Credibility starts at home

The leaders of the three-party coalition convened yesterday at the Maximos Mansion so that Prime Minister Antonis Samaras could discuss a package of cost-cutting measures aimed at satisfying the demands of the country?s creditors and securing the release of the next tranche of bailout funding worth 31 billion euros with socialist PASOK chief Evangelos Venizelos and Fotis Kouvelis of Democratic Left.

There is no need to list the measures, which will lead to a further reduction in the incomes of specific social groups. Yet it is touching to see that the coalition — and especially the two left-leaning leaders — cares about avoiding horizontal cuts to civil service salaries and pensions. They obviously believe that a sense of justice can be reinstated through the plebeianism of the higher echelons of the public administration and so-called ?big pensioners.? It?s been 23 years since the collapse of communism in Europe, and the rationale of leveling society downward is alive in Greece.

We could argue that without this new round of barbaric cutbacks, Greece would truly have no chance. Meanwhile, of the 43 billion euros that have not been collected in taxes in the past three years, auditors believe 8 billion can be recovered, and yet every government since October 2009 — governments that have imposed relentless cuts on those taxed at source — has failed to make any serious moves to this end.

European leaders, along with Eurogroup chief Jean-Claude Juncker, who visited Athens recently, have stressed time and again that Greece needs to tackle tax evasion, which is estimated to cost the country an average of 15 billion euros a year in lost revenues. The Bank of Greece even produced a list of individuals who have withdrawn in excess of 100,000 euros from their accounts and deposited it abroad. In a number of cases, the incomes and assets declared are incompatible with the size of their deposits.

What the government does in such cases is unknown. What is certain is that it does not behave like other Europeans or the troika, which has been urging Greece to clamp down on the phenomenon. But the Greek political system refuses to conform. Maybe it is sheer incompetence. But the fact is that the overwhelming majority of supporters of the Greek political parties and politicians come from this category of lawbreakers.

Sure, the government is trying hard to restore Greece?s credibility among its European peers. But first it needs to try to restore its credibility among the people, to whom Greek politicians are profoundly, if not irreversibly, exposed.