German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, whose country is putting up the bulk of 326 billion euros ($370.06 billion) in three international bailouts to save Greece’s economy, has reiterated charges shipowners are escaping paying taxes.
In an interview with the Greek newspaper Ta Nea, Schaeuble - who demanded and got harsh austerity measures being put on workers, pensioners and the poor - went after Radical Left SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras, mocking him for his promise to “crush the oligarchy”.
Tsipras just agreed to more pension cuts and taxes on low-income families in return for the release of 8.5-billion euros ($9.65 billion) from a delayed third rescue package of 86 billion euros ($97.62 billion).
Greek shipowners have the largest fleet in the world but pay next to nothing in taxes apart from some voluntary agreements and no administration has tried to take on the influential sector and the wealthy tycoons.
Schaeuble did though, as well as going after Tsipras for letting them continue to escape while his government pounds the same sectors with more taxes and budget cuts.
"I recently reminded that Mr. (Alexis) Tsipras' political party before the election promised to abolish privileges for shipowners. The (current) government did not do this for its own reasons. It's their decision and Parliament's to protect shipowners, but implement cutbacks elsewhere," Schaeube was quoted as saying.
Greek shipowners earlier shot back that German shipowners were getting preferential treatment and now are increasingly relying on Chinese bank financing.
The head of the Greek Union of Shipowners, Theodore Veniamis, as well as other top Greek shipowners, said the threat to European shipping doesn't stem from the tax regime offered by the Greek state but from the cut-throat competition at all levels faced by European interests, especially by competitors in the Far East.
Schaeuble's comments regarding Greek shipping also coincided with a decision by German banks to stop selling vessels with ship values plummeting.
Well-known banks, such as HSH Nordbank, were among the last to sell-off vessels seized for outstanding loan arrears by their owners, with a bevy of Greek shipping companies among the buyers, the Greek business newspaper Naftemporiki reported.
Shipowner Angeliki Frangou, for instance, reportedly picked up several vessels sold by HSH and other German banks, the paper said.
Veniamis earlier said that Greek shipowners, who have the world’s largest fleet and go largely untaxed, aren’t unlike companies in Germany whose shipowners and companies said also get tax breaks.
He said Greek-controlled shipping comprises half of the EU’s shipping sector, “a first-place showing that possibly bothers some,” as Veniamis put it then.
“The question that arises is whether the failure of Germany’s shipping policy, which despite favorable terms on every level – ownership, management, professionals – which wasn’t able to support the country’s sector, is the motive that prompted the minister (Schaeuble) to make these statements?” he asked.
“Mr. Schaeuble, pointedly overlooking the especially favourable regime governing German shipping, is turning with his statements against Greek shipping, which also happens to represent 50 percent of Community shipping, however – a primacy that clearly rankles,” said Veniamis.