Based on the progress made thus far in the negotiations between Greek authorities and the institutions representing the creditors (European Central Bank, European Commission and International Monetary Fund), the two sides could be ready for an agreement by the end of the month, Greek government sources said here on Thursday.
Speaking a few hours ahead of a planned trilateral meeting between Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande - due to be held after the end of the EU 4th Eastern Partnership Summit working dinner - the sources said they did not expect any agreement to arise and be ratified on Thursday. They stressed that Thursday's meeting was informal and in no way replaced either the European summit or the Eurogroup.
The Greek government expects a time schedule will be agreed so that an agreement will have been reached at the end of May and the Eurogroup that ratifies this will have taken place.
The trilateral meeting, which will take place at the hotel where leaders are staying, will be attended - on the Greek side - by State Minister Nikos Pappas, and Alternate Minister for International Economic Relations Euclid Tsakalotos. During the meeting, Greece will brief the two leaders of the progress being made at the Brussels Group and on technical negotiations. "We feel that significant progress has been made and this is what we'll present to them," one of the sources said.
Commenting on the ongoing Brussels Group meeting, the sources said that Greece's lenders are asking for two VAT rates - a high of 23 pct and a low rate of 11 pct. The Greek side, however, proposes a high VAT rate of 22 pct, a medium rate of 14 pct and a low rate of 7 pct.
Asked about German media reports claiming the Greek bailout programme may be extended to autumn, the government sources said no such issue has been discussed by Greece and no one has suggested it to the government either. They also said the so-called "Jucker proposal" which was discussed in the media recently has never been sent to the Greek government.
Planned meetings between Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande will take place after an EU leaders' working dinner ends at about 22:00 local time on Thursday, sources said.
Tsipras arrived in Riga, Latvia on a C-130 Hellenic Air Force transport plane on Thursday, in order to take part in the 4th EU Eastern Partnership Summit that will kick off with a working dinner for the European leaders at 20:00.
The sources have not ruled out the possibility of additional meetings with European leaders and officials on the sidelines of the summit, which ends on Friday.
In addition to the prime minister, the Greek mission includes Minister of State Nikos Pappas, Alternate Minister for International Economic Relations Euclid Tsakalotos, Alternate Foreign Minister for European Affairs Nikos Chountis, government spokesman Gavriil Sakellaridis, the prime minister diplomatic advisor Vangelis Kalpadakis and the head of the prime minister's press office Thodoris Michopoulos.
"An agreement, in other words, which will safeguard reforms and continue privatisations," Samaras said adding that "it's not possible to rebuild the vast State that went bankrupt and to fund it with new taxes which cripple the economy."
He also said Greece needs a growth agreement and a change of policy to exit "the dead end created by the government and the daily lies of the government propaganda."
Negotiations at Brussels Group level between the Greek authorities and the institutions' representatives continue on Thursday in Brussels with the view to achieving further progress.
The only scenario examined right now by the Commission is the completion of the current programme, European Commission spokeswoman Mina Andreeva said.
Asked on the Commission's position towards the possibility of further extension of the Greek programme after June, if no agreement has been reached, she said that everyone is working on the timetable agreed at the February 20 Eurogroup. She noted, however, that the sources that spread these scenarios are not in Brussels, and by no means in the European Commission, and therefore she cannot make any comment.
Asked to comment on reports claiming that Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis taped the Eurogroup meeting in Riga, she repeated the position of Eurogroup president Jeroen Dijsselbloem that the meetings are "confidential" and she hopes that this confidentiality will be respected.
"The topic of our discussion was the best use of public assets within the framework of a development bank," he noted.
Varoufakis responded to a question of PASOK deputy Yiannis Koutsoukos regarding reports that the Greek Finance Minister had a meeting with former Deutsche Bank chief and economist Thomas Mayer on April 28 to discuss a proposal for a parallel currency in Greece within the eurozone.
The ministry quoted the official statement of Michel Reijns, Jeroen Dijsselbloem's spokesman who, asked on the New York Times report claiming Varoufakis taped the Eurogroup meeting in Riga, he said: "Eurogroup meetings are confidential. We rely on each person present to respect that confidentiality."
Upon his arrival at the Finance Ministry, Varoufakis also said that "after so many weeks of leaks and absurd lies of what has been allegedly said in there, I have proved in practice my absolute respect to the confidentiality of all these talks and you understand what I'm saying".
Asked if he is concerned for the economy, Varoufakis stated that "a country's minister that is in the middle of such harsh negotiations should be afraid otherwise he is dangerous. We feel fear but we are not frightened."
The discussions at the Eurogroup are confidential and participants are expected to respect this confidentiality, a spokesman for Eurogroup President Jeroen Dijsselbloem said here on Thursday.
He was responding to an ANA-MPA question regarding press reports alleging that Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis had secretly made recordings of the Eurogroup meeting at Riga, Latvia.
"We depend on the participants at the meeting to respect the confidentiality of the talks," the spokesman added.
Eurozone sources clarified, however, that there was no rule that expressly forbids recording the proceedings, provided these recordings are for personal use and not made public.
While the rule concerning the confidentiality of Eurogroup sessions was clear and unambiguous, the participants could theoretically record the conversations for personal use, they said. If Varoufakis had made recordings, they added, he would be bound for confidentiality rules and forbidden to make them public.
"It is 100% accurate @yanisvaroufakis not personally insulted at Riga #eurogroup. Words "gambler", "amateur", "time-waster" never uttered," Spiegel tweeted on Thursday.
In a second tweet, he emphasised that his reporting "says those words were never uttered."
Varoufakis responded, also via Twitter, saying he was "glad to see the truth emerge - even belatedly..."
Kammenos reiterated that the Greek-Russian relations have to do with the Greek economy and the US side confirmed its support to help Greece overcome the crisis.
In his statement Kammenos referred to the role Greece can play in combating terrorism through the creation of a NATO air base on Karpathos in conjunction with the existing naval base at Souda. According to sources, the American side initially welcomes the Greek proposal.
Kammenos also referred to the Greek initiative for the creation of a stability pillar through "cooperation with Egypt, Cyprus and the Middle East which are opposite to ISIS, such as the Arab Emirates, but also its extension to Bulgaria and Romania."
Regarding Greek-Turkish relations, the Greek side has reportedly asked to put pressure on Turkey to stop provocations in the Aegean in order to hold talks on confidence building measures (CBMs).
The two sides reaffirmed "the continuation of the close Greek-US relations and the need to boost Greece as a stability factor in the region", he said.
"I categorically deny these leaks. The Greek delegation is giving a struggle so that the zero deficit clause will not be applied because if it is implemented the 90 percent of the supplementary pensions will be evaporated. This government will give this battle to the very end," said Stratoulis.
According to the reports, the proposal would require those retiring early to continue paying social insurance contributions until the age of 62.
"I categorically deny these leaks. The thing that the Greek representation is fighting for is that the zero-deficit clause should not apply, because if it is implemented then 90 pct of supplementary pensions will have disappeared in three years time," he said.
"When the prime minister returns from Riga, I think it would be very good, and we believe it' s necessary, to brief party leaders about how things are developing," Stavros Theodorakis told journalists after his meeting with European Commissioner for Regional Policy Corina Crecu.
He said a 50-60 pct of Greeks are not voters of the SYRIZA-ANEL coalition and they deserve to know how things are developing, adding that the situation is critical and there's no time to waste.
The delegation will also visit Izmir and attend a TKP rally for the general elections taking place in June.
"High-level political talks are now an established practice. In October 2013, the first High-Level Ministerial Cooperation Council (G2G) met in Jerusalem under the leadership of the two countries' Prime Ministers. The two countries look forward to convening the second G2G meeting at the soonest possible time. The bilateral political dialogue has been accompanied by economic cooperation, major decisions on energy matters, enhanced military and defence cooperation, development of cultural exchanges, constructive academic and scientific contacts, interfaith dialogue and a large increase in tourist flows," it added.
"Greece and Israel are two modern democratic states that represent the proud independence of two ancient nations. Their long histories are interwoven and have many characteristics in common. We are two peoples with a strong inclination towards letters; peoples that have made a major contribution to western civilization and have coexisted in this region of the world for many generations. The two nations have vigorously sustained their identities for thousands of years, having had intense experience during their histories of the notions of homeland and diaspora.
The Greek Jewish community and the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem are bridges of friendship between the two countries.
Bilateral cooperation promotes common interests, progress and stability in the wider region. It is the aim of both states to further promote and improve peaceful and good neighbourly relations with the nations of the region.
After 25 years of upgraded diplomatic relations, the governments of Greece and Israel express their satisfaction at their close and friendly relations. Both states look forward to further strengthening their bilateral cooperation in the coming 25 years, with particular emphasis on contacts between the two peoples and their mutually beneficial cooperation in the sectors of high technology and entrepreneurship. The two nations remain linked by ties of friendship, as they confront common challenges and strive for a better future," the announcement concluded.
"Any change occurs in the tourist package in the future will be designed so that Greece can remain competitive in the tourism sector," Varoufakis underlined.
Any speculations over VAT rates while negotiations are underway hurt tourism and Greece's image, according to a Tourism ministry's announcement.
A total of 11 Greek regions ranked below 75 pct of the EU-28 average per capita rate in 2013, Eurostat said on Thursday. The EU executive's statistics agency, in a report released here, said that the country's average per capital Gross Domestic Product (in purchasing power terms) was at 73 pct of the EU average. Only Attica (98 pct) and Southern Aegean (76 pct) surpassed the 75 pct average rate. On the other hand, Eastern Macedonia-Thrace (52 pct), Epirus (55 pct), Thessaly (56 pct), Central Macedonia, Western Greece and Northern Aegean (57 pct), the Peloponnese (60 pct), Western Macedonia and Central Greece (62 pc), Crete (63 pct) and the Ionian Islands (68 pct) recorded the lowest rates.
The leading regions in the ranking of regional GDP per capita in 2013, after Inner London in the United Kingdom (325 pct of the average), were the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg (258 pct), Brussels in Belgium (207 pct), Hamburg in Germany (195 pct), Groningen in the Netherlands (187 pct), Bratislava in Slovakia (184 pct), Stockholm in Sweden (179 pct), ?le de France in France (175 pct) and Prague in the Czech Republic (173 pct).
After Mayotte, an overseas island department of France in the Indian Ocean (27 pct), the lowest regions in the ranking were all in Bulgaria and Romania: Severozapaden (30 pct), Severen Tsentralen (31 pct) and Yuzhen Tsentralen (32 pct) in Bulgaria and Nord-Est in Romania (34 pct).
A report by ANA-MPA, based on bank figures, showed the number of credit and debit cards in Greece totaled 12,610,623, of which 9,845,258 debit and 2,765,365 credit. These figures do not include pre-paid cards and cards issued by cooperative banks. According to European Central Bank figures for 2013, Greece ranked at the bottom of EU member-states list in electronic payment numbers, with only 18 such payments per person, sharply down compared with an average rate of 197 payments in the EU. Portugal has 172 payments, Cyprus 106, Italy 73, Spain 129, Finland 451, Sweden 375 and Denmark 339. the value of non-cash payments in Greece was 199 million euros in 2013, of which 78 million were card transactions. Non-cash payments in Greece (per person) are 11.5 times less compared with the average rate in the Eurozone (202).
Expanding the use of electronic payments will have positive results in the economy, by reducing black economy and combating tax evasion, Nikos Kampanopoulos, Visa Europe managing director for Greece, Cyprus and Bulgaria told ANA-MPA. "Cash is the driving force of black economy. A Visa survey showed that the percentage of black economy in the Europe was 18.5 pct of GDP (around 2.0 trillion euros). In Greece, this percentage was 24 pct (around 40 billion euros). Around 10 pct of black economy in Europe (200 billion euros) could be wiped out through electronic payments," Kampanopoulos said.
"Offering incentives to consumers and enterprises to choose electronic payments and plastic money instead of cash would lead to higher revenues for the state," he said while presented a package of measures recommended by Visa to boost card payments, such as: tax deductions, lower VAT for use of credit/debit cards, expanding the use of electronic payments, abolishing the use of cash throughout the public sector and municipal authorities and launching a promotion campaign.
ABK has agreed to a consideration of 150 million US dollars for Piraeus Bank's stake in PBE, valuing the bank at 1.5 times PBE's book value as of 31 December 2014. As part of the agreement, ABK has also agreed to acquire at par value 23 million US dollars of parent book loans related to the Egyptian operations. The transaction will have a positive and accretive impact on Piraeus' financials, as it results in: an increase of the pro-forma 31 March 2015 ratio by c.30 bps and additional liquidity of 200 million euros for the Group.
The signing of the agreement marked the successful conclusion of the due diligence process and the negotiations between Piraeus Bank and ABK and represents another step forward towards the implementation of Piraeus' restructuring plan as approved by the European Commission.
Anthimos Thomopoulos, CEO of Piraeus Bank, commenting on the deal said: "The successful conclusion of the disposal of Piraeus Bank Egypt underlines our commitment to our shareholders, in full alignment with our restructuring plan. The transaction reflects a fair value for our subsidiary and provides our Group with capital accretion, freeing liquidity at the same time. We believe that now it is our duty to focus in the direction of financing the Greek economy. We are grateful to our customers and colleagues in Egypt who have made our presence stronger over the past ten years."
Mediobanca acted as sole financial advisor of Piraeus Bank and Norton Rose Fulbright as legal advisor for the transaction.
The statistics service, in a report, said that total capacity of the Greek merchant shipping fleet totaled 44,694,971 dwt in March, down 0.4 pct from the same month last year.
MIG (11.94 pct), Eurobank (3.55 pct), Alpha Bank (3.17 pct) and Piraeus Bank (3.15 pct) were top gainers among blue chip stocks, while Folli Follie (1.90 pct), Grivalia Properties (1.45 pct) and Terna Energy (1.06 pct) suffered the heaviest percentage losses of the day.
Among market sectors, Banks (2.70 pct), Chemicals (2.58 pct) and Financial Services (1.78 pct) were top gainers, while Commerce (1.89 pct), Personal Products (0.56 pct) and Real Estate (0.56 pct) suffered losses. Broadly, advancers led decliners by 64 to 42 with another 27 issues unchanged. Pairis (29.74 pct), Elastron (24.56 pct) and Forthnet (18.88 pct) were top gainers, while NEL (18.52 pct), Pasal (17.72 pct) and F.G.Europe (10.0 pct) were top losers.
Sector indices ended as follows:
Financial Services: +1.78%
Industrial Products: +0.69%
Real Estate: -0.56%
Personal & Household: -0.56%
Food & Beverages: 7.241.13 +0.38%
Raw Materials: 2.557.67 -0.09%
Travel & Leisure: +0.17%
The stocks with the highest turnover were National Bank, Folli Follie, Piraeus Bank, OPAP, and Alpha Bank.
Selected shares from the FTSE/ASE
Large Cap index closed in euros as follows:
Alpha Bank: 0.325
Public Power Corp (PPC): 5.18
Coca Cola HBC: 20.75
Hellenic Petroleum (ELPE): 4.68
National Bank of Greece: 1.25
Piraeus Bank: 0.458
Grivalia Properties: 8.13
Aegean Airlines: 7.54
In interbank markets, interest rates were largely unchanged. The 12-month rate was 0.162 pct, the nine-month rate was 0.101 pct, the six-month rate fell to 0.054 pct from 0.055 pct, the three-month rate was unchanged at -0.012 pct and the one-month rate was -0.052 pct.
During the visit, Pavlopoulos was declared a honorary citizen of the island, at a special ceremony held in his honour.
Earlier, the president had also asked for details concerning the ongoing undersea archaeological exploration at the Antikythera shipwreck, which yielded such unique finds as the Antikythera Mechanism, and spoken with the few dozen permanent residents that live on the island in the winter.
"Being optimistic today would be rather naive," Zagajewski, who has been nominated for Nobel Prize in Literature, said.
"Over the last one or two years, the world has become darker and one should be blind to ignore it," he told ANA-MPA citing the crisis in Ukraine, the tragedy in Syria, the African refugees drown "in the beautiful Mediterranean," the rise of the Islamic State, the economic crisis in Europe, "including the Greek drama."
Although "these can be solved or improved. Hope for me lies elsewhere, our reality is mysterious and porous. There are things that are beyond mundane realism," he noted.
His work is focused on contemporary Europe: The daily life of mobile phones, the metro, newspapers, lap tops, and kiosks selling bottles of water close to museums and cathedrals.
"What can I say on the Greeks of 'bleeding brains' of the last years?" he wondered. "I feel sympathy for them although some of them can really see it as a way of adventure," he added.
Zagajewski will read poems of his at the Athens Concert Hall on Friday, May 22. It is his third visit to Athens. "I am coming to Athens as though I am coming to a city of reminiscence. You have no room to expect something else from Athens, this is what Athens pays for the glory of its past," he underlined.
The full interview is available for subscribers at ANA-MPA website.
The Canadian Institute in cooperation with Antiquities Ephorate of Cyclades conducted an excavation in the area which brought into the limelight a series of objects that certify the existence of early humans in the area up to 260,000 ago.
The majority of finds, located on the surface during the 2013 research, were mostly carved stones while a quantity of emery was found (a material that is widely found on the island but not at Stelida). The ceramics found in the area are very rare and are rather from a later era.
The Central Archaeological Council approved the five-year programme for the continuation of the research that will focus on the dating of the finds that changes the prehistoric data on Cyclades.
Until recently, the archaeologists believed that the human activity on the islands started very later, approximately in the 5th millenium B.C while only in 1981 with the discovery of Stelida emerged the possibility of an earlier dating.
The new programme has multiple targets. One of them is the dating of the site with the use of scientific technics in order to clarify when the early humans migrated to Europe through the Aegean basin and if this migration was realised through the sea. Moreover, an in detail analysis of the artifacts will take place and the relations of the early humans, meaning the Neanderthals and the Homo Sapiens, will be examined.
The members pledged to make every effort to stop the illegal trafficking of antiquities and cultural property in general which has risen sharply following the ongoing developments in the Middle East.
The declaration also urges all countries to become members of UNESCO and apply stricter national legislations against illegal trading of cultural treasures which derive from recent cultural purges or illegal excavations.
From the 1540 bathing waters, 1518 were assessed, as 22 points were monitored for the first time in 2014. The new points have not been evaluated for 2014 since the minimum number of samples required by the Directive has not yet been collected. However, from the initial results of 2014 it is evident that the concentrations of microbiological parameters remain below the respective criteria values of excellent quality. For the remaining 1518 bathing waters, the classification results are the following report:
1495 bathing waters are classified as "excellent quality". One of them are located in inland waters and the 1494 in coastal waters.
23 bathing waters are classified as "good quality", one of which is located in inland waters and 22 in coastal waters.
None of bathing waters was classified as "sufficient quality".
None of bathing waters was classified as "poor quality".
"It is everyone's care and obligation - the state and the citizens - to continuously protect our seas and coasts in the best possible way. It is up to us to maintain the quality of our waters forever," Tsironis added.
Bathing water quality for the year 2014 was monitored and assessed in the framework of the Monitoring Programme of Bathing Water Quality that was implemented under the supervision of the Special Secretariat for Water of the Ministry of Reconstruction of production, Environment and Energy.
The search was conducted by scientists at the Natural History Museum for the Lesvos Petrified Forest, which is responsible for preserving other sections of the 'Petrified Forest' found on the island.
Among the finds are unprecedented numbers of fossilised tree trunks, both of coniferous and flowering trees (angiosperms) such as oaks, laurels, palms, cypresses and pines. There were also volcanic layers with a large variety of species such as cinammon, coconut palms, palm trees and others that confirm the presence of an extensive sub-tropical forest that was covered by successive and violent volcanic eruptions.
These and other finds can be viewed from this coming Saturday at Sigri, in the museum's grand new exhibition that, according to museum director Nikos Zouros, presents the finds in a comprehensive and easy-to-understand way for the first time.
It is an innovative project that gives visitors an insight into the history and traditions of beer-making in Greece, as well as hands-on experience in beer-making through seminars and other events.
Essentially a production unit for the production of new beers, it includes an exhibition space where antique beer-making equipment is on display but also an educational centre offering interactive seminars with its own model micro-brewery where original recipes of unpasteurised beer can be made and tasted. These varieties will be on sale four times a year, in a selected distribution network.
The museum section contains mainly objects from the three production units of the Athinaiki Zythopoiia brewery that were found and curated by historian and curator Irida Kritikou, as well as a permanent collection of original ceramic beer mugs, following their historic path through the centuries.
EFIMERIDA TON SYNTAKTON: With the debt on our shoulder.
ELEFTHEROS TYPOS: The new calculation of lump sums in all social security funds.
ESTIA: How Greek politicians trap themselves.
ETHNOS: New payroll type in public sector.
IMERISSIA: Three resounding messages.
KATHIMERINI: The meeting in Riga and Varoufakis' (Yanis, Finance Minister) show.
LOGOS: Zero hour at Riga.
NAFTEMPORIKI: Riga the last resort.
RIZOSPASTIS: Government to close the antipopular package.
TA NEA: Early pensions of austerity.
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