Greece: Shopkeepers riot rather than pay taxes

 

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande will meet on August 30 ahead of what may prove to be a fateful period for NATO ally and EU member Greece and its future within the eurozone. The leaders of the two biggest economies in the EU will meet in Berlin before each of them meet  separately with Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras. Hollande will host Samaras in Paris on September 1 as he continues to persuade EU partners to extend a deadline for spending cuts in expenditures by the Greek government and thus remain part of the eurozone. Samaras will have met Eurogroup chief Jean-Claude Juncker on August 29, hoping to stay in the 17-nation eurozone
 
Reinforcing an image of German obduracy, Germany’s economy minister Philipp Roesler rejected calls to give Greece more time to implement economic reforms, speaking in an August 26 interview. Roesler visited with Samaras on August 24 in Berlin, as did Chancellor Merkel. Samaras told Merkel that Greece needs “time to breathe” before enacting austerity measures . Roesler said in a TV interview, ‘‘What the Greeks have asked for, half a year or two years, that’s not doable.’’ Roesler, who is also the vice chancellor in the German coalition government, added that ‘‘time is always money’’ and all parties had agreed that additional funds for Greece are not up for debate.
 
Peter Spatharis, who leads ACAGI – a Maryland-based defense technology firm – and is a former candidate for the Greek parliament, said in an interview with Spero News that “austerity is not the answer” with regard to the crisis in his homeland, Greece.  When asked what the immediate future holds for the Hellenic Republic, Spatharis said “It’s is not really leading anywhere. This is a very Germanic model of austerity. It is easy to have an austerity model when you  are coming from prosperity, trying to fix things a little bit and going back to prosperity.” A former officer in the Hellenic Army, Spatharis echoed the frustrations of many Greeks who are battling a significantly down economy, where unemployment stands at above 20 percent. Also, government income tax revenues are down because of unemployment.  “This is not about a political solution,” to the problems of Greece averred Spatharis.
 
Greeks’ confidence in their government is at an ebb, said Spatharis, given the numerous accusations of corruption and payoffs of politicians, especially by European companies. For example, the German engineering firm Siemens recently came to an agreement with the Greek government to pay $212.5 million, eventually, after the company admitted to paying Greek politicians to the tune of nearly $512 million in bribes in return for contracts. Spatharis noted that none of these politicians, including those from the ruling New Democracy party, have been prosecuted, although the case came to light four years ago. Spatharis said that Greece has a “culture of corruption” that also exhibits a “lack of fiscal discipline for the last 30 years.”
 
Germany is effectively Europe’s paymaster and wields the greatest influence among the nations conforming the eurozone. Prosperous Germany is sticking to its guns, having insisted the Greece must adhere to the deadline and the reforms that were required for its second rescue package. The French are showing more flexibility, however.  "The aim is to discuss flexibility in return for assurances and the two want to have a common line before the arrival of the Greek prime minister,”said  Claire Demesmay of the German Council on Foreign Relations to AFP. Ulrike Guerot of the European Council of Foreign Relations said the meeting would be closely monitored as the EU makes decisions over the next month. "The markets want to know if visions are the same in Berlin and Paris,” she said.
 
Greece, noted Spatharis, is coping with significant problems such as the apparently uncontrolled influx of immigrants, mostly Muslim from the Mideast and Africa. For example, Greece has been swarmed with Syrians seeking asylum from the ongoing civil war in their country. The influx of Muslim has posed a challenge not only to the Greek social welfare system, but also to a culture that is very proud of its Orthodox Christian heritage. Many Greeks lived under Ottoman rule, and have bitter memories of Muslim oppression, just as they memories of occupation by Germany during the Second World War. 
 
Spatharis did not voice much hope that change will come very soon or easily to Greece. He noted that when tax collectors went to the island community of Hydra, shopkeepers were found to forego issuing receipts to customers so as to avoid paying taxes. When shopkeepers discovered that the tax collectors were bent on getting the revenue, near riots ensued and the government officials had to take shelter in a police station before riot police could be air lifted from the mainland to restore order.


Spero News editor Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. He is also a freelance translator.

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