RIMADMINon 14 January, 2014
The Greek government’s main aim once it officially assumes the rotating presidency of the European Union on 8 January is to reach a quick conclusion to talks with the country’s troika of creditors. With pressure mounting, representatives of the troika – the European Commission, European Central Bank and the IMF – will fly in to Athens within a week of the expected 75 or so European officials set to attend the handover flying out.
They will find Greece is determined to demonstrate that despite the country’s ongoing economic problems and negotiations with them it can handle the responsibility of being at the helm of the EU. Finance minister Yannis Stournaras, whom Prime Minister Antonis Samaras has repeatedly backed despite growing criticism by some deputies in Samaras’ coalition government of an ongoing austerity drive, appears keen to complete the next round of economic reforms pledged to the troika before a Eurogroup summit on 27 January. The next tranche of rescue funding, involves EUR4.9bn, and Stounaras says, “Greece can’t hold the EU presidency and have unresolved issues with the troika”. Key issues on the agenda of talks are expected to be a projected fiscal gap for 2014, which the troika estimates at around EUR1.4bn, and the progress of a delayed overhaul of the civil service, as well as lagging tax collection and a slow-moving privatisation drive.
Though the world’s largest shipping community has until now been relatively unscathed by Greece’s domestic woes, as the curtain came down on 2013, the maritime sector was made rudely aware of what could lie ahead. No sooner had a Union of Greek Shipowners (UGS) delegation headed by president, Theodore Veniamis, returned to Piraeus from a highly successful visit to Washington, December 9 - 13, than it was confirmed a “voluntary tonnage tax” on Greek-flag ships and all ships operated out of Greece reached early in the year by the UGS and the government had been legislated in the lead-up to Christmas into, in effect, a double tax “mandatory for the next three years”, as already reported by Seatrade Global. The original agreement was reached as the shipping community pledged to help alleviate the country’s financial crisis. Now it is forced to, with Veniamis claiming the move interferes with the constitutionally protected status of shipping. Further, it adds to the mistrust already existing within shipping towards Greek politicians and could lead to a flight of management companies from Greece.
On returning a delegation statement said: "The constructive results of the visit, which took place at an appropriate time before the beginning of the EU presidency by Greece, and the concurrence of views with the American authorities on the issues discussed, confirms the soundness of the long-lasting policy followed by the Greek shipowning community regarding the necessity of forging alliances with important commercial and maritime partners in the international shipping scene. “This policy constitutes the basic leverage for the promotion of balanced and realistic views towards the protection of the competitiveness and viability of Greek shipping." Privatisation of the ports of Piraeus and Thessaloniki, tackling illegal immigration on Greece's, and hence the EU's, sea borders, pushing implementation of Imo conventions and making better use of EU regional funding programmes to upgrade the country’s crucial domestic sea transportation network, including shortsea shipping, are shipping-related issues on the agenda of Shipping and Aegean minister, Miltiadis Varvitsiotis, during his period in the chair. Indeed, EU’s largest flags Greece, Cyprus and Malta have discussed a joint strategy for shipping based on presenting a united front at Imo, finalising and signing of a Memorandum of Cooperation between the countries on Search and Rescue, expanding cooperation on maritime education and fighting illegal immigration.
Finally, the Greek presidency coincides with the EU assuming the one-year chairmanship of the Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia (CGPCS). The Contact Group is a joint endeavour of the European External Action Service (EEAS) and the EC and will continue the work carried out in 2013 under the chairmanship of the US.