Germany Invades Greece, This Time with Tax Auditors

Maybe you missed it but Germany and Greece are fighting again.
Not like the horrors of World War II, but a petty war of words in which Greece, undoubtedly ashamed at begging Germany to keep forking over loans to keep the once-glorious country from falling behind Zimbabwe in the economic food chain, is attacking the Teutons, a classic case of passive aggression, although Marx (Karl, not Groucho) might disagree. Greece is broke and surviving on a first bailout of $152 billion in loans from the Troika of the European Union-International Monetary Fund-European Central Bank (EU-IMF-ECB) and a pending second bailout of $172 billion.
Those came with requirements that Greece, where alternating PASOK Socialist and New Democracy Conservatives have taken turns hiring everybody and their cousins in return for votes, start firing 150,000 of them, and has already made deep pay cuts, big tax hikes, and even cut the pensions of people who earned them. None of that applies to the country’s rich elite, tax evaders or politicians, who have been unlawfully spiriting billions of dollars in banks outside Greece without declaring it, and will get away with it, even as they were urging working class Greeks to keep whatever savings they have left in their own country.
The Germans, who approved the second deal, don’t trust Greece, believing that the governments, including the shaky hybrid PASOK-New Democracy administration of interim Prime Minister Lucas Papademos, a former ECB Vice-President who will step aside after elections in April, don’t have the guts to institute real reforms, apart from imposing austerity measures on people who can’t afford it. That’s why Germany floated the idea of having an EU (read that to be German) budget czar to oversee Greek finances and got Greece to concede to a demand that a pending write-down in $134 billion of its debt come under English law, which means someone knows how the Greek courts favors its friends.
That is an unprecedented loss of national sovereignty, but that was just fine with Deputy Prime Minister Theodoros Pangalos, who has no real duties apart from food-tasting, and declares himself a European Federalist, putting Europe before his own country – except Germany because not long ago he was screaming at Germany and demanding the return of gold the Nazis stole.
Two years ago, the German magazine , showing the already-burgeoning irritation at Greeks the Germans believe to be lazy, incompetent, inefficient, unimaginative and corrupt (they’re not unimaginative, and you just have to look at how they scheme to get out of paying taxes and get other countries to pay Greece’s debt to prove it) put a doctored picture on its cover of the famous ancient Greek statue of Venus de Milo giving Greece the finger. Yes, that finger. Not long ago, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said out loud what everyone knows, that Greece is a “bottomless pit” into which all the money in the world can be thrown and it will disappear like a star in a black hole.
But the Germans like to know where their money’s going, and even as a newspaper poll in Germany showed 62 percent oppose the second bailout, the government in Berlin said it had 160 tax auditors ready to dispatch to Athens to help “modernize” the tax collection system which had pretty much been throwing file folders into a pile in the corner and having tax inspectors pick out the best cherries and get bribes in return for ignoring the bills. “Greece’s problems today are even worse than the problems faced in former East Germany in 1990,” said Norbert Walter-Borjans, a regional finance minister, referring to the period after German unity when West German tax officials went to the ex-Communist east of the country to help improve tax collection. “There was resistance then among some eastern Germans against western (tax collectors), but that’s nothing compared to the reservations Greeks will have against Germans,” he added.
No kidding. Greek media are already portraying the idea as a financial “German invasion” and making hysterical comparisons to WWII, when Greeks suffered Nazi atrocities and massacres. A poll in Greece by magazine showed 70 percent of Greeks view Germany with distaste, apart from the thousands taking German language classes and planning to move to a country where there are jobs and some sort of order, not bureaucratic anarchy mixed with a plutocratic oligarchy. The angry Greeks said they felt anger, indignation, fury, fear and revulsion toward Germany. No one mentioned gratitude for the $322 billion in aid that Germany has earmarked for Greece and wants only accountability in return.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has fought off criticism in her country, was pictured in a Nazi uniform in one Greek media depiction, but none of the Greek politicians really responsible for the crisis were shown in clown outfits, which suit them best.
It is time to end the enmity and rein in the rancor because Greece is going to need a third bailout, as Schaeuble has already warned, and Greece doesn’t want to look a gift horse in the mouth, unless it’s planning to put a Trojan Horse somewhere in Berlin and empty out its own invaders to bring back the gold the Nazis stole. Greece should be happy that Germany doesn’t have more demands, such as declaring some real collateral, a little country called Greece.

adabilis@thenationalherald.com