The Trojan Börse
November 18, 2011Posted by on
An article in EU Business states that figures from a report by European Commission experts seconded to Athens to help reform Greece’s economy, reveal that Sixty billion euros of unpaid taxes – of which 30 billion is in pending tax cases – are outstanding in Greece. With a backlog of some 165,000 tax files to be processed, the EU “task force” chief Horst Reinchenbach is not optimistic on the prospect of retrieving these pending taxes. The report also adds that it intends to ‘re-direct unclaimed EU grants to boost flagship development projects’.
So the unelected EU bureaucracy arbitrarily replaced the Greek government with an unelected ‘technocrat’ and parachuted an EU task force into Greece. This action, widely seen as a Franco-German initiative, has prompted a response from some that Germany is adopting an ‘iron and blood‘ approach, and that France is taking another step on their roadmap to a repeat 18 Brumaire coup. Even if you think that such an alliance has the historic seeds of self-destruction from La Défense de Paris and the occupation of the Rhur, any such historic baggage is subsumed by a Franco-German need to play the hands they now find themselves holding. Some may ask how they came to such a crisis when they had proposed the game, produced the ‘euro pack of cards’, invited the players to the table, set the stakes and then dealt the hands. That they had organised this poker-school, which allowed each of the players to bring their own ‘chips‘ to the table. That they accepted these chips as being bonded by bonds. Bonds that are now exposed as being part of a real Ponzi-scheme, one where there really are no funds to support any promised dividend or a guarantee for any return of the original capital investment, even though the evidence was always on the cards.
With the euro in crisis unclaimed EU grants, presumably from fiscal resources already available, are now being transferred from Greece to boost EU flagship development projects. Perhaps like the large scale urban development projects (UDPs) in twelve European Union countries [PDF] (researched by Erik Swyngedouw [ UK], Frank Moulaert [France] and Arantxa Rodriguez [Spain]). They conclude that large-scale UDPs have increasingly been used as part of a neoliberal “New Urban Policy” approach and its selective “middle and upperclass” democracy. It is associated with new forms of “governing” urban interventions, characterized by less democratic and more élite driven priorities. A conclusion that could easily be transposed and applied to the unfolding euro crisis.
What surprises me in all of this is the notion that Greece had unclaimed EU grants. I read ‘unclaimed EU grants’ to really mean ‘a withdrawal of pending EU grants’. This being done as part of an agreement whereby the EU Task Force will not expose the corruption inherent in the distribution of these grants and probably not attempt to retrieve funds ‘already distributed’. Particularly with respect to public servants (especially politicians) involved in the grant distribution. Something everyone is aware of (especially in Greece), but to which everyone shrugs their shoulders.
A year ago Der Spiegel published an article with the heading, ‘How German Companies Bribed Their Way to Greek Deals‘. The article opened with:
Miza and fakelaki are the lubrication that keeps the Greek economy running smoothly.
Fakelaki — literally “small envelope” — is a payment used when Greeks need to be treated by a doctor or are having trouble with a tax auditor.
Miza, on the other hand, is the money that doesn’t fit into a small envelope and requires something bigger, like a suitcase, or when the cash needs to be squirreled away in an account in one of the world’s many tax havens.
Der Spiegel states that without miza [bribes] virtually no foreign company could do business in Greece, with large government contracts being particularly prone to miza. Such deals often allow millions to flow via shell corporations around the world and back into the pockets of industrialists, civil servants, the military and politicians. Meanwhile, the payments are usually declared on the company’s books as commissions for negotiating contracts. And German industry is one of the major players in the game of miza Monopoly. It should come as no surprise that of the 450 most important corruption cases in recent years to have taken place in Greece, not one has been concluded before a court of law. Certainly Greece has an economic élite who have been transferring their miza gains, along with ‘black economy’ gains, into Swiss bank accounts. But before you leap to any self righteous indignation about Greeks receiving bribes have a look at Transparency International to see who are complicit in the payment of bribes.
There is a lesson in all of this that we should take to heart, which is that governments will put the nation in debt, and no matter how hard you may try to curb government public spending by tax avoidance (legal), or tax evasion (illegal), the government will always ignore you. This is because the government has a monopoly on a legal Ponzi-scheme that allows them to make long term promises for short term gains. My contention is such Ponzi-schemes are inherent in the government’s control of gilt issues (government bonds) backed by a central bank, which inevitably means ‘backed by future tax revenues’ (not by corporate investments). While the quantity of euros that a euro-member state may put into circulation is controlled by the European Central Bank [ECB], the ECB does not control a euro-member state’s gilt issues and the ECB is not ‘backed by the taxpayer’ either within or outside of the euro-zone.
As Jason Manolopoulos points out in his book Greece’s ‘Odious’ Debt: The Looting of the Hellenic Republic by the Euro,when the then French finance minister Christine Lagarde said in 2010 that the Greek rescue package was not like the USA sorting out California, it was a tacit admission that the EU had created something that it could not manage. There was a single currency but not a single political or fiscal framework.
You have to wonder how a euro-member state could even issue gilts when it has no lender of last resort to back them up (certainly not the ECB), perhaps concluding that they are indeed trading in a Trojan Börse. All of which suggest that the euro-zone always was a house of cards. Greece just happened to be the first card to collapse.