What now for the country’s shipowners as voters shock Europe with ‘No’ vote?
GREECE’s shipping industry is facing a prolonged period of anxiety over its place in its homeland after a Greek referendum that has intensified speculation about the country’s potential exit from the euro and is perceived to have at least bruised the European project.
In Sunday’s hastily-organised referendum on one of the latest versions of the new austerity package put forward by Greece’s troika of creditors – the European Central Bank, the European Commission and the International Monetary Fund – an unexpectedly high 60% of voters gave prime minister Alexis Tsipras the clear “No” vote he had sought.
The vast majority of shipowners and other members of the maritime community will have voted “Yes” as the outcome least likely to harm hopes of a return to stability and the country’s standing in Europe.
Among the bitter ironies of the plebiscite, which has left banks closed and the economy hanging by a thread, was that shipping people were nominally supporting a draft that included a proposal to take away the industry’s privileged status under Greek law.
A crucial few days now follow. For the industry much will now depend on the climate between the Tsipras administration and the creditors, and whether shipping remains on the hit-list. If so, the devil could be in the details and number crunching to follow.
At the start of 2015, shipping was fearful of an intemperate attack upon it by Mr Tsipras’ incoming radical-left Syriza government, but in the end it has been the creditors that have targeted it in increasingly forlorn efforts to get the country’s numbers to add up.
Since the debt crisis blew up in 2009, the troika has often tried to add shipping to the long list of pots to be raided for more funds, but previous governments have rebuffed the moves.
According to the documents that the referendum put to the vote, although the creditors insist these are no longer on the table, Greece is being told to “increase the rate of the tonnage tax and phase out special tax treatments of the shipping industry”.
Underlining that shipping is now firmly in the sights of the creditors, last week European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker, in a remarkable televised press conference, used shipping to illustrate how it fell to the troika to kick some common sense into the Greek government to wind up tax breaks for “vested interests”. In his account, the radical left government was presented as more reluctant to tamper with the industry’s legislative framework.
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