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NEWS ARCHIVE - February 2014

February 28, 2014

Greece has second largest property crash in the EU - UK Guardian

"There is constant motion on the second floor of 24 Kanari Street. At the Athens office of Remax, Greece's largest property company, clients come and go, agents slip in and out and brokers pace the corridors barking into mobile phones.

For Christos Vergos, it means a frenetic work schedule of 12-hour days and a client base that is ever growing.

"At all hours, people call in wanting to sell or wanting to rent or wanting to expand because places now are so much cheaper," says the estate agent in a conference room overlooking Kolonaki Square.

In a market that has hit rock bottom in the maelstrom of Greece's financial meltdown, basement flats are selling for as little as €5,000 (£4,150) in the less salubrious parts of Athens. On the isle of Mykonos, cash-strapped Greek celebrities have been selling luxury villas for a song.

But Vergos prefers to focus on another figure. "Last year, there were just 3,600 sales in all of Athens – I repeat, all of Athens."

Greece's social and economic crash is reflected in its property slump. Data released by Eurostat, the EU's statistics agency, earlier this month showed that the country had suffered the second steepest decline in house prices after Croatia, the bloc's newest member."

February 19, 2014

Greece posts first current account surplus since 1948 - BBC

"Figures from the Bank of Greece showed the difference between the money going into and coming out of the country was 1.24bn euros (£1bn) last year.

It was partly driven by a 15% increase in tourism receipts, the country's biggest earner.

The surplus was the first for the recession-hit economy since records began in 1948.

It is equivalent to about 0.7% of total Greek economic output, and is a marked improvement on 2012, when the current account registered a deficit of 4.6bn euros."

February 17, 2014

Troika to decide additional funding after election cycle; summer - Wall St Journal

"Talks to decide additional funding and debt reduction for Greece will be held after the summer, Dutch Finance Minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem, who presides over the regular meetings of his eurozone counterparts, said Monday.

Mr. Dijsselbloem said that the International Monetary Fund, which co-funds the Greek bailout alongside the euro zone, was "on board" with that timetable. Delaying the decision until after the summer would make it easier for European politicians to sidestep the divisive issue of how to deal with Greece's financing needs and massive debt in the lead-up to elections for the European Parliament in late May."

Rise in abandoned children - NY Times

"Hard statistics are difficult to come by. But in a telling tale of the trend and an admission of the devastating effects of austerity on young children, Health Minister Adonis Georgiadis told parliament recently that the number of abandoned infants had soared by 336 percent alone in the state’s flagship pediatrics hospital since the start of the financial crisis.

Four other children’s hospitals and maternity clinics in the capital, home to half of Greece’s population of 11 million, showed similar spikes."

Will Greece return to bond markets soon? - Reuters

"Greek media reports said earlier this month that the government was considering tapping bond markets as early as March, before local and EU government elections in May. But the official said there had been no change in Greek plans."

Clooney stands by Elgin Marbles remark - eKathimerini

"American actor George Clooney has defended his comments from just over a week ago advocating the return of the Parthenon Marbles to Greece despite criticism from London Mayor Boris Johnson.

Johnson accused the actor of pursuing a “Hitlerian agenda” for what he termed “London’s cultural treasures” as the Nazis had also intended to remove the marbles from the British Museum if they occupied Britain.

"...When it comes to real facts, not imagined history, you need only to look at the UNESCO rulings that have been agreed to by all parties.

"An occupying nation can't sell off the national heritage of the country it occupies,” added Clooney.

"More relevant is the fact that the Parthenon Marbles were chipped away from the Parthenon by the occupying Turks and sold. It was a single monument broken into bits. It would be as if the statue of David's head were sold to England. His arm to the Vatican. And his torso to the Met."

More on the "Elgin Marbles"

February 15, 2014

Troika pressure on Stournaras to wrap up negotiations - eKathimerini

"A senior European official told Kathimerini that a possible “haircut” on Greek debt had not been ruled out and was still on the table of proposals and being discussed along with an extension for loan repayments as a possible solution. However, the International Monetary Fund, which has long been emphasizing the need for a Greek haircut, is expected to soften it stance as the Fund’s managing director, Christine Lagarde, is interested in seeking the post of European Commission president, a European official told Kathimerini. "

February 10, 2014

American actor George Clooney backs repatriation of the 'Elgin Marbles' to Greece - UK Guardian

"Actor says it would be "very nice" if the British Museum reptriates ancient frieze removed by Lord Elgin in 19th century

George Clooney says returning the Parthenon Marbles to Greece would be the "right thing to do".

George Clooney has strolled into one of the most bitter and longest-running controversies in the heritage world, saying it would be "very nice" if the British Museum sent the Parthenon Marbles back to Greece.

Clooney, at the Berlin Film Festival promoting The Monuments Men, the story of an Allied team trying to save artefacts from the Nazis, was asked by a Greek reporter whether Britain should return the Marbles.

"I think you have a very good case to make about your artefacts," Clooney said. "Maybe it wouldn't be a bad thing if they were returned. I think that is a good idea. That would be a very fair and very nice thing. I think it is the right thing to do."

The sculptures were removed from the monument, which had been used as a gunpowder store, by Lord Elgin between 1801 and 1805, when he was ambassador to the Ottoman court in Istanbul, which ruled Greece. The collection, eventually bought by parliament in 1816 and presented to the British Museum, includes roughly half the surviving sculptures – more than 70 metres of the beautiful frieze, showing a procession of horses and warriors."

More on the Parthenon and the Elgin Marbles

Samaras tells Bild no 3rd loan needed - eKathimerini

Prime Minister Antonis Samaras has ruled out a third bailout program for Greece despite reports in Germany suggesting that Finance Ministry there is working on such a plan.

"We do not need a new, third aid program,» Samaras told Bild newspaper in an interview published over the weekend. «We are reaching the goals of our current program and it is showing results."

February 7, 2014

National Bank plans 3 billion euros in corporate loans this year - eKathimerini

"Greece's largest lender, National Bank, plans to make 3 billion euros ($4 billion) worth of corporate loans this year to support businesses and assist the economy's recovery, its chief executive said on Thursday.

That represents a substantial increase over the almost 1 billion euros of total loans the bank made in the first nine months of 2013. Lending figures for the full year are not yet available."

February 5, 2014

EU May extend Greek loans by 50 years - Bloomberg

"The plan, which will be considered by policy makers by May or June, may also include a loan for a package worth between 13 billion euros ($17.6 billion) and 15 billion euros, another official said. Greece, which got 240 billion euros in two bailouts, has previously had its terms eased by the euro zone and International Monetary Fund amid a six-year recession.

“What we can do is to ease debt, which is what we have done before through offering lower interest or extending the maturity of loans,” Dutch Finance Minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem, who heads the group of euro finance chiefs, said yesterday on broadcaster RTLZ. “Those type of measures are possible but under the agreement that commitments from Greece are met.”

February 4, 2014

Greece Has a Budget Surplus, a Respite That Could Be Short-Lived - NY Times

"Greece’s top administrative court declared in mid-January that wage cuts imposed two years ago on police officers, firefighters and military personnel under a sweeping austerity plan were unconstitutional.

Welcome as it was to the employees, the news could not have come at a worse time for Prime Minister Antonis Samaras. After years of sacrifice by Greeks, he was preparing to announce last week that his country had scored a rare victory in its long-running economic crisis, posting its first primary surplus — a budget in the black, before debt repayments — in more than a decade.

The back pay by itself is not a big number. The government might be forced to repay up to 300 million euros, or about $405 million.

But it could blow a hole in Mr. Samaras’s projected surplus, which itself is only about 1 billion euros ($1.35 billion). The repayment is a reminder of the continued fragility of Greece’s public finances — and Mr. Samaras’s continuing challenge of trying to appease the populace while also struggling to please the country’s international creditors.

Not only is his coalition government under pressure domestically, but he has been hoping that Greece’s fiscal discipline might persuade its international lenders to ease the burden of the €240 billion ($324 billion) in bailout loans that it is obliged to pay back."

February 2, 2014

3rd Rescue loan on the horizon - UK Guardian

"...The new loan, outlined in a five-page position paper by Berlin's finance ministry, would be worth between €10bn to €20bn, according to the German weekly Der Spiegel, which was leaked the document.

Such an amount would chime with comments made by the German finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, who, in a separate interview due to be published on Monday insisted that any additional aid required by Athens would be "far smaller" than the €240bn it had received so far.

...The renewed help follows revelations of clandestine talks between Schäuble and leading EU figures over how to deal with Greece, which despite receiving the biggest bailout in global financial history, continues to remain the weakest link in the eurozone.

The talks, said to have taken place on the sidelines of a Eurogroup meeting of eurozone finance ministers last week, are believed to have focused on the need to cover an impending shortfall in the country's financing and the reluctance Athens is displaying to enforce long overdue structural reforms. The lack of progress is at the root of stalled talks between Greece and its "troika" of creditors, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), European Central Bank and EU."

Greece behind on 153 implementations - eKathimerini

"Greece is behind in the implementation of 153 actions demanded by its lenders, according to a timetable compiled by the Finance Ministry, Kathimerini has learned.

Of the outstanding actions, 57 are the responsibility of the Finance Ministry, 17 fall to the Development Ministry, another 17 to the Labor Ministry and eight to the Administrative Reform Ministry. The rest are divided among other ministries.

Among the Finance Ministry’s key tasks is to scrap third-party levies.

...A number of the actions have yet to be completed as the government remains in discussions with the troika about the measures. Inspectors are expected to return to Athens later this month but a date has not yet been fixed."

Golden Dawn plans rebranding if banned - UK Guardian

"After months of lying low, Greece's neofascist Golden Dawn party has returned to the streets, vowing to contest local and European elections under a new name to circumvent a possible ban.

The Greek far-right party, Europe's most violent political force, announced members would form a new outfit called National Dawn if they are prevented from participating in the poll because of an ongoing inquiry into alleged criminal activities.

"Patriots will have a party to vote for in the next election if [authorities] go ahead with the coup to ban Golden Dawn," Ilias Kasidiaris, an MP and leading light of the party, told thousands of black-clad supporters gathered in central Athens."

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