Saturday, March 21, 2015

Humor: European perspectives on tax evasion!

If a British man keeps his money in a tax haven like the Isle of Man or the Channel Islands is a clever businessman.

If a German man keeps his money in Switzerland or Luxembourg is a thrifter and reasonable investor. 

If a Russian man keeps his money in Cyprus is a mafia oil oligarch.

If a Greek man keeps his money in Switzerland is a corrupt and lazy tax evader.

Finally when a French guy keeps his money in a tax haven like Monaco or Switzerland he is simply........ Gerard Depardieu...!!!

Friday, March 20, 2015

What are the "necessary" reforms that Europe demands of Greece?
Apparently today there was another meeting in Brussels. EU leaders of Germany, France and the EU institutions met with Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras on the sidelines of the EU Council at his request. 

Though Greece and its negotiation with international creditors was not on the summit’s formal agenda, Greece’s economic woes were ominous. (Independent Balkan News Agency).

Yet for the past few weeks prominent EU and European leaders, were complaining that Greece is not doing enough to keep up with the requested and necessary reforms. 

Pressure was mounting on the Greek leadership, while its partners grew increasingly annoyed and often offended by Mr. Tsipras and Mr. Varoufakis tactics, comments and "lack of action to keep up with the promises made". 

But what are the "necessary" reforms that the EU demands of Greece? The Greek and European public has been repeatedly informed about the "lack of reforms", but does any of us actually know what Greece's partners are asking?

Has anyone explained to the Greek people what is at stake? How do the EU and European leadership expect the Greeks to accept everything that need to be "reformed," if they don't tell us what we must do. 

All Europe is saying is literally "do as we say and we will give you more money". I can't recall any list of demands being made public, or any suggestions on which fields and in what manner Greece must proceed with its reforms.

If the Greeks must bare the austerity that Germany, the Troika and the ECB are imposing on them, shouldn't they at least be aware of what they will have to lose or gain?

The main demands evolve around privatization initiatives. If that is the sole case, then this is not an assistance, it is a black-mail to force Greece to sell out its natural resources.

The Greek state does not need necessarily this massive sell-out. What it needs to do, is to cut its red-tape so that the native entrepreneurs and foreign companies can do business easier and invest in the country.

It needs to tackle corruption and tax evasion and of course to set up a land registry. If these are the "reforms" that Europe is demanding, it is right to do so, but harsh austerity is not the best way to achieve them.

The more austerity, the more the Greeks are opposed to these reforms. They are a very rational race of people, they do not just obey laws without question.

Someone needs to explain to them what is happening and then they will condone; or not! But when the Greek and European leadership do not give them any credible feedback about the situation, then we are having a serious democratic deficit.

Shouldn't all Greek households, that are forced to endure six years of the harshest austerity seen in Europe for a long time, be informed about what their country is required to give up or sell out to Greece's partners?

Lack of communication leads to misunderstandings and it makes it more difficult for the Greeks to accept these unknown reforms. 

It is crucial to keep the pro-European sentiment among the Greek population, not make the situation worse with derogatory comments and constant negative criticism of Greece's democratically elected government.

What possibly is happening, is that the European establishment is determined to get rid of Syriza, before other leftist governments mushroom all over Europe. That would mean a disaster for them, their interests and the neo-liberal agenda they plan to apply across our continent.
They are working hard, by using propaganda and slandering Greece's Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, in order to discredit them and force them to call an election. 

The EU and European leadership are behind this plot. But it is not the average German citizen's fault, as it is not the average Greek or any other EU citizen's fault either. 

The continent's elites, represent these policies that want to shape a two tier Europe, a divided continent. Some poor, some rich and developed; periphery and core economies, North and South.

Such development won't be good for any worker across the continent, either in Greece, Germany, Ireland or any EU member state.

The Germans and the rest of the ordinary EU citizens need to understand that. The European elites just demand Greece to repay and save the European banks.

In my opinion all the fuss about these "necessary reforms," is nonsense. They don't really care about Greece or it's people, otherwise they would have heard their cries years ago, when they were calling that this austerity is unfair, unbearable and not justified.

It is privatizations that they want, little do they care about Greece's future. Because that future is not built on a massive debt that the country won't never be able to repay anyway. 

The EU and European leadership just want someone to take the blame for all that is wrong in the euro-zone and the European economy. They will never admit that they created a mess with everything, it is good enough to them that the Greeks take all the blame.

Yet it is encouraging though to see waves of support and solidarity from the average European citizens, across the EU, Germany included.

Recently riots took place in Frankfurt, demonstrating against the new ECB's head-quarters opening, while millions of ordinary people are facing austerity. It is more than heartening to see ordinary Germans, finally understanding that their government's policies, together with the EU's are not favoring ordinary people, in Greece, their country or elsewhere.

That was one the greatest displays of European solidarity in recent times, not the smokescreen of financial support that the European elites were trying to fool us with. Citizens must stand together. Now it is Greece; in the next crisis it could be your country. 

Friday, March 13, 2015

EU loses Iceland as a member, out of its myopic policies.
Iceland has dropped its bid to become a member of the EU.

Foreign Minister Gunnar Bragi Sveinsson said he had informed the current EU president Latvia as well as the European Commission about the move. (Euronews)

Who can blame them really. Why anyone would like to join a union, where the citizens are the ones who bailout the banks with their taxes, while being slandered on top of that if they protest.

The Icelanders jailed the bankers and did not gave them more powers, unlike the rest of Europe and America. The Icelandic way of dealing with the economic crisis, has conveniently slipped out the European media and in extend, the public opinion's attention.

Instead, the continent's media institutions, found joy in slandering the Greeks for complaining about austerity. In addition they focused in everything that was wrong in the country's economy and society, trying desperately to justify that the Greeks have to suffer for their laziness and corruption. 

The events that were taking place in Iceland on the other hand, were not mentioned by the mainstream media. 

Iceland's 38-year-old prime minister, Sigmundur Davíd Gunnlaugsson, elected in April on populist promises of mortgage relief for every homeowner. Syriza did exactly the same, yet it is being scorned and scolded by its European "partners".

Gunnlaugsson earned his spurs in years of outspoken campaigning against the foreign creditors, particularly the British and the Dutch governments, which intervened after the collapse of Landsbanki, the bank behind Icesave, on 7 October 2008.

A poisonous diplomatic row was sparked between Iceland, the Netherlands and Great Britain, that against the odds, Iceland won. While many other politicians in Iceland had urged a policy of appeasing the enraged British and Dutch governments, Gunnlaugsson had insisted they should go hang.

Having helped win the famous Icesave victory from outside government, Gunnlaugsson has promised to carry that uncompromising approach with him as prime minister, hinting at a new wave of attacks on the interests of foreign creditors to Iceland's three failed banks: Kaupthing, Glitnir and Landsbanki. 

Between them, these institutions had assets more than nine times the size of Iceland's economic output when they failed in 2008.

His attitude personally reminds me of the attitude or the Greek Minister of Finance, Yanis Varoufakis. Yet, since outside the EU, the Icelanders did not have to face the same pressure from their partners, through the EU institutions.
As result, the Icelanders are fast on their way back to becoming among the richest people in the world, just five years after experiencing one of the most dramatic financial meltdowns in history.

"We raised almost every tax there was – and introduced new ones," recalled the then finance minister, Steingrimur Sigfusson, adding that there were considerable cuts in public spending too as government debt swelled to eye-watering levels.

By August 2011, Iceland had graduated from its International Monetary Fund bailout program with flying colors. "We became a poster child for them," suggests Sigfusson, noting how the fund is still struggling to right many other sinking economies on Europe's peripheries.

Iceland is now held up as an example by some of how to overcome deep economic dislocation without undoing the social fabric.

Since then, with government borrowing receding, Iceland has been able to return to the international debt markets, and has begun repaying its emergency loans. Meanwhile, the economy – having shrunk more than 10% in two years – bounced in 2011 and 2012, and will grow by about 1.9% this year.

Nobel prize winner Joeseph Stilitz agrees. "What Iceland did was right. It would have been wrong to burden future generations with the mistakes of the financial system." For Financial Times economist Martin Wolf too, it was a triumph. "Iceland let the creditors of its banks hang. Ireland did not. Good for Iceland!" Less good, of course, for the foreign creditors. (The Guardian)

It is the obviously the attitude of Germany, it's satellite states and the EU institutions and the way they treat Greece and other nations under an EU/IMF bailout program, that put the Icelanders off EU membership. They do not need the rest of Europe anymore, they have proven they can make it on their own.

And not just that, but why would they put up with institutionalized bullying by their EU counterparts, that want to save their own banks and insure the maximum return for their bond holders? 

Iceland's case is a true example of a real patriotism and fully functioning democracy, where the leaders listen to their voters' needs and work hard for their interests. This is quite the opposite of what the former Greek government and many of their European counterparts were doing,

 Losing Iceland as a potential EU member, is a real loss for Europe, European democracy and the continent's dream for unification. European leaders, take not and hang your head in shame! 

Thursday, March 12, 2015

The Euro-zone crisis can not be solved by national governments.
For the past six years since the economic crisis has hit the euro-zone, Greece and its relationship with its partners have been always making news. 

Recently though, things have been turning constantly for the worse. Particularly Greece's relationship with its main creditor and Europe's economic powerhouse, Germany, has turned really sour. 

After being scolded, mocked and constantly criticized by its partners and especially by the German media, the Greek voters have elected a "radical" Leftist party in government; Syriza.

 The new Greek leadership has broken the lines of the country's former governments. The ministers of PASOK and the New Democracy were more compliant, diplomatic and keen to satisfy Greece's creditors' demands. By doing so, they agreed to implement very harsh and unpopular austerity measures, that  eventually led to their defeat in the last Greek general elections.

Naturally such outcome was expected. The Greek voters saw their politicians' surrender to the demands of the Troika as a national disgrace and surrender. After of six years of extremely painful policies that they had to endure, they had enough.

Yet the grave mistakes that the former Greek governments did, are not to be blamed on their European partners. It was not them who decided to cut the Greek salaries by 40%, destroying the internal market of the country. 

In Ireland the government also implemented austerity measures, but the salary cuts were never as severe as in Greece. After 2-3 years, the Irish market managed to bounce back, simply because the Irish consumers did not lose almost half of their income.

Nor it was Greece's partners who failed to proceed with reforms, mainly sorting out the country's taxation system, its red tape and tax evasion problem. It also failed to establish a land registry and even worse, go after the rich of the country, who are the worse offenders of tax evasion.

When Syriza came into power, understandably tried to gain some of Greece's dignity. To please its voter back home, it was very quick to challenge the Troika, the Eurogroup, the German leadership and all its European creditors and partners. 

Ideally that is not the way to gain support for your cause and pass a message to your partners about the need to reconsider Greece's situation. If only, you are only isolating yourself and you damage your country's image. 

Having said that, the way the European, notably the German media and governments have treated Greece is not fair either. They have slandered the former governments for "lying" to enter the euro. They have repeatedly treated Greece as the black ship of the family, underlining the faults in its system, more than they did for any other country.
They used Greece as a scapegoat, to cover all the mistakes that the European leadership made when creating the euro. 

Instead of pouring some light in the EU institutions' shortcomings and offer more transparency on their functions, they preferred to literally "feed" the Greeks to the outraged European public opinion.

The German leadership in particular, acted in a very arrogant way. They may have good intentions overall for the euro's recovery, or they just want to apply their tried and tested formula that they used during the unification of Germany.

But they forget one thing; in the German situation, its government was elected by a German majority of voters and naturally had its backing. In the effort to unify Europe, this panacea can not be applied as easily, simply because Europe is not one nation.

The Greek voters did not vote for the German government, or had any say on who is get elected. Thus when the German leaders are keen to tell the Greeks how to run their country, they are not helping much with the situation. They should leave the EU institutions to apply pressure on the Greek leadership and proceed with the necessary reforms.

In addition, by applying such harsh criticism on just one nation under EU/IMF bail-out program, they naturally increase the resistance of the Greeks against their demands. German government officials together with top EU officials, have been giving in the media's demand for a story, making inflammatory statements about the Greek situation.

That is not a wise way to appease the country's public, that has to suffer not just the harshest austerity measures in recent European history, but a decade long criticism and humiliation. Especially when no other EU nation has its social and financial shortcomings so openly discussed or analysed.

It is clear that the Euro-zone crisis can not be solved by national governments. The constant clash between the Greek and German governments, is high jacking the future of the euro, postponing its recovery and dividing the European public.

No side wants to back down and each one takes the fate of millions of people in the zone for granted, to satisfy the demands of voters back home. If we want to keep the euro, we got to face the facts: the only way to govern a single currency is a single government.

So no national EU government can meddle with the decisions to serve their own ego, ideology, national superiority or the idea of it. Syriza has a very different ideology than the rest of the European political elites. Naturally it opposes the way that the EU institutions have been run over the previous decades.

But until other nations decide to be as bold as the Greeks and vote for an outsider in government, Syriza is damaging Greece's interests by going against everybody in the EU. Ideally they should wait until other nations like Spain to also elect a leftist government, then launch a full on attach on the neo-liberal agenda of the EU institutions.

The Germans on the other hand must abandon their arrogance, thinking that because they "pay" for all others, they are entitled to dictate them or dominate the whole continent. Because the reality is quite different. It is the European banking system that it is being bailed out, not the countries and their citizens that receive the loans. 

The clash between Germany and Greece is constantly turning for the worse. Recently the Greek government decided to ask for the WW2 reparations from Germany, something that was received by the Germans and their supporters with even more content and ridicule. 

The situation leads nowhere and both sides have a fair share of blame. But as long as it is down to national governments to reach an agreement, the euro-zone will always remain in limbo. The national interests are getting in the way in finding a satisfactory solution for everybody.

Since we came this far to share a single currency, it is decision time. If we want to keep the euro, we need to create an ever closer political union, as well as a banking one. The euro was create as a symbol of European "unity" and upon its launch, the Greeks were promised that it would turn Greece as rich as the Northern European nations.

That no only did not happen, but actually quite the opposite took place. This is not just the fault of the Greek governments, but the way the euro was created and the opposition of the German leadership to allow the transfer of wealth towards the poorer, peripheral economies.

In other words, the only way the euro can fulfill its purpose is when the rich EU nations will allow this transfer of investments and funds. While the poorer nations should proceed with necessary reforms, to transform their countries into a model that is more compatible with that of their Northern European counterparts.

From what we observe, our governments fail to agree, save the euro and the European economy, or fulfill their obligations towards their citizens. We need a new type of government to deal with this mess, one that will force all governments to comply with what must be done, should Europe decides to keep the single currency.

That government must be created on a pan-European level, by pro-European politicians, committed and dedicated to Europe's cause, not to any pitiful, conservative, nationalist agenda. 

Friday, March 6, 2015

The Greek bashing in European media, obstructs reforms in the country.
For the past five years, no other EU member state had received so much attention by the European and global media regarding the euro-zone crisis, as much as Greece. 

Ever since the global economic meltdown hit the country, its affairs kept the European media busy. All the shortcomings of the Greek economy and society were exposed, by every media organization across the continent.

Stories kept being published about how the Greeks are not working hard, how they all tax evade, or how corrupt the country's institutions are.

Most of these articles or reports, have of course a great dose of truth; no one ever denies in Greece that nepotism and corruption was a major obstacle to Greece becoming a real European economy. 

Yet I do not recall any newspaper analyzing the US economy so much, where the crisis begun. There haven't been any condemning articles about the mismanagement of the US finances and the totally irresponsible policies that its banks adopted. 

Nor I do not remember any harsh and analytic reports being made for Ireland, France, Italy, Spain, Cyprus or Portugal, many of those being also under an EU/IMF bail-out agreement, or facing hard economic realities. 

I live in Ireland for more than 10 years now and I am very familiar with its weaknesses as an economy and a society. I was surprised that no media organization visited the country to write about people collecting social welfare while working illegally, or how corrupt its property market is, once under IMF supervision.

I doubt that Portugal, which has a very similar economy to that of Greece is less corrupt, or Spain for the same matter. In Italy it is well known the extend of the activities of its famous Mafia, yet no one ever portrayed the whole nation as thieving, murdering thugs.

There have been of course a numerous reports, speculations or analyses on the faults of the euro currency, but never any blame was placed on any current or former EU official and leader of any national government, for creating a totally shambolic single currency.

Again it was the former Greek governments who were blamed for "lying" about the country's finances to adopt the euro. If that is true it exposes how the euro currency was established with extremely weak foundations. 

I doubt that no one knew about Greece's "lying". If only, it is most likely that such practices were widely common among European governments, to keep their economies afloat.

Most Western European nations are heavily indebted. Perhaps Greece just went overboard and its economy could not support so much borrowing. That is not a reason to punish and humiliate the ordinary citizen of Greece though. 

It would be refreshing for once, to have the media focus dropping Greece and turning on the shortcomings of the European banking system and the EU institutions instead. There we have transactions worth of billions, not a few hundred euro of tax evasion like in some cases of citizen fraud. 

In addition, after being totally humiliated for years in a row, the Greeks are fed up of being treated like the black ship of the continent. Thus they decided to revolt and vote for a so called "radical" party into government. 

Once more the European media started the mud throwing and propaganda campaigns. This time they focused on Greece's newly elected leader and Finance Minister, Mr. Tsipras and Mr. Varoufakis. They criticize anything from their lack of "professionalism," to their casual dress sense. 

The truth is that the European elites do not like to be challenged, by what they see as arrogant politicians. Yet the Greeks had to deal with inflammatory comments by many of the continent's "arrogant" media and politicians, notably from Germany and its satellite states. 

It must be understood that Germany should stop being seen as the one pulling the strings in the euro-zone crisis, even if everybody knows that it is true. How could anyone convince the Greek voters, to accept policies from a finance minister of another EU country, that they have not voted for?

This reality creates a major democratic deficit, where one country must follow the economic policies that are promoted by another EU member's government. The German leadership may still have a major say, but in my opinion they should leave to the EU institutions the implementation and adoption of such policies by Greece or any other country.

Either it is the European media's fault, or the German leadership's arrogance, constantly criticizing another EU government, naturally creates divisions. Besides, it is not all about Germany or Greece; there are 17 other members of the euro-zone.

Any policies or recommendations by Germany to Greece, should come through the EU institutions. The German leadership should avoid throwing oil to the fire, by directly "advising" or commenting on the Greek affairs.

Finally I wish that the EU could stop punishing the ordinary Greek citizens for the mistakes of the previous governments. Of course they were voted in power by the Greek voters, but one must understand the political reality of the country.

Sadly Greece has inherited a lot by its Ottoman rulers and Byzantine past, where the governing elite were seen as the absolute rulers that could not be challenged. The only way you could deal with them was through the exchange of personal favors.

This mentality still prevails among the majority of the older generation and it can only be changed through education. Something that requires increasingly more funds, that right now the average Greek family is struggling to come by. 

In other words the more Greeks are remaining in instability, poverty and ignorance, corruption will never be eradicated. 

In addition, the more they are being slandered and used as a scapegoat by the European media to cover the faults in the euro, the more hard-lined their attitude will be towards reforms and change. 

By constantly criticizing them and their new "radical" government, Europe is actually pushing them to stand more firmly behind Syriza and even pushing them towards Russia.

Maintaining a pro-European sentiment among the Greek population, by encouraging them or communicating the more appropriate things to them, it is vital to keep pushing for reforms and even bring back a more "mainstream" political party in power.

The German leadership must remember, that it was not just their nations' hard work that made their country wealthy today. After WW2 many nations, that include Greece, signed a debt forgiveness agreement for Germany.

Not only that, but funds kept pouring into the German economy by the US (Marshall Plan) and other creditors, in order to lift the German economy out of a permanent recession. If something must be taught by Germany's history is this: its economic success is not solely down to the hard work of the German people.

Besides, hundreds of thousands of Greeks migrated to Germany over the decades, worked hard and helped the German and other European economies. How can anyone now call them lazy?

What helped Germany to rise again back then, is what Greece needs right now too: not just austerity and "hard work", but also investments, debt forgiveness and a growth stimulus. 

The Greeks have sacrificed a lot and they proved their willingness. Why aren't we seeing some investments yet into the country? The Europeans' lack of trust for the Greek government, draws a very bad image on European solidarity and cooperation, if that ever truly existed.

And it definitely underlines the need for more transparency, a stronger fully functional democracy and less intergovernmental-ism in EU. Something that seems like a very distant vision, when EU governments and citizens are constantly divided by the media.