Greeks can do more to help themselves
Those worrying over what to do about Greece might look at why they spend so much on arms contracts and are still committed to buying billions of military metal from France, Germany and the US. Nato could give a solemn guarantee of protection to Greece against any attempt by neighbour (ie Turkey) to promote aggression against Greek islands and so on. According to latest figures, Greece spends $1,230 for each citizen on arms compared to Britain which spends $893. Greece’s share of GDP spent on defence is 3.2 per cent compared to 2.3 per cent in Turkey and just over two per cent in Britain. Both France and Britain are reducing defence expenditure in the context of the current spending crisis but France and Germany are insisting that Greece buys unneeded warships and armoured vehicles. Arms deals are notorious for promoting corruption as commissions, the system of retired generals, defence officials and ministers going through revolving doors to work for the defence industry, and other pay-offs, add millions to defence contracts.
The new French prime minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault said on French radio today that despite major tax reforms instituted in Greece since the crisis began the amount of tax revenue raised in Greece was going down thus making the crisis worse as the government does not have the nationally generated revenue to pay salaries of the army, police, teachers and other public servants. The French prime minister added there was something wrong when rich Greeks avoided paying taxes by moving wealth into buying expensive property in London and Paris. Do the British and French governments need to do more to publicise the Greek super-rich – their nation’s tax-avoiding Trojan Horse blind to Greece’s need? EU leaders meet today. Do they need to stop turning a blind eye to the massive tax-dodging that undermines Greece’s ability to pay its way?
In Athens earlier in the year for a BBC World TV debate with Professor Nouriel Roubini on the euro crisis (where the audience’s support for staying in the wuro went up after Professor Roubini told them they should return to the drachma) I was shocked to learn that the Greek shipping oligarchs despite owning seven per cent of the Greek economy, do not pay taxes. By contrast, the much smaller British shipping industry pays £780m a year to the UK Treasury in taxes. Taxing the shipping industry is notoriously difficult as by definition it exists offshore in the literal sense of the term. Nonetheless, at a time of existential crisis for the nation’s future can Greece and European banks, including those in tax havens like Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, the Channel Islands and the City, be asked to help to find ways of putting pressure on these powerful Greek economic interests who will do anything for their nation except pay taxes. Can they now accept their patriotic duty to prevent a complete Greek collapse?
Finally, Michael Lewis’ excellent book, Boomerang, has a wonderful opening chapter on the extent of the wealth contained in the property and land portfolio of the Greek Orthodox church. The monks and priests will pray for the salvation of Greek souls but not pay any taxes to contribute to the salvation of the Greek economy. In the 19th century, Karl Marx noted that the Anglican church would rather give up 38 of its 39 articles than surrender one 39th of its wealth. In Greece, the church has a closer relationship to Mammon than to God. Other nations faced with the problem of urgent revenue-raising have imposed a generalised solidarity tax on all income, wealth and property. Germany adopted this measure to pay the crushing burden of unifying East with West Germany after 1990.
Up to now in Greece the rich, the church, the defence sector and the shipping oligarchs have all managed to duck any responsibility to help solve the crisis. They blame anyone and everyone but do not look in the mirror themselves. Europe should help Greece get through the crisis without the catastrophe of the euro collapsing, armed guards outside every ATM, all contracts dishonoured, and millions of Greeks flooding north as the Greek economy collapses. But Europe helps those who help themselves. It is time for the Greeks who so far have not helped their nation to do their duty.
Denis MacShane is MP for Rotherham and a former Europe minister. He tweets @denismacshane
cuts, defence, deficit, Denis MacShane, France, Greece, international, NATO, Turkey