Europe is full of stereotypes. The Spanish are always manana, the Italians are all corrupt, the Germans will force you to do it their way and the Brits are always drunk.
Some of this is true – as we all have a generalisation of view that must emanate from somewhere. So yes, some Spanish are a wee bit lazy, the mafia gave Italy a bad name, the last century didn’t help the German reputation, and the Brits are always drunk.
But the Eurozone crisis isn’t helping European harmony one bit.
Take the Greek bailout.
It hasn’t helped the harmony of Europe one bit, with Germans particularly outspoken on the subject. Not surprising as Germany is the nation most on the hook for the Greek bailouts which, thus far totals €240 billion.
In fact, it's worse than this as, according German newspaper Wirtschaftswoche, Greece can only be reformed via a “big bang”. The helplessness of the financial administration of Greece is listed in a background paper by the Tax Commission of the European Commission (Taxud), which finds that:
- €63 billion in taxes are owed by the largest debtors,
- 75% of the self-employed – such as doctors, notary publics and engineers – declare income below the taxable minimum,
- the 1,000 largest tax payers contributing 50% of tax collected are hardly ever investigated,
- 30% of those obliged to pay value-added tax do not do so,
- tax evasion amounts to €15-20 billion annually.
According to the report, Greece could get a further €40 billion taxes annually if the country had a modern financial administration.
The stereotype is therefore one of a tax-avoiding, needy nation, that is sunny, lazy and greedy, dragging down the rest of Europe and picking our pockets.
The same attitudes could spread to other nations as this crisis deepens, and I’ve been saying for some time that this is the moment when the world is ripe for wars: both civil and regional.
The Arab Spring is an example of overthrowing dictatorships, but riots and running battles between youths of different nations could also become a norm if such views are left to fester and rot.
So, in the spirit of fairness, here’s the real situation in Greece today:
- The average Greek works 6 hours a week more than their British counterpart and 6.5 hours a week more than their German equivalent;
- The average retirement age is 61.4 years of age, slightly higher than the European average of 61.1 (and that’s before the austerity measures kick in)
- The average pension is €750 a month in Greece which is low when compared with the Spanish who get €950 and the Irish who get €1,700 a month; and
- Austerity measures are pushing Greek unemployment over 20 percent, and the result is that many Greek children go to school without breakfast and pensioners are starving are queuing for free meals because they cannot afford to eat properly anymore.
Is it any wonder that nations are brewing rioters and revolts?
For the full background on the Greek crisis, the BBC website has a good profile, and thanks to the Metro newspaper letters column for the above stats.