“Eldorado Gold, facing the threat of a lengthy arbitration process with the government over permits to complete a gold-mining and processing plant at Skouries in northern Greece, warns that 1,200 jobs are at stake in an area of high unemployment. Production at Skouries was due to start this year but has now been pushed back to 2020”
After the reforms came the backlash.
Greece’s cabinet may be focused on implementing economic reforms agreed in return for an €86bn third international bailout but the government has also revived some of its radical polices in an effort to placate its core supporters, fearful that the leftwing party has gone soft under pressure from the bailout monitors.
Measures adopted last month by the Syriza government of Alexis Tsipras, prime minister, take aim at the party’s traditional enemies: high-earning lawyers and doctors, foreign-trained academics and private investors from abroad.
A tax squeeze on Greek professionals is being tightened, new legislation on universities rolls back reforms aimed at boosting academic standards, and the authorities are further delaying a €1.5bn gold extraction project by Canada’s Eldorado Gold, the country’s largest foreign investor.
Meanwhile, self-described anarchists with links to Syriza’s far-left faction have staged attacks on business premises and public buildings, smashing windows and throwing paint in scenes that recalled street protests early in the Greek crisis. Police made only a few arrests, and no case has so far come to court.
Nikos Voutsis, parliamentary speaker, shrugged off an incident last month in which members of Rubicon, an anarchist group, forced their way into the main courtyard of parliament demanding the release of a convicted terrorist. “Where violence [against persons] isn’t involved such events should be handled with tolerance,” Mr Voutsis said.
Analysts say the Syriza government is keen to reclaim its leftwing credentials after successfully completing a second bailout review, winning praise from its creditors, the EU and the International Monetary Fund, and securing the disbursement of a much-needed €8.5bn aid tranche.
In a move that underlined recovering confidence in Greece’s prospects, Athens returned to the sovereign debt market in July for the first time in three years with a €3bn bond issue. The economy is set to grow this year by 1.5 per cent, its best performance since 2007.
As part of the bailout terms, the government also agreed to implement a drastic reduction in the income tax threshold next year and make additional cuts to pensions, which have shrunk by 50 per cent during the crisis. These moves have helped bolster support for the opposition. In opinion polls, the conservative New Democracy party holds a double-digit lead over Syriza. “It’s become important for Syriza to remind its constituency that it still has a radical activist agenda, that it hasn’t gone soft under pressure from the bailout monitors,” says Professor Aris Hatzis, a University of Athens law professor and political commentator.
The new measures, while disruptive, appear to have been chosen with the aim of avoiding strong negative reaction from the EU and International Monetary Fund experts that oversee the reform programme, Prof Hatzis added. “They’re all in areas that aren’t exactly priorities for the creditors, at least in the short term.”
Earlier this year, the finance ministry imposed new regulations on Greek professionals, who are accused of being chronic tax evaders. These included paying a full year’s income tax in advance and making significantly higher social security contributions.
Under the provisions, the measures were backdated to 2015 in a move that would make lawyers, doctors and business consultants earning more than €75,000 a year pay more than 70 per cent of their annual income in taxes and social security. Some professionals doubt whether such high levies, seen by many as a punishment for laxity shown by previous governments, can be sustained.
“The market for legal services has shrunk significantly during the recession and so have lawyers’ pensions,” said Evangelos Kalafatis, a tax lawyer. “If these new taxes aren’t rationalised, working will no longer be attractive to many senior members of the profession.”
Greek academics say they are bitterly disappointed by a new law that reverses a 2011 reform of the university system, which passed by an overwhelming parliamentary majority. Students will again be allowed to postpone sitting final examinations indefinitely, and will also have voting rights at elections of university administrators.
The law also provides incentives for professors to spend their entire careers in one local institution, bans fee-based postgraduate courses taught in English that would attract foreign students and restores university “asylum” which prevents the police from entering a university campus.
“It’s a huge setback,” said Anna Diamantopoulou, a former EU commissioner who pushed through the law while serving as education minister. “We modernised university education and made it international . . . Now the universities will again be a battleground for domestic politics and those who can will go abroad to study.”
Eldorado Gold, facing the threat of a lengthy arbitration process with the government over permits to complete a gold-mining and processing plant at Skouries in northern Greece, warns that 1,200 jobs are at stake in an area of high unemployment. Production at Skouries was due to start this year but has now been pushed back to 2020.
“The key issue for Greece is that the benefits from these investments should have accrued already,” said George Burns, Eldorado’s chief executive.
Eldorado’s travails in Greece are often cited as a disincentive for investors worried about bureaucratic delays and the country’s tangled legal system. While Syriza lawmakers from the Skouries region claim that goldmining will cause irreversible environmental damage, the company’s proposals for the project have been upheld in 18 cases heard by expert judges at the council of state, Greece’s highest administrative court.
source: The Financial Times Limited 2017, 29/8/2017 Kerin Hope, Athens