Greece Will Levy Ship Owners; Golden Dawn Supported Tax Exemption

Posted by in Economy

The additional austerity package adopted by the Greek Parliament on Wednesday includes a provision that will force ship owners, long accused of enjoying lavish fiscal privileges, to pony up at least 140 million euros. The provision initially called for a “voluntary” contribution to the state coffers, but Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras withdrew the word “voluntary” following demands by coalition government partner PASOK.
 
“According to the revised document, an agreement between the Greek government and the Greek shipping community will determine “the means of payment and the sum that the community will contribute for the support of the national economy, the minimum amount being 140 million euros ($178.6 million).”

Greek shipowners, who enjoy major fiscal privileges, have often been accused of lacking solidarity with their fellow citizens who are entering their sixth year of recession and face another wave of drastic government spending cuts.

Similar accusations have come from Greece΄s EU-IMF creditors. In October, the European Commission asked Athens for details on the tax regime for shipowners, which is based on tonnage and doesn’t take profits or revenue into account. [the EU request had reportedly come after pressure by the German shipowners]

Greek shipowners are leaders in their sector internationally, but only about a third of their fleet sails under the Greek flag. (Dow Jones via Capital.gr)

 
Will the shipowners pay their contribution to Greek debt crisis? Apparently there was recently a meeting between PM Antonis Samaras and the shipowners.
 
But I remember well, when the issue of taxing shipowners came up last June with a relevant proposal by left-wing and now main opposition party SYRIZA. Greek shipowners reacted furious to the taxation plans, some of them even challenging SYRIZA saying “Catch us, if you can!”
 “Vessel owners worldwide enjoy a degree of fiscal immunity because most countries levy taxes based on fleet size rather than revenue, said Victor Restis, Greece’s fifth-largest shipper.

“You cannot squeeze and tackle a person that is in international shipping trade and finance and say, ‘I will tax you,’” said Restis, who controls a fleet of more than 200 vessels. “The answer is ‘sure, tax me. Find me.” (Bloomberg via ekathimerini)

Greek ship owners had even threatened to relocate the businesses if any government would scrap the fiscal exemption, risking as many as 60,000 jobs.

Ship owners find support by Golden Dawn?

Odd and interesting enough during the austerity bill debate at the parliamentary committee on Tuesday, Greek shipowners found supporters in extreme right-wing Golden Dawn (Chrysi Avgi) with two MPs requesting that the provision for ship owners should be withdrawn.

GD MP Ilias Panagiotaros: “We see that the country will receive 80 million euro from the taxation of the ships with Greek flag. What is more easy than Greek shipowners change the flag to save money? Instead, an agreement should be met and instead of maximum 2-3 Greeks staff on each ship – Captain and First Engineer – they should be given motives so that the rest of the staff is Greek too.”

GD MP Giorgos Germenis: “The maritime sector has supported the Greek economy in the past, and you contribute to its catastrophe again.”(Rizospastis)

According to Bloomberg, Greek vessel owners remitted 15.4 billion euros ($19.2 billion) to the country in 2010, Bank of Greece (TELL) figures in the Union of Greek Shipowners’ annual report for 2011 showed. Remittances between 2000 and 2010 came to 140 billion euros, according to the data.

The Greek-controlled fleet numbered 3,325 vessels, or about 15 percent of the global total.

The country’s estimated 762 vessel owners pay no tax on international earnings brought into Greece under rules incorporated in the country’s constitution since 1967. Greek maritime companies and others in related service and supply industries employ 200,000 workers, of whom almost a third could lose their jobs if local ship owners were to leave, according to the National Confederation of Hellenic Commerce.