Mose Apelblat

Tax evasion in Greece

Euractiv reported last week (5 February) that the European People´s Party (EPP) in the European Parliament intends to propose a motion of censure in the parliament against the right-wing Independent Greeks party. Following the recent election in Greece, they were included in a government coalition with the Syriza Party. Its founder Panos Kammenos has been appointed to minister of defense. The motion would be similar to that which was passed in 2000 when the Austrian government included the far-right People’s Party.

The left-wing Syriza party and the right-wing or even ultra-nationalist Independent Greeks party make strange bed-fellows but are obviously united in their opposition against the austerity policy which was imposed on Greece by the Troika. This doesn’t absolve Syriza from publicly distancing itself from the conspiracy-minded views of its coalition partner and condemning the most outrageous ones. It might the best way to prevent the above-mentioned motion from being adopted.

In an interview on Greek TV last December, Kammenos was quoted as saying that the Jews in Greece don’t pay taxes. This blatantly anti-Semitic remark prompted a sharp rebuttal by the Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece which represents a tiny minority of 5 000 people. I don’t know if Kammenos has yet apologized, as he was asked to do, or if the new Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has asked him to do it.

Kammenos, as former deputy minister of shipping in Greece, surely knows better than most other people in Greece who are guilty of tax evasion in the country. It’s almost everyone in Greece besides employees whose taxes are withdrawn at the source. In particular it’s the shipping companies which account for 7 % of GDP. They are even protected by the constitution. In which country do you need to amend first the constitution to change tax legislation?

According to news reports the leftist Syriza party fears a clash with the shipping tycoons and, notwithstanding election promises, is not likely to change their generous tax regime. Greece is still trying to create a functioning tax system (International New York Times, 6 February). Estimates of the amount of non-reported taxable income and taxes not paid show astonishing figures. If companies and self-employed people would pay their taxes, the government could wipe out its budget deficit and substantially decrease the national debt.

A Task Force for Greece was established by the European Commission in 2011 to coordinate technical assistance in a number of policy areas, incl. revenue administration, public financial management and government auditing. In its latest quarterly report it states that the tax administration has been strengthened but no figures are given as to whether this has been translated into increased tax collection.

In 2013 it was reported that out of 13 billion euros that is owed by Greece’s 1,500 biggest tax debtors, only about 19 million euros had been collected despite draconian measures such as arrests of tax offenders.

As regards auditing, the Hellenic Court of Audit (HCA) still struggles with financial auditing and is probably the only one in EU that doesn’t carry out any performance auditing. Why? Because the Task Force thinks it’s too early to extend any technical assistance to develop HCA’s capacity for performance auditing? A complete overhaul of the HCA is long overdue so that it can fulfil its role as a national watchdog in the Greek public administration and enhance transparency, accountability and effectiveness.

We can all agree that the demands for debt relief and a reversal of the disastrous austerity policies are justified. But Greece needs also to address its self-inflicted problems, among them the ineffective public sector and tax evasion which is considered a “national sport” in the country. Ordinary people will not pay their taxes if there is no tax solidarity, i.e. if self-employed people and companies continue with tax evasion. Nor will they pay taxes if they in addition have to pay bribes for elementary social services. This erodes democracy.

And anti-Semitic statements must be condemned, especially in a country where the percentage of people believing in anti-Semitic stereotypes and prejudices is among the highest in Europe. Statements such as the one by Kammenos only nourish anti-Semitism and divert the attention from Greece’s real problems.

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  1. It is incredible that there could be antisemitism in a country where there are only 5000 jews left! They should be extraordinarily wicked to represent a danger in such a small number! And even in 5000 people did not pay taxes, what effect it would have on country with 11 million citizens?

  2. There is some anti-Semitism in Greece (mostly Golden Dawn) but there needs to be a reality check too. Not a single Jew has been killed by Greek because he was Jewish yet you write as if another holocaust is pending.

    More importantly its what you don’t write about, which makes your motives appear purely self-interest and nationalist oriented, rather than principled based… What about the antihellenism among some Jews? This would include you.

    For years have you not lobbied for Skopians threatening Greece? Its not exactly rocket science to know ancient Macedonians have nothing to do with Slavs in ancient paeonia. For years haven’t you’ve played dumb as they turned into “ancient Macedonians” and promote irredentism? For years haven’t you quietly attempted to narrate Greeks out of ethnic existence to hide your mistake of recognizing them?

    The hostility some Greeks feel towards some Jews (and some foreigners in general for similar behavior) isn’t all unwarranted. If you collude with extremists trying to erase Greeks what do you expect in return? How would you like it we exclusively used Khazar hypothesis or anti-nationalists “imagined community” authors to question if you are actually Jewish? How would you feel if our government cozied up with Hamas? Wouldn’t you feel hostile? And Greeks are different how?

    I personally want a friendship with Israel and Jews. There is much good to be found there and I don’t hold it against every Jew that some are Greek hating bigots. Until the far more serious issue of antihellenism is addressed though, calls antisemtism come of as manipulative nationalist rhetoric.

  3. Reply to Massimo: Couldn’t agree more with you. Tax evasion is rampant in Greece and the new government is aware of it as it has promised to crack down on it as part of a compromise solution to the financial crisis.
    An additional solution which was recently proposed by the magazine New Europe is to deregulate markets and abolish monopolies. This would have an immediate effect on the price level in the country and compensate all those Greeks who have seen their salaries reduced.

  4. Reply to Greek Response: I agree that we should avoid nationalistic rhetoric. We should also ban hate speech.
    You are referring to an article which I wrote once on the name issue. Surely it was no expression of “anti-Hellenism”. It resulted in hateful or insulting comments which didn’t deserve any reply. By the way, the article on the name issue was refused by a known Greek newspaper because it was considered as sensitive.
    Jews and Greeks have a long common history and should learn from each-other.
    Anti-Semitic remarks by Greek politicians are a disgrace to Greece. Read e,g, Jochen Bittner’s op-ed in International New York Times (12.2.2015). He has also reacted against Kammenos.

  5. Reply to Mose Apelblat

    You claim you supporting Slavs claiming to be “Macedonians” is not no expression of “anti-Hellenism”? Don’t notice their irredentism? Authoritarianism? Don’t notice their bizarre attempt to usurp the very identity of Greeks?

    Please don’t insult our intelligence Get real Moses.

    How about if it was Greeks arguing Palestinaians were the “real” Jews and pointing out Jews “acquired” Palestine in the 20th century ? See how easy it is to say the words?

    I don’t agree with any Greeks that make overly broad statements demonizing all Jews…

    As for the NYT… i suggest edit editor in Chief Andrew Rosenthal open up old issues of NYT. He’s discover what he, and you, already well knows. The US itself claimed there is no such thing as an “ethnic” Macedonians.

    I want friendly relations with other nations but if Skopje apologists all keep playing dumb to hide their mistake of supporting Skopje we will defend ourselves.

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