Monday, December 28, 2015

Will Greece Ever Be Modernized?

I am returning to a year-end practice which I started back in 2012. On New Year's Eve 2012, I published the article "Make 2013 'The Year of the EU Task Force for Greece!'" By that time, the EU Task Force for Greece (TFGR) had already been in operation for over one year but, apart from detailed periodic reviews, one didn't really hear a lot about it.

A year later, on New Year's Day 2013, I asked the question "Was 2013 "The Year of the EU Task Force for Greece?'" I am afraid my answer was not a positive one. Perseverant as I am, I suggested one more time that the TFGR should be a top objective for 2014. Still, things remained rather quiet around the TFGR. Yes, there were some success stories like increasing the utilization rate of EU subsidies but I, for one, could not identify anything Earth-shaking facts that the TFGR had accomplished. For sure, Greece had not become a modern country as yet. The TFGR finally expired in June of 2015.

In October of this year, I happily reported on the birth of a replacement for the TFGR. First of all, there was a significant improvement in the acronym: a boring TFGR now became a flashy SRSS. Somewhat reminiscent of an interballistic missile. It stands for Structural Reform Support Service.

And only a few days later the bombshell: "France will modernize Greece!"

I have not heard yet about any progress France has made so far. Let's be hopeful that there will be progress this time around. Meanwhile, let me repeat the Mission Statement of the original TFGR:

The Task Force is a resource at the disposal of the Greek authorities as they seek to build a modern and prosperous Greece: a Greece characterised by economic opportunity and social equity, and served by an efficient administration with a strong public service ethos. 

What a wonderful mission! Will it ever be completed?


  1. Hi Mr. Kastner,

    Just wanted to wish you a happy and healthy new year.

    Thanks always for your efforts.

    See You in the new year.


    1. The same to you, and to everyone else who is following this blog.

  2. Greece modernizes very slowly, badly lagging behind other European countries.

    When will we be able to say that Greece has modernized itself to a sufficient degree? When you won't need an accountant to do your tax papers. When you won't need paperwork to do simple things in Greek public services. When Greek public services won't treat you like an enemy of the state.

    Until then, we may as well enjoy our myth in Greece.

    Happy new year.

  3. It seems like Germany does not have a lot of patience with France in modernizing the Greek tax system. According to DW, the German federal state of NRW has sent a bunch of tax inspectors to Greece. Now, I don't know of any country where tax inspectors would win popularity contests, and German ones in Greece are not going to change that.

    1. I would guess that this is unrelated to the French project. The state of NRW made history a few years ago for buying stolen data of Swiss bank accounts and using them for pursuing German tax cheaters. Since then, they have acquired significant expertise because they bought a lot more data. While these actions are, in my opinion, legally dubious (should a state buy stolen data from a thief?), they were a tremendous business success: for every million spent on the data, several hundred million could be collected. Total collections are now into the billions, I believe.

      The state of NRW was kind enough to pass on data about other countries' citizens to the authorities of those countries. Free of charge, I believe. And I read that they recently passed on data to Greece. So I would imagine that they are sending their experts with great experience with stolen bank data to Greece to show the Greeks how to best take advantage of those stolen data...

    2. I just read that the Greek authorities are already moving and sending out 20-30 letters every day to people on the NRW list. Well, it seems the NRW consultants pay off. Apparantly, they could convince their Greek colleagues that only quick action (instead of long debates) brings results.

  4. NRW most likely have their experts on site to ensure that the information is used, and used in the right way.
    You do raise a much more intriguing question about the legality and morality, not much to do with Observing Greece, but never the less interesting.
    A crime has been committed (theft of the info, intellectual property). Values are being returned to their lawful owners (the German or Greek state). There are no victims. Is NRW legally and morally dubious because they paid for the information? Are the Greeks innocent because they did not pay for it? Is whistle blowing OK? Is it OK when you are paid for it? Lots of stuff to ponder, not simple at all.

    1. Some years ago, a German policeman was convicted of a crime. He had tortured a kidnapper so that he would reveal the location of the kidnapped boy. To no avail because the boy had already been killed. The defense argued that the ultimate goal (saving the life of a boy) justified the policeman's crime of torturing. The defense failed.

      The ulterior good of collecting taxes was ruled to justify the crime of stealing bank data. A layman could conclude that money is worth more than the life of a boy.

      Yes, this is complex. In the US, I believe, the matter would be crystal clear: evidence obtained illegally would be thrown out by the court.

  5. The program was a big success in NWR, not a big surprise, the citizens, by and large, respect the legal system. When faced with a tax inspector who threatens legal steps a citizen will normally volunteer to pay up. Imagine the same situation in Greece, the offender will say "your legal steps will be so small and slow that you can never catch up with me". He may add "see you in court, in a few years time". He will also rest assured that should it go to court, then there is an election with an amnesty before that.
    All the above is of cause only if the tax inspector has not made his own private deal with the offender from the very beginning.

  6. A layman could conclude that, if he was shooting from the hip.
    He could also conclude that the kidnapper was also a victim, in as much as he had been punished (the torture) without any ruling by the legal system. Further, that even criminals enjoy the protection of the law.
    In the case of the data theft it could be argued that there is no victim(s), no punishment has been metered out, no unjust suffering or losses. further actions are left to the legal systems.
    Both are breaking the law, but only one is taking it into his own hands.