a chance to buy DEPA.
Most significant is the cutting of public sector jobs, and this is the area with the most potential for creating heightened civil turmoil on the streets of Athens:
"Nor is much progress being made in the matter of slimming down the public sector. Under the provisions of the bailout program, the public sector is to shrink by 25,000 employees by the end of the year, half of them by June. So far, only 2,000 employees have been put on reserve (meaning they will receive 75 percent of their income for a year and are to be dismissed if they aren't moved to another post within the public sector by the end of a 12-month period). Courts have frequently been overturning decisions made under this provision and the latest data shows that more than half of those employees put on reserve have already returned to their old posts. Greek media reports indicate that of the 500 municipal workers put on reserve, a full 300 have won their jobs back by court order or interim measures."
"For the entire two-month period covering December 2012 and January 2013 the average pollution level recorded in Athens was above the 50mg/m3 limit, when this limit should only be exceeded by a maximum of 35 days a year.
Alexandros Papayiannis, a professor at the National Technical University of Athens (NTUA), noted that pollution in Attica over the past few months has also been consistently above the European Union's maximum average of 40mg/m3 of small airborne particles for the entire year. He also noted that at night, when people tend to increase the amount of heating used in their homes, pollution levels soared to 70mg/m3, providing more evidence that the increase in air pollution is directly linked to the way Greeks are heating their homes this year and not to the use of cars, which has declined.
...Papayiannis also noted that the increased use of unsuitable materials for fuel in fireplaces and wood-burning stoves, such as lacquered wood or paper, produces mercury, which is highly toxic. "
February 26, 2013
"The recession in Greece has cut output by 20.1 percent between 2008 and 2012, but the country’s economy is “clearly improving” after avoiding the dangers of a default and euro exit, the governor of the Bank of Greece said Monday.
European Central Bank governing council member George Provopoulos said Greece’s economy would remain stuck in recession in 2013, with unemployment expected to continue rising this year. "
February 25, 2013
"In a speech at the central bank’s annual shareholder meeting on Monday, Provopoulos warned that Greece will be tested by another year of recession in 2013, after seeing the economy shrink by 20 percent since 2008, and by rising unemployment, which averaged at 24.5 percent last year.
...The country needs to broaden the tax base by cracking down on tax avoidance and lighten the burden on those who do pay tax, Provopoulos said. It also needs to achieve a new export-oriented growth model for its economy.
“The danger of a collapse has been avoided, the prospect of a euro exit distanced and confidence gradually restored,” Provopoulos said. “These encouraging developments don’t leave any room for complacency though.”
February 24, 2013
"Conservative Nicos Anastasiades, who backed an international bailout plan that comes with hard austerity measures similar to those imposed in Greece, rolled to victory in the Cypriot Presidential run-off election on Feb. 24 with a big victory over his Communist-backed challenger Stavros Malas.
The final result of the second round of the presidential election in Cyprus showed Anastasiades got 57.48 percent, while Malas collected 42.52 percent of the vote. "
February 22, 2013
"Torrential rainfall in Greece's capital Friday crippled traffic, inundated basements and streets, and was blamed for the death of woman whose car was trapped in floodwater, authorities said.
The overnight storm swept across greater Athens, flooding hundreds of homes, causing blackouts in parts of the city and forcing authorities to close major roads and a central subway station in Athens.
"We have many, many problems — it's hard to know where to begin describing it," Deputy Fire Chief Vassilis Papageorgiou said.
"We have more than 60 crews working to get people out of stranded vehicles."
Police closed underpasses and highways in low-lying parts of the city after they were submerged, while parked cars were swept away by racing waters. "
"Giving the green light to a planned €230 million ($305 million) investment by Eldorado Gold Corp. in the gold mine is aimed at calming the Canadian company's concerns that arose in the wake of a swift, violent attack by masked vandals on one of its other mines over the weekend.
The gold-mine project, in the Thrace region, is one of a complex of four gold and other mines that Eldorado has acquired in Greece over the past four years. It has been awaiting approval for months. The company has committed to invest another $1 billion over the next four years."
"But in its spring economic forecasts, the Commission sounded an upbeat note about the Greek economy, saying it was poised to recover--after five and-a-half years in recession--by the end of 2013 and would post positive growth next year.
"Greece is emerging from a tumultuous 2012 with renewed commitment and action within a strengthened economic adjustment program that enjoys strong backing from its international lenders," the Commission said, adding that there was a chance "for a stronger return of confidence and the start of the recovery earlier in 2013."
February 21, 2013
"Normal service has resumed in Greece, after tens of thousands took to the streets on Wednesday in a nationwide protest against austerity.
...In Athens, riot police fired tear gas after they were showered with bottles and rocks. But around most of Greece, the protests passed off peacefully."
"Outside my apartment one day last summer, I watched a young woman nonchalantly throw a used take-out container on the street.
An elderly man hobbled behind her and yelled at her to pick up her trash. She screamed and cursed at him for daring to question her.
“Look at the streets! Who cares!?” she yelled. "
February 20, 2013
February 19, 2013
"Representing about 2.5 million workers, the unions have gone on strike repeatedly since Europe's debt crisis erupted in late 2009, testing the government's will to implement necessary reforms in the face of growing public anger.
"The (strike) is our answer to the dead-end policies that have squeezed the life out of workers, impoverished society and plunged the economy into recession and crisis," said the private sector union GSEE, which is organizing the walkout with its public sector sister union ADEDY. "
Attrition in Greek Media reveals divisions of purpose - NPR
"However, one telltale statistic showed how showy lifestyles are out of fashion in bailed-out Greece. Only one new Ferrari sports car was registered nationally in the whole of 2012. That, plus one used Ferrari sold, contrasted with 21 new and 37 used ones in 2007, the last year before Greece's recession started."
"Three years of spiraling economic crisis in Greece have devastated every sector of the economy. The Greek media are among the hardest hit. Many newspapers and TV outlets have closed or are on the verge, and some 4,000 journalists have lost their jobs.
Many people believe the country's news media have failed to cover the crisis — and lost credibility along the way. And many Greek journalists acknowledge that a massive conflict of interest sooner or later had to explode.
Nikos Xydakis, a columnist with the daily newspaper Kathimerini, says the big media conglomerates never bother to analyze what's going on in society.
"A big part of the media is controlled by construction moguls and oligarchs," he says. "They reproduce the talk, talk, talk of politicians. This is not journalism, it is everyday propaganda."
"Under Greece’s latest bailout plan agreed in November, Athens is to put 27,000 public sector workers into the labour mobility scheme by the end of the year.
The mobility scheme does not set a specific target for dismissals. But it states that “a large share of those entering this program (are expected) to ultimately transition to the private sector, notably via mandatory exits”.
Greece must overall cut 150,000 public sector jobs from 2010 to 2015, about a fifth of the total, through hiring curbs, retirements and dismissals. The EU says it insists on this because Greece’s public wage bill more than doubled from 2001 to 2009, a period in which the euro area’s rose by less than half. "
February 18, 2013
"Greece reported recently that it has reached a primary budget surplus, the Holy Grail of austerity, meaning that once you exclude interest payments on the country’s massive debts, the government is finally taking in more revenue than it spends.
This news should be worthy of a ticker-tape parade, after three years of Draconian retrenchment and a partial writedown of privately held Greek debt. Cruelly, however, the main beneficiary of a return to primary surplus may not be Prime Minister Antonis Samaras and his pro-bailout government, but the main opposition Syriza party, which is pushing for the country to refuse further austerity measures and declare a moratorium on its debt payments. "
In the Greek Parliament last week, Golden Dawn lawmaker Ioannis Lagos asked the Education and Interior ministers why state institutions and schools commemorate the remembrance day, which is marked on Jan. 27 each year -- the day in 1945 that Soviet forces liberated the Auschwitz death camp.
“We have received complaints that on this day, in Greek schools, texts are read which praise the Jews and at the same time portray them as heroes,” Lagos said. “Given that at the same time Greek children are completely ignorant of important moments in Greek history and of the real holocausts and heroes of the Greeks, we find it unacceptable that they are taught about the Jewish Holocaust in detail.”
For more, xenophobia in Greece
February 17, 2013
"Cyprus' election for a new president who will lead the country through its severe financial crisis appeared headed into a runoff Sunday, with the right-wing front-runner ahead but without an outright majority.
With 65.3 percent of the vote counted, right-wing candidate Nicos Anastasiades was well ahead with 45.45 percent of the vote. Rivals Stavros Malas and Giorgos Lillikas were in a close race for second place, with Malas at 26.92 percent and Lillikas with 24.93. For an outright victory, the winner would need 50 percent plus one vote, and Malas appeared the most likely to head into a runoff with Anastasiades on Feb. 24. "
"The attackers used petrol bombs and flammable liquid to set fire to machinery, vehicles and containers, police told the Associated Press.
The Hellas Gold site is due to open in 2015 and expected to create new jobs in the recession-hit Halkidiki region.
But it has faced protests from environmentalists who say development would cause irreversible damage. "
"Seismologists say two earthquakes have struck southwestern Greece, both with preliminary magnitudes 5 but with different epicenters. No injuries or damage were immediately reported.
The Athens Geodynamic Institute said the first quake struck at 5:12 a.m. Sunday, with an epicenter beneath the seabed 43 miles southwest of the Ionian island of Zakinthos. "
"...support for Syriza at 24 per cent, giving it a 1.5 point lead over New Democracy but still within the margin of error of 2.7 per cent. Prime Minister Antonis Samaras’ New Democracy party and the anti-bailout Syriza have been neck-and-neck in recent polls."
"The Washington, D.C.-based prestigious think tank the Brookings Institution estimates that corruption is costing Greece some 20 billion euros ($26.7 billion) which, combined with lost revenues from the country’s notoriously tangled and inefficient bureaucracy, is crippling efforts to reform the debt-crunched economy."
February 15, 2013
"The Statistics Agency said unemployment increased from a rate of 26.6 percent in October and 20.8 percent in November the previous year. More than 30,000 people lost their job in November, the agency said, with the jobless rate accelerating from earlier in the yea
Worst affected are the young, with 61.7 percent of those in the 15-24 age group without a job.
Greece is mired in the sixth year of a recession, and has been relying for nearly three years on international rescue loans to keep it afloat. In return for the bailout, the government has imposed major spending cuts and tax hikes which have hammered the economy, causing an increase in poverty and forcing thousands of businesses to close. "
February 14, 2013
February 13, 2013
"...during a lecture on Greece’s political extremes at Deree – The American College of Greece, Mazower did not hesitate to draw parallels between the Greek far right party and the nationalist socialist (Nazi) party of the 1930s.
“There is commonality of approach,” he said of the two parties stressing their emphasis on biological racism and violent street tactics that sets them apart from other European nationalist movements like Le Pen’s National Front party.
Golden Dawn officials vehemently deny any Nazi affiliation saying they are Greek nationalists and that they have nothing to do with Hitler or Mussolini.
“Any right-wing party worth its salt is keen to stress its nationalist credentials,” said 55-year-old Mazower, an expert on Greece and the Balkans who teaches history at Columbia University.
Greece’s brutal financial crisis has catapulted Golden Dawn, for years at the fringes of domestic politics, into the spotlight. A recent opinion poll put the party’s support at 11.5 percent, compared to the 7 percent that it garnered in June’s election. This puts the party, which currently holds 18 seats in the 300-member House, in third place behind conservative coalition leader New Democracy and leftist opposition SYRIZA."
February 12, 2013
Yield was 4.05 percent, two basis points below the previous January 15 auction. The sale ratio was 1.76, up from 1.75 in the previous auction.
Statisticians rally for Elstat's chief - Financial Mirror
"The amount raised included 300 million euros in non-competitive bids."
There is a huge irony in the attacks currently coming at Andreas Georgiou, the head of the Greek statistical agency ELSTAT. In the previous incarnation of the Greek statistical agency, it was wedded so closely to whomever was the ruling political entity, that the numbers it produced as analysis to show the health of the Greek economy were unreliable and often deliberatlely falsified in order to serve the public relations efforts of the Greek government.
But with ELSTAT now chartered as an independent statistical agency using eurstat methods, there is constant friction.
"...Dropping a big hint that they believe the criminal investigation is politically motivated they said, “we are concerned that political debates surrounding judicial action taken against the Head of the Greek statistical office (ELSTAT) and the calling into question of the validity of data which have repeatedly passed the stringent quality checks applied by Eurostat to ensure full compliance with European law seem to disregard commonly agreed European procedures.”
They noted that production of European Statistics on the basis of common rules and standards is the main task and objective of the European Statistical System (composed of Eurostat and National Statistical Institutes of EU/EFTA Member States)."
February 11, 2013
February 6, 2013
"The decision by conservative Prime Minister Antonis Samaras to declare ferry crews under civil mobilization came after their unions voted to extend the strike until early Friday."
February 10, 2013
February 7, 2013
"The mood in Greek business circles is brightening. Greece is still grappling with a record recession that has shrunk output by more than a fifth and pushed unemployment close to 27%, the highest rate in the European Union. But a monthly index of business sentiment produced by IOBE, a think-tank, jumped in December to its highest level in two years (see chart).
Yannis Stournaras, the finance minister, predicts the economy will start to recover by October, boosted by a long-awaited rebound in tourism. A rush of early bookings has cheered hoteliers on Aegean Islands. Optimism in foreign markets and assurances from Berlin that Greece will be able to stay in the euro zone are helping, too. Billions of euros stashed under mattresses last summer, when a “Grexit” seemed imminent, have returned to their owners’ bank accounts. The Athens stockmarket has perked up and private-equity firms are scouting for bargains among crisis-battered Greek companies."
"Recent steps taken by the government of Turkey suggest it may be ready to ditch the NATO club of democracies for a Russian and Chinese gang of authoritarian states. Here is the evidence:
Starting in 2007, Ankara applied unsuccessfully three times to join as a guest member the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (or SCO, informally known as the Shanghai Five). Founded in 1996 by the Russian and Chinese governments, along with three former-Soviet Central Asian states (and in 2001 a fourth), the SCO has received minimal attention in the West, although it has grand security and other aspirations, including the possible creation of a gas cartel. It offers an alternative to the Western model, from forsaking NATO and democracy to displacing the U.S. dollar as the reserve currency. "
"Greek Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras said the strength of the euro is a concern even as its current level shows a return in confidence in the 17-nation currency.
“I’m concerned about the high level of the euro,” Stournaras told Bloomberg Television’s David Tweed in an interview in Athens yesterday. “The other side of the coin is that there’s confidence in the euro, despite what’s been said about Grexit, the collapse of the euro zone.”
French President Francois Hollande on Feb. 5 called for government leaders to steer the euro’s exchange rate. The currency rose to a 14-month peak against the dollar this month and the highest in almost three years against the yen, making it harder for exporters to sell goods abroad. "
"Greece set a minimum bid price of 22 million pounds ($35 million) for a London townhouse, one of six overseas properties the government is selling to help pay its debts, two people with knowledge of the matter said.
The Greek consul’s residence in Holland Park will be sold along with real estate in cities including Brussels and Belgrade, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the plan is private. They will be the first outright sales of foreign properties by the Greek government since the onset of the global financial crisis. Bidding for the properties will close on March 19, the people said."
February 5, 2013
Fourth strike in as many months.
"...Peer Steinbrueck, a former finance minister, said it was necessary for crisis-stricken states to get their budgets in order and consolidate sovereign debt. But Merkel's centre-right government was too focused on consolidation, he said.
"I think the application rate of these consolidation programmes must be widened, must be extended, in particular in the specific case of Greece," Steinbrueck said, speaking in English at the London School of Economics.
In the latest sign of discontent at austerity measures Greece needs to implement to satisfy its international lenders, Greek seamen and farmers went on strike at the weekend. The country's biggest labour union has called for a 24-hour general strike for Feb. 20. "
February 4, 2013
"Escalating political violence from both the left and right is raising fears of political instability in debt-burdened Greece. The conservative-led government is cracking down on leftist groups, vowing to restore law and order.
But the opposition says authorities are trying to divert people's attention from growing poverty and despair. Take the latest explosion in Athens — a firebomb at a crowded suburban mall last month that slightly injured two security guards.
Officials described it as a revival of the full-scale leftist terrorism that plagued the country in past decades. A government spokesman said the attack is "a blow to democracy and attempts to restore economic growth."
The mall attack was the latest in a spate of low-level explosions against Greek government offices, banks and other symbols of the establishment. Similar attacks on the homes of five journalists were claimed by a new anarchist group that accuses the targets of promoting the government's political and economic agenda and manipulating public opinion.
Authorities suggest links exist between the major opposition party Syriza — which strongly opposes the austerity measures — and the recent attacks. Syriza, meanwhile, accuses the government of trying to polarize Greek society."
From interview with Athens’ Ambassador to the United States Christos P. Panagopoulos.
“For a country of 10.11 million, to have 1 million [immigrants], most of them illegal in a period of hardship and economic crisis, it’s devastating,” he told editors and reporters of The Washington Times.
Mr. Panagopoulos said most of the illegal immigrants came from countries in “destabilized regions,” like Pakistan, Afghanistan and more recently Libya and Syria, the latter engulfed in a 23-month-long civil war. Most entered Greece across the short land border or long, island-dappled maritime frontier with Turkey.
“Unfortunately, our Turkish friends are not very cooperative on this issue,” he said.
Turkey had sought to link cooperation on border enforcement against third-country nationals to what the ambassador called the “unrelated” issue of visa-free travel into Greece by Turkish citizens, leading to an impasse on the question. "
February 2, 2013
October 2012 unemployment rate: 26.8% - ELSTAT
"...proposed restructuring "will destroy the sector where at the moment more than 7,000 sailors out of a total 15,000 are unemployed," union chief Yannis Halas told reporters."
February 1, 2013
"According to senior government officials, the plan calls for spinning off roughly one-third of Greece's Public Power Corp., or PPC—the country's one-time monopoly power producer and still dominant market participant—and selling it to private investors. The government would also seek a strategic investor for the slimmed down parent company, which would remain under state control.
The plan, still in the "concept" stage, according to one official, is expected to be formally presented to Greece's troika of international creditors from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund in the coming days, who would help flesh out the details before signing off on any such move.
With PPC's current market value around €1.5 billion, or $2 billion, a spinoff could, in theory, net the government several hundred million euros. But a precise value would be difficult to assess until more details are decided, say officials. "
ORIGINAL PAGE MARCH 3, 2013
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