Monday 13 July 2015

Eurosceptics should get a grip over Greece

For all the whining about "harsh austerity" and EU enforced "neoliberalism", one might first lift the lid on Greek shipping to get a good look at what we're dealing with. Greece owns 74 percent of the shares in Piraeus and Thessaloniki ports, which are the main inlet the the majority of counterfeit goods coming from China.

The low "tax consciousnesses‟ among the Greek public drives the black market, and the "informal economy" in the country that accounts for up to 30% of the GDP, - the largest informal economy in the EU.

Greece is known as a poor country inhabited by rich people. In most other countries, a closure of the banks would cause the country to grind to a halt, but not Greece because it is still largely a cash economy with most of it undeclared. Greeks would rather put their money in a mattress than a Greek bank because Greek banks are shell operations owned by the shipping families of Greece who are in effect a ruling mafia.

Smuggling in Greece is a national pastime which concerns counterfeit articles, stolen cars, weapons, radioactive material and products where excise duties are levied, like cigarettes. It's not just fake Gucci handbags (for which there is a massive tolerance for in Greece) but also falsified foods and pharmaceuticals. Acceptance of such in Greece is a societal norm.

The shipping industry, with the whole world as its workplace and its frequent contact with officials and authorities, is vulnerable to attempts at corruption, bribery and demands of so-called ‘facilitation payments’, which can have serious consequences for the crew, employees and ships, as these can be held back if the shipping companies refuse to pay. One might expect this of Nigeria, but not a modern EU port. Greece's endemic corruption harms all EU trade.

Yet on its maiden day in office, in spite of it being a condition of the previous bailout, Syriza announced that a privatisation programme (launched to trim the country’s staggering debt load) was in effect null and void. Plans to sell off further port assets – repair docks as well as car, passenger and cruise ship terminals that Cosco had been bidding for were been scrapped. Perversely, by defaulting, Greece has signed a new bailout agreement where the EU has put port privatisation back on the agenda. This is what the left (and now bizarrely some on the right) call "neoliberalism" imposed by the EU.

The truth is that Europe cannot afford for Greece to be the weak link in the chain of global trade. The Greek economy was built on Greek shipping - but Greek shipping and corruption go hand in hand, and this is what the EU wants to fix because without such reforms (on which the whole economy is pegged) we will be here again. Rightly, Germans are asking why they should bail out Greece if they're going to end up doing it again for much the same reasons.

The EU is not saying Greece must accept the bailout, but there are entirely reasonable conditions attached to it, and if Greece wants a shot at being a modern wealthy nation instead of a socialist basketcase then these are the reforms it must undergo. I can think of a dozen good reasons to oppose the EU, but really Greece is not one of them.

If you've been reading the other blog, you'll see we're putting a lot of work into examining technical barriers to trade. Corruption and delays at ports are one of the chief barriers to opening up trade with the rest of the world, and addressing such must make up any rational case for leaving the EU. We have criticised the EU for being slow to respond to these global challenges, yet bizarrely the eurosceptics are attacking the EU for doing exactly that for a change. The outcry over Greece from the left and the hard right is wholly irrational.

Eurosceptics should sympathise, rather than lecturing the Germans. We avoided the euro but they're in it and need to try and make it work. Syriza are not analogous to the British constituency who want to leave the EU to have more economic liberalism from our relatively good starting position. They want less from Greece's relatively bad starting position. This is absurd. Germany doesn't want to be in a currency union with a socialist basketcase and nor would we.

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