Usually, at the start of a new year things tend to move in slow-motion mood. None of the sort for 2019 Greece: quite the opposite in fact.
The new year started with the raucous caused by the newest twist in the infamous Novartis scandal. A world-wide affair, this, with the US authorities having taken the lead to prosecute the commercial practices of the German-Swiss pharma giant. Still, Greece being Greece, the local offshoot of the Novartis affair has implicated (or: is thought to implicate) political personalities. Now, a protected witness crucial to the case in Greece – there are two sets of 3 such witnesses each, in the US and in Greece, all of them testifying over the Greek offshoot of Novartis – has recanted; consequently he has been charged, but the whole of the prosecution is threatened. Coming as it has in an electoral year, this incident threatens to add venom to tensions already running high. Day by day, revelations offer that messy issue come to the surface, with the Opposition berating the Government for exercising (or: trying to exercise) pressure over the judiciary over this case.
Now, in the very next days, the visit of Chancellor Angela Merkel to Greece is awaiting with mixed feelings. Merkel will certainly provide assurances that the economic crisis Greece has been in for the last decade is at last receding – at least this is the accepted truth in Berlin, as it is in Brussels; still, this is not music to the ears of everybody in Greece since the Opposition is campaigning over a negative-to-catastrophic reading of the economy. Far more importantly the German chancellor will apply pressure so that Greece ratifies in Parliament the Prespes Treaty, whereby relations with neighbouring FYRoM would be normalized – and the smaller, Northern state henceforth called “Republic of Northern Macedonia” would join the ranks of the Euro-Atlantic alliances, first and foremost NATO, then the EU. The Prespes Treaty is expected to be voted at the Skopje Parliament starting on Wednesday, so time is really running short for support to be mustered in Athens, where the “name issue” of Macedonia has been always disputed with intense national feelings rising. In an electoral year, Government and Opposition to clash over such an issue can really turn ugly.
Last but by no means least, things are getting ever more dangerous over Greek-Turkish relations. The rapid amelioration of Ankara relations with Washington/the Trump Administration gives the impression that whatever role the US were thought to assume in stabilizing the situation in the Aegean is receding. So, if a conflagration results from Turkish bluster and Greek countering, it is highly probable that Greek forces will have to play it out alone.
So, quite a week ahead!