No warm welcome for tax collectors

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Norwegian specialists in tax collection can’t expect a warm welcome if and when they arrive in Greece as part of an EU-backed reform program. EU advisers are highly unpopular, with the Norwegians only marginally less unwelcome than the Germans, according to a Greek economics professor.

“The Greeks feel that they’ll lose some of their independence,” Professor Kostas Melas told newspaper Aftenposten earlier this week. “The advisers are viewed as part of an occupation.”

Embattled Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou had asked the EU for help and the EU in turn, with the support of Greek authorities, asked Norway to be part of a group of experts to help reform the crisis-hit Greek economy. Now Papandreou has lost power and a new transitional government is being formed, but they arguably still need help and must meet a string of economic demands as part of the crisis package offered by EU officials.

Norway is most likely to offer help with tax collection, asylum seekers, state administration and anti-corruption measures. But they shouldn’t expect their Greek counterparts to roll out any red carpets.

“Greece is the cradle of democracy and we’re a proud people,” one angry demonstrator in Athens, Dmitris Sofianos, told Aftenposten. “But now comes a gang of Rottweilers who wants to manage us.”

Sofianos said he feared Greece will be put under foreign administration. “It’s humiliating,” he said.

Greek newspapers have also been full of fears of a foreign invasion of EU regulators and accountants, anxious to get the Greek economy back on track. Demands already have been made for the tough budget cuts and economic reforms necessary to qualify for crisis loans.

“Many Greeks try to find others to blame for the crisis, among them the advisers from the EU and eventually from Norway,” Thamos Dokos, head of the research foundation Eliamep, told Aftenposten. He thinks it’s only natural that Greece now will lose some of its independence.

“You can’t expect to get loans without any criteria,” he said. “It’s uncomfortable, but that’s part of the game.”

It remains unclear exactly what Norwegian bureaucrats might offer, but establishment of new tax systems and better collection is most likely. They have a good track record for tax collection at home in Norway and tax evasion in Greece is estimated to be costing the society around EUR 40 billion a year.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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