Saturday, March 21, 2015

Humor: European perspectives on tax evasion!

http://www.theguardian.com/business/2013/sep/08/coalition-battle-low-tax-jurisdictions-britain


If a British man keeps his money in a tax haven like the Isle of Man or the Channel Islands is a clever businessman. 







http://www.the-best-of-both-worlds.com/news.html

If a German man keeps his money in Switzerland or Luxembourg is a thrifter and reasonable investor. 









http://www.theguardian.com/business/2012/jun/03/bp-tnk-russia-joint-venture-oil


If a Russian man keeps his money in Cyprus is a mafia oil oligarch. 








https://lecartoonist.wordpress.com/2012/10/page/2/

If a Greek man keeps his money in Switzerland is a corrupt and lazy tax evader. 








http://www.theguardian.com/film/2013/jan/04/gerard-depardieu-club-russian-citizens

Finally when a French guy keeps his money in a tax haven like Monaco or Switzerland he is simply........ Gerard Depardieu...!!!

Friday, March 20, 2015

What are the "necessary" reforms that Europe demands of Greece?

http://www.balkaneu.com/steps-approach-overnight-thriller-brussels/
Apparently today there was another meeting in Brussels. EU leaders of Germany, France and the EU institutions met with Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras on the sidelines of the EU Council at his request. 

Though Greece and its negotiation with international creditors was not on the summit’s formal agenda, Greece’s economic woes were ominous. (Independent Balkan News Agency).

Yet for the past few weeks prominent EU and European leaders, were complaining that Greece is not doing enough to keep up with the requested and necessary reforms. 

Pressure was mounting on the Greek leadership, while its partners grew increasingly annoyed and often offended by Mr. Tsipras and Mr. Varoufakis tactics, comments and "lack of action to keep up with the promises made". 

But what are the "necessary" reforms that the EU demands of Greece? The Greek and European public has been repeatedly informed about the "lack of reforms", but does any of us actually know what Greece's partners are asking?

Has anyone explained to the Greek people what is at stake? How do the EU and European leadership expect the Greeks to accept everything that need to be "reformed," if they don't tell us what we must do. 

All Europe is saying is literally "do as we say and we will give you more money". I can't recall any list of demands being made public, or any suggestions on which fields and in what manner Greece must proceed with its reforms.

If the Greeks must bare the austerity that Germany, the Troika and the ECB are imposing on them, shouldn't they at least be aware of what they will have to lose or gain?

The main demands evolve around privatization initiatives. If that is the sole case, then this is not an assistance, it is a black-mail to force Greece to sell out its natural resources.

The Greek state does not need necessarily this massive sell-out. What it needs to do, is to cut its red-tape so that the native entrepreneurs and foreign companies can do business easier and invest in the country.

It needs to tackle corruption and tax evasion and of course to set up a land registry. If these are the "reforms" that Europe is demanding, it is right to do so, but harsh austerity is not the best way to achieve them.

The more austerity, the more the Greeks are opposed to these reforms. They are a very rational race of people, they do not just obey laws without question.

Someone needs to explain to them what is happening and then they will condone; or not! But when the Greek and European leadership do not give them any credible feedback about the situation, then we are having a serious democratic deficit.

Shouldn't all Greek households, that are forced to endure six years of the harshest austerity seen in Europe for a long time, be informed about what their country is required to give up or sell out to Greece's partners?

Lack of communication leads to misunderstandings and it makes it more difficult for the Greeks to accept these unknown reforms. 

It is crucial to keep the pro-European sentiment among the Greek population, not make the situation worse with derogatory comments and constant negative criticism of Greece's democratically elected government.

What possibly is happening, is that the European establishment is determined to get rid of Syriza, before other leftist governments mushroom all over Europe. That would mean a disaster for them, their interests and the neo-liberal agenda they plan to apply across our continent.

https://twitter.com/ncilla/status/574587933010821122
They are working hard, by using propaganda and slandering Greece's Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, in order to discredit them and force them to call an election. 

The EU and European leadership are behind this plot. But it is not the average German citizen's fault, as it is not the average Greek or any other EU citizen's fault either. 

The continent's elites, represent these policies that want to shape a two tier Europe, a divided continent. Some poor, some rich and developed; periphery and core economies, North and South.

Such development won't be good for any worker across the continent, either in Greece, Germany, Ireland or any EU member state.

The Germans and the rest of the ordinary EU citizens need to understand that. The European elites just demand Greece to repay and save the European banks.

In my opinion all the fuss about these "necessary reforms," is nonsense. They don't really care about Greece or it's people, otherwise they would have heard their cries years ago, when they were calling that this austerity is unfair, unbearable and not justified.

It is privatizations that they want, little do they care about Greece's future. Because that future is not built on a massive debt that the country won't never be able to repay anyway. 

The EU and European leadership just want someone to take the blame for all that is wrong in the euro-zone and the European economy. They will never admit that they created a mess with everything, it is good enough to them that the Greeks take all the blame.

Yet it is encouraging though to see waves of support and solidarity from the average European citizens, across the EU, Germany included.

Recently riots took place in Frankfurt, demonstrating against the new ECB's head-quarters opening, while millions of ordinary people are facing austerity. It is more than heartening to see ordinary Germans, finally understanding that their government's policies, together with the EU's are not favoring ordinary people, in Greece, their country or elsewhere.

That was one the greatest displays of European solidarity in recent times, not the smokescreen of financial support that the European elites were trying to fool us with. Citizens must stand together. Now it is Greece; in the next crisis it could be your country. 

Friday, March 13, 2015

EU loses Iceland as a member, out of its myopic policies.

http://www.euronews.com/2015/03/12/iceland-drops-eu-membership-bid/
Iceland has dropped its bid to become a member of the EU.

Foreign Minister Gunnar Bragi Sveinsson said he had informed the current EU president Latvia as well as the European Commission about the move. (Euronews)

Who can blame them really. Why anyone would like to join a union, where the citizens are the ones who bailout the banks with their taxes, while being slandered on top of that if they protest.

The Icelanders jailed the bankers and did not gave them more powers, unlike the rest of Europe and America. The Icelandic way of dealing with the economic crisis, has conveniently slipped out the European media and in extend, the public opinion's attention.

Instead, the continent's media institutions, found joy in slandering the Greeks for complaining about austerity. In addition they focused in everything that was wrong in the country's economy and society, trying desperately to justify that the Greeks have to suffer for their laziness and corruption. 

The events that were taking place in Iceland on the other hand, were not mentioned by the mainstream media. 

Iceland's 38-year-old prime minister, Sigmundur Davíd Gunnlaugsson, elected in April on populist promises of mortgage relief for every homeowner. Syriza did exactly the same, yet it is being scorned and scolded by its European "partners".

Gunnlaugsson earned his spurs in years of outspoken campaigning against the foreign creditors, particularly the British and the Dutch governments, which intervened after the collapse of Landsbanki, the bank behind Icesave, on 7 October 2008.

A poisonous diplomatic row was sparked between Iceland, the Netherlands and Great Britain, that against the odds, Iceland won. While many other politicians in Iceland had urged a policy of appeasing the enraged British and Dutch governments, Gunnlaugsson had insisted they should go hang.

Having helped win the famous Icesave victory from outside government, Gunnlaugsson has promised to carry that uncompromising approach with him as prime minister, hinting at a new wave of attacks on the interests of foreign creditors to Iceland's three failed banks: Kaupthing, Glitnir and Landsbanki. 

Between them, these institutions had assets more than nine times the size of Iceland's economic output when they failed in 2008.

His attitude personally reminds me of the attitude or the Greek Minister of Finance, Yanis Varoufakis. Yet, since outside the EU, the Icelanders did not have to face the same pressure from their partners, through the EU institutions.

http://www.survivingiceland.com/event/67/
As result, the Icelanders are fast on their way back to becoming among the richest people in the world, just five years after experiencing one of the most dramatic financial meltdowns in history.

"We raised almost every tax there was – and introduced new ones," recalled the then finance minister, Steingrimur Sigfusson, adding that there were considerable cuts in public spending too as government debt swelled to eye-watering levels.

By August 2011, Iceland had graduated from its International Monetary Fund bailout program with flying colors. "We became a poster child for them," suggests Sigfusson, noting how the fund is still struggling to right many other sinking economies on Europe's peripheries.

Iceland is now held up as an example by some of how to overcome deep economic dislocation without undoing the social fabric.

Since then, with government borrowing receding, Iceland has been able to return to the international debt markets, and has begun repaying its emergency loans. Meanwhile, the economy – having shrunk more than 10% in two years – bounced in 2011 and 2012, and will grow by about 1.9% this year.

Nobel prize winner Joeseph Stilitz agrees. "What Iceland did was right. It would have been wrong to burden future generations with the mistakes of the financial system." For Financial Times economist Martin Wolf too, it was a triumph. "Iceland let the creditors of its banks hang. Ireland did not. Good for Iceland!" Less good, of course, for the foreign creditors. (The Guardian)

It is the obviously the attitude of Germany, it's satellite states and the EU institutions and the way they treat Greece and other nations under an EU/IMF bailout program, that put the Icelanders off EU membership. They do not need the rest of Europe anymore, they have proven they can make it on their own.

And not just that, but why would they put up with institutionalized bullying by their EU counterparts, that want to save their own banks and insure the maximum return for their bond holders? 

Iceland's case is a true example of a real patriotism and fully functioning democracy, where the leaders listen to their voters' needs and work hard for their interests. This is quite the opposite of what the former Greek government and many of their European counterparts were doing,

 Losing Iceland as a potential EU member, is a real loss for Europe, European democracy and the continent's dream for unification. European leaders, take not and hang your head in shame! 

Thursday, March 12, 2015

The Euro-zone crisis can not be solved by national governments.

http://scusi.twoday.net/stories/1022390893/
For the past six years since the economic crisis has hit the euro-zone, Greece and its relationship with its partners have been always making news. 

Recently though, things have been turning constantly for the worse. Particularly Greece's relationship with its main creditor and Europe's economic powerhouse, Germany, has turned really sour. 

After being scolded, mocked and constantly criticized by its partners and especially by the German media, the Greek voters have elected a "radical" Leftist party in government; Syriza.

 The new Greek leadership has broken the lines of the country's former governments. The ministers of PASOK and the New Democracy were more compliant, diplomatic and keen to satisfy Greece's creditors' demands. By doing so, they agreed to implement very harsh and unpopular austerity measures, that  eventually led to their defeat in the last Greek general elections.

Naturally such outcome was expected. The Greek voters saw their politicians' surrender to the demands of the Troika as a national disgrace and surrender. After of six years of extremely painful policies that they had to endure, they had enough.

Yet the grave mistakes that the former Greek governments did, are not to be blamed on their European partners. It was not them who decided to cut the Greek salaries by 40%, destroying the internal market of the country. 

In Ireland the government also implemented austerity measures, but the salary cuts were never as severe as in Greece. After 2-3 years, the Irish market managed to bounce back, simply because the Irish consumers did not lose almost half of their income.

Nor it was Greece's partners who failed to proceed with reforms, mainly sorting out the country's taxation system, its red tape and tax evasion problem. It also failed to establish a land registry and even worse, go after the rich of the country, who are the worse offenders of tax evasion.

When Syriza came into power, understandably tried to gain some of Greece's dignity. To please its voter back home, it was very quick to challenge the Troika, the Eurogroup, the German leadership and all its European creditors and partners. 

Ideally that is not the way to gain support for your cause and pass a message to your partners about the need to reconsider Greece's situation. If only, you are only isolating yourself and you damage your country's image. 

Having said that, the way the European, notably the German media and governments have treated Greece is not fair either. They have slandered the former governments for "lying" to enter the euro. They have repeatedly treated Greece as the black ship of the family, underlining the faults in its system, more than they did for any other country.

http://www.newsingreece.com/protothema/yanis-varoufakis-meeting-with-wolfgang-schauble-underway/
They used Greece as a scapegoat, to cover all the mistakes that the European leadership made when creating the euro. 

Instead of pouring some light in the EU institutions' shortcomings and offer more transparency on their functions, they preferred to literally "feed" the Greeks to the outraged European public opinion.

The German leadership in particular, acted in a very arrogant way. They may have good intentions overall for the euro's recovery, or they just want to apply their tried and tested formula that they used during the unification of Germany.

But they forget one thing; in the German situation, its government was elected by a German majority of voters and naturally had its backing. In the effort to unify Europe, this panacea can not be applied as easily, simply because Europe is not one nation.

The Greek voters did not vote for the German government, or had any say on who is get elected. Thus when the German leaders are keen to tell the Greeks how to run their country, they are not helping much with the situation. They should leave the EU institutions to apply pressure on the Greek leadership and proceed with the necessary reforms.

In addition, by applying such harsh criticism on just one nation under EU/IMF bail-out program, they naturally increase the resistance of the Greeks against their demands. German government officials together with top EU officials, have been giving in the media's demand for a story, making inflammatory statements about the Greek situation.

That is not a wise way to appease the country's public, that has to suffer not just the harshest austerity measures in recent European history, but a decade long criticism and humiliation. Especially when no other EU nation has its social and financial shortcomings so openly discussed or analysed.

It is clear that the Euro-zone crisis can not be solved by national governments. The constant clash between the Greek and German governments, is high jacking the future of the euro, postponing its recovery and dividing the European public.

No side wants to back down and each one takes the fate of millions of people in the zone for granted, to satisfy the demands of voters back home. If we want to keep the euro, we got to face the facts: the only way to govern a single currency is a single government.

So no national EU government can meddle with the decisions to serve their own ego, ideology, national superiority or the idea of it. Syriza has a very different ideology than the rest of the European political elites. Naturally it opposes the way that the EU institutions have been run over the previous decades.

But until other nations decide to be as bold as the Greeks and vote for an outsider in government, Syriza is damaging Greece's interests by going against everybody in the EU. Ideally they should wait until other nations like Spain to also elect a leftist government, then launch a full on attach on the neo-liberal agenda of the EU institutions.

The Germans on the other hand must abandon their arrogance, thinking that because they "pay" for all others, they are entitled to dictate them or dominate the whole continent. Because the reality is quite different. It is the European banking system that it is being bailed out, not the countries and their citizens that receive the loans. 

The clash between Germany and Greece is constantly turning for the worse. Recently the Greek government decided to ask for the WW2 reparations from Germany, something that was received by the Germans and their supporters with even more content and ridicule. 

The situation leads nowhere and both sides have a fair share of blame. But as long as it is down to national governments to reach an agreement, the euro-zone will always remain in limbo. The national interests are getting in the way in finding a satisfactory solution for everybody.

Since we came this far to share a single currency, it is decision time. If we want to keep the euro, we need to create an ever closer political union, as well as a banking one. The euro was create as a symbol of European "unity" and upon its launch, the Greeks were promised that it would turn Greece as rich as the Northern European nations.

That no only did not happen, but actually quite the opposite took place. This is not just the fault of the Greek governments, but the way the euro was created and the opposition of the German leadership to allow the transfer of wealth towards the poorer, peripheral economies.

In other words, the only way the euro can fulfill its purpose is when the rich EU nations will allow this transfer of investments and funds. While the poorer nations should proceed with necessary reforms, to transform their countries into a model that is more compatible with that of their Northern European counterparts.

From what we observe, our governments fail to agree, save the euro and the European economy, or fulfill their obligations towards their citizens. We need a new type of government to deal with this mess, one that will force all governments to comply with what must be done, should Europe decides to keep the single currency.

That government must be created on a pan-European level, by pro-European politicians, committed and dedicated to Europe's cause, not to any pitiful, conservative, nationalist agenda. 

Friday, March 6, 2015

The Greek bashing in European media, obstructs reforms in the country.

http://lowres.cartoonstock.com/-imf-i-f-greek_bail_out-deficit-bron2313_low.jpg
For the past five years, no other EU member state had received so much attention by the European and global media regarding the euro-zone crisis, as much as Greece. 

Ever since the global economic meltdown hit the country, its affairs kept the European media busy. All the shortcomings of the Greek economy and society were exposed, by every media organization across the continent.

Stories kept being published about how the Greeks are not working hard, how they all tax evade, or how corrupt the country's institutions are.

Most of these articles or reports, have of course a great dose of truth; no one ever denies in Greece that nepotism and corruption was a major obstacle to Greece becoming a real European economy. 

Yet I do not recall any newspaper analyzing the US economy so much, where the crisis begun. There haven't been any condemning articles about the mismanagement of the US finances and the totally irresponsible policies that its banks adopted. 

Nor I do not remember any harsh and analytic reports being made for Ireland, France, Italy, Spain, Cyprus or Portugal, many of those being also under an EU/IMF bail-out agreement, or facing hard economic realities. 

I live in Ireland for more than 10 years now and I am very familiar with its weaknesses as an economy and a society. I was surprised that no media organization visited the country to write about people collecting social welfare while working illegally, or how corrupt its property market is, once under IMF supervision.

I doubt that Portugal, which has a very similar economy to that of Greece is less corrupt, or Spain for the same matter. In Italy it is well known the extend of the activities of its famous Mafia, yet no one ever portrayed the whole nation as thieving, murdering thugs.

There have been of course a numerous reports, speculations or analyses on the faults of the euro currency, but never any blame was placed on any current or former EU official and leader of any national government, for creating a totally shambolic single currency.

Again it was the former Greek governments who were blamed for "lying" about the country's finances to adopt the euro. If that is true it exposes how the euro currency was established with extremely weak foundations. 

I doubt that no one knew about Greece's "lying". If only, it is most likely that such practices were widely common among European governments, to keep their economies afloat.

Most Western European nations are heavily indebted. Perhaps Greece just went overboard and its economy could not support so much borrowing. That is not a reason to punish and humiliate the ordinary citizen of Greece though. 

It would be refreshing for once, to have the media focus dropping Greece and turning on the shortcomings of the European banking system and the EU institutions instead. There we have transactions worth of billions, not a few hundred euro of tax evasion like in some cases of citizen fraud. 

In addition, after being totally humiliated for years in a row, the Greeks are fed up of being treated like the black ship of the continent. Thus they decided to revolt and vote for a so called "radical" party into government. 

Once more the European media started the mud throwing and propaganda campaigns. This time they focused on Greece's newly elected leader and Finance Minister, Mr. Tsipras and Mr. Varoufakis. They criticize anything from their lack of "professionalism," to their casual dress sense. 

The truth is that the European elites do not like to be challenged, by what they see as arrogant politicians. Yet the Greeks had to deal with inflammatory comments by many of the continent's "arrogant" media and politicians, notably from Germany and its satellite states. 

It must be understood that Germany should stop being seen as the one pulling the strings in the euro-zone crisis, even if everybody knows that it is true. How could anyone convince the Greek voters, to accept policies from a finance minister of another EU country, that they have not voted for?

This reality creates a major democratic deficit, where one country must follow the economic policies that are promoted by another EU member's government. The German leadership may still have a major say, but in my opinion they should leave to the EU institutions the implementation and adoption of such policies by Greece or any other country.

Either it is the European media's fault, or the German leadership's arrogance, constantly criticizing another EU government, naturally creates divisions. Besides, it is not all about Germany or Greece; there are 17 other members of the euro-zone.

Any policies or recommendations by Germany to Greece, should come through the EU institutions. The German leadership should avoid throwing oil to the fire, by directly "advising" or commenting on the Greek affairs.

Finally I wish that the EU could stop punishing the ordinary Greek citizens for the mistakes of the previous governments. Of course they were voted in power by the Greek voters, but one must understand the political reality of the country.

Sadly Greece has inherited a lot by its Ottoman rulers and Byzantine past, where the governing elite were seen as the absolute rulers that could not be challenged. The only way you could deal with them was through the exchange of personal favors.

This mentality still prevails among the majority of the older generation and it can only be changed through education. Something that requires increasingly more funds, that right now the average Greek family is struggling to come by. 

In other words the more Greeks are remaining in instability, poverty and ignorance, corruption will never be eradicated. 

In addition, the more they are being slandered and used as a scapegoat by the European media to cover the faults in the euro, the more hard-lined their attitude will be towards reforms and change. 

By constantly criticizing them and their new "radical" government, Europe is actually pushing them to stand more firmly behind Syriza and even pushing them towards Russia.

Maintaining a pro-European sentiment among the Greek population, by encouraging them or communicating the more appropriate things to them, it is vital to keep pushing for reforms and even bring back a more "mainstream" political party in power.

The German leadership must remember, that it was not just their nations' hard work that made their country wealthy today. After WW2 many nations, that include Greece, signed a debt forgiveness agreement for Germany.

Not only that, but funds kept pouring into the German economy by the US (Marshall Plan) and other creditors, in order to lift the German economy out of a permanent recession. If something must be taught by Germany's history is this: its economic success is not solely down to the hard work of the German people.

Besides, hundreds of thousands of Greeks migrated to Germany over the decades, worked hard and helped the German and other European economies. How can anyone now call them lazy?

What helped Germany to rise again back then, is what Greece needs right now too: not just austerity and "hard work", but also investments, debt forgiveness and a growth stimulus. 

The Greeks have sacrificed a lot and they proved their willingness. Why aren't we seeing some investments yet into the country? The Europeans' lack of trust for the Greek government, draws a very bad image on European solidarity and cooperation, if that ever truly existed.

And it definitely underlines the need for more transparency, a stronger fully functional democracy and less intergovernmental-ism in EU. Something that seems like a very distant vision, when EU governments and citizens are constantly divided by the media. 

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

We share a European heritage, we do not own parts of it.

http://www.crwflags.com/fotw/flags/eu_herd.html
When we are trying to discuss or explain national identity or its negative side-nationalism- we tend to focus on the things that separate us from other nations. Like our ancestors' achievements, our art, cuisine and language, as well as events that marked our country's history.

But when we try to analyze what means to be Polish, Greek, German of a Spaniard and what makes us so special or different than others, there are often disagreements.

The reason of course is that our continent has been divided and partially united so many times, that the ethnic and cultural lines are blurred after all these centuries. Many great civilizations and empires on our continent clashed in its long history, and from their shatters new nations were born.

Europe's borders were ever shifting and its people were also constantly on the move. And as it is in human nature to copy others and exchange ideas, Europe has created a unique mosaic of cultures that are so different, yet so similar to each other.

In fact, Europe's cultural richness and diversity derives from the constant moving, meddling and mixing of its peoples and cultures. And today it is one of our advantages, when compared to other regions.

If we try to analyze each nation's cultural or genealogical elements, we will realize that our modern nations are the result of this everlasting mixing, mingling and intermarrying of our ancestors.

It is this cultural diversity that created all of the ancient civilizations that we know. There was simply no "pure" ethnic group or culture in human history whatsoever, apart perhaps the ever wondering tribes-people.

For example Ancient Greece, which was the result of the migration and mixing of the Greek tribes, that conquered and assimilated the previous inhabitants of the southern Balkan peninsula, was not a homogeneous nation as we understand it today.

It was since then debated who was of Greek origin and if a city state or kingdom was agreed to be one, then in was allowed to participate in the Olympic games. Back then these games was an agreed reference of "Greekness," just as today we are trying to define our "Europeaness" by identifying a common set of values.

Similar debates are taking place today. For example about how European Turkey or the nations of the Caucasus region are and if they should join the European Union. Many identify a nation as "European", if it is located in what is perceived to be the geographical region of Europe, plus if it is a Christian nation.

Others have a different point of view. For some, "European" is not necessarily Western or Christian, as there are European Muslims in the Balkans. Besides, the region of Anatolia, used to be part of the Hellenistic and Roman Empires and was heavily colonized by their people.

Thus for many individuals these nations have undoubtedly inherited European heritage, through their historic links with the rest of the continent.

It is not uncommon to encounter many other disputes in Europe too, over names, products, customs, historic sites, cuisine or beverages. That is partially understandable given the number of times Europeans had to fight against each other, while keep redefining their identity each time an empire collapsed.

If only we could see things through a different perspective. Bringing as an example the region I originally come from-the Balkans- the most underdeveloped region of Europe and the most volatile, we could see how misled our nationalism is.

The richest region of Europe historically, is the poorest financially. And the reason is because its inhabitants haven't managed yet to overcome their complexes and settle old disputes.

If only every Turk, Bulgarian, Albanian, Greek, Serb, or Slavomacedonian realized that they share a common Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Slavic and Ottoman heritage and instead of fighting over it, they should be proudly promoting it to the rest of the world.

Instead of that, each nation is entering a never-ending debate over absurd "ownership rights" of the region's greatest exports and achievements.

The Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman empires, were multinational and multicultural melting pots. There might have been a dominant ethnic group in most of them, but their achievements can never be limited or monopolized by one nation.

The influences that created the heritage of these empires, were extracted by every single ethnic group living within their borders.

And so now we have the same type of food or beverage, being popular across this region, yet in every country is being served as a national dish.

The ancient ruins of the former civilizations that existed in this part of Europe, can be undoubtedly classified as Greek, Roman, or of any other culture of the antiquity. However they should not be a hot-spot of debate or dispute.

Anyone can recognize artifacts of the Greco-Roman civilizations, yet they do not solely belong to the heritage of the modern states of Greece or Italy; but also to the countries that they are discovered within.

They are part of the collective heritage of the whole region of the Balkans and the Middle East. The Ancient Greeks and Romans, left their mark and influence throughout these lands, thus these artifacts are only a manifestation of this fact.

As long of course the nations in which their discovery takes place, do not try to alter historic facts by presenting them as their own, to serve their nationalist propaganda in an effort of national self determination.

I would be very proud to see one day other nations like Turkey and FYROM, proudly exhibiting their Greek heritage and not necessarily be intimidated by the fact that Greeks inhabited their lands in the past. The whole of Europe claims Greek heritage and Greece's neighbors have been exposed obviously the most to it.

Equally so, the Greeks should accept and be proud of their Ottoman heritage. The fact that they were subjects to an empire dominated by a different ethnic group, does not take away from their "Greekness". It actually contributes and enhances the country's cultural and historic diversity.

We were all part of four very rich, powerful and influential empires, that defined Europe and its history for thousands of years. That is a fact that should be uniting us, not dividing us. If we think about it, we got more things in common that we want to believe.

Of course such issues do not affect the Balkans only, but they can be found throughout Europe; especially in regions that old powerful empires have been established, like the Austrian-Hungarian Empire.

Yet other nations have been a bit more successful in dealing with their common heritage. No one disputes for example that the Vikings originated from Scandinavia and who they were.

So while today the Scandinavian nations claim Viking ancestry, other regions like Ireland claim their heritage too, without entering into any disputes.

Ireland has been colonized by the Vikings, as well as many other regions like Britain, Northern France and Russia. While these countries are including and promoting their Viking heritage, they do not try to claim it as their own, alter it or the historic facts that are evident from the Viking colonization of their lands.

Similarly, many nations that share a Celtic heritage (like Ireland, France, Spain, Portugal and Britain) instead of fighting over it, they have created numerous heritage events, celebrating their common music and culture.

These cultural events should be promoted in every region with common historic and cultural links, but also throughout Europe. If something ever is going to unite the European continent, it definitely won't be a single currency or market.

All Europe's regions have inherited more than one heritage. We are a continent with a very rich history and culture, but that should not stand in the way of creating a diverse and competitive continent. We should be including these elements in the creation of the Europe of the future.

Besides, we Europeans love our history and heritage so much and it is evident in our folklore, the movies that we watch and every corner of our cities and countryside. We could never have a Europe without them.

They are also very attractive to so many tourists from all over the world, making our tourism industry vital to our overall economy.

To conclude, more needs to be done to promote our shared European heritage. It can be used to end disputes across the continent, unite all nations and regions and provide a vital life-line to our economy through tourism. How could we exclude or overlook our true wealth from our future?

It can also be a reference of inspiration instead of promoting nationalism and bigotry, if we study it with our eyes open. Our nations were created, prospered and developed, because of the constant cultural exchanges and ethnic mixing, not because of the absolute exclusion of anything "foreign".

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

SYRIZA's victory in Greek elections is the Troika's and Germany's fault!

http://www.cfr.org/greece/syriza-victory-would-mean-europe/p36017
As expected, the victor of the Greek Parliamentary elections in 2015 is the so called "radical" leftist party, SYRIZA.

A day after the party won the majority in the Greek Parliament, only the markets from the international community were quick to react. As result the euro fell even further against other currencies.
 
Greece's European partners have been slow to comment on the party's leader Alexis Tsipras' victory, or congratulate him.

The outgoing Greek Prime Minister Mr. Samaras, has even avoided to welcome Mr. Tsipras in his new residency as Greece's next leader, as it is the custom.

Their response clearly shows their annoyance or perhaps awkwardness, if not their ignorance and bad manners.If you are a politician with a good ethos, you treat your opponent with the expected respect, even after your defeat.

Yet throughout Europe and especially in other EU member states under an austerity program, the SYRIZA victory was welcomed by leftist or anti-austerity parties. Many citizens across the union received the news as a new hope deriving from the Greek result. But others are more skeptical.

In reality, it is too early to say that the new development coming from Greece can be perceived as "hope". Because if SYRIZA or Mr. Tsipras himself want to ever get reelected for a second term, they will have to negotiate with Greece's creditors.

If they stick to everything that they ever promised, most likely they will lead Greece in a very dangerous territory and direct coalition with  its European partners, especially Germany or the Troika.

That could mean a much feared "Grexit" from the euro, that would result to more hardships for the already troubled Greek economy. And if that happens, the Greek voters will be reluctant to vote SYRIZA back to power.

On the other hand we find ourselves in a peculiar situation, that the two extremes should be avoided. Either if Mr. Tsipras does everything that he promised, or none of it, the outcome could be equally damaging for his party.

If he does not proceed with the much promised reforms and demands from the Troika to end austerity, then the Greek voters will turn to another party to fulfill them.

And here comes the tricky part. Because as much as hated SYRIZA is by the European bourgeois, there could be a much worse result than this in the next elections, following Tsipras' hypothetical failure.

On last Sunday's elections, the far-right party Golden Dawn, has kept all of its seats in the Greek Parliament, remaining the third party in the country.

If the Europeans do not want to negotiate with Tsipras and bow to at least some of his demands, then the EU should be prepared for potentially its first Neo-Nazi government, the first since WW2.

These elections have showed that the Greek electorate did not just vote for Golden Dawn by "mistake,"or as a protest vote. The party's voters have conscientiously chose to  maintain their support to it.

It should act as a wake up call for Europe's leaders. With the far-right rising everywhere across the continent and as Golden Dawn is far more radical than SYRIZA, the Troika and Mrs Merkel ought to better be willing to compromise with Tsipras.

Besides, that is all the Greek people want; some relief after six years of austerity and the return of hope for their future. They want to see investments and new jobs, while the country's economy to start growing again.

The majority do not want to leave either the EU or the euro-zone and if such tragedy ever happens, it will not be Tsipras' fault, but the Troika's. To their feet and those of the German political elite, we should lay the blame for the Greek elections result.

If they were a bit more lenient and compromising over the past six years towards the troubled economies of Europe, we would not have such dilemmas now.  They currently have no other option but to negotiate, allowing SYRIZA to implement at least some of the policies that it promised.

It is outrageous though to think that Europe did not learn from its past mistakes. We have been in similar situation just before WW2 in Germany itself. How could anyone ignore history's lessons?

When you apply such catastrophic policies and ruin a country by all means, it is inevitable to get some extreme reaction by the voters. They always turn for radical parties.

How on earth did the German and European leadership ever hoped, that they could treat the Greeks as they did and get away with it, after what happened in Germany in the past. Unless of course they do aim to destabilize Europe for the long term.

Only a fool would believe that with an ongoing economic crisis and such harsh austerity measures, the Greeks would be afraid to turn to more "radical" parties. Especially after the scaremongering campaign by Mr. Samaras' government, plus those of the German and EU officials.

We know that these tactics do not always work; in Ireland the European bourgeois lost too many referendums in this way. Why keep taking this risk, by disrespecting democracy and the needs of the people?

If Mrs Merkel and the Troika even manage to force Tsipras to back off his expectations plus deal with the Golden Dawn, they better get prepared for more future turbulence. Because Spain is due to vote for its next government by the end of this year.

And the Spaniards who are also fed up with austerity and especially after SYRIZA's victory, are as well expected to turn to the "radical" leftist party Podemos. This could lead to a domino effect, with more and more EU member states possibly following suit.

A European Union with a strong and organized Left, should be a great result for Europe's workers and ordinary citizens. But not for the continent's elites. So one would anticipate a quick compromise from their part.

It would be much preferable to deal with Tsipras now, allowing him to relief his voters from some of the heavy debt burden. In fact austerity as a policy across the EU should be reconsidered, for the very important task of gaining the public's trust and support in the European institutions again.

This economic crisis has done a great damage on the citizens' confidence in them, due to the fact very few policies are aimed at their interests or the greater good.

The EU has merely become an economic experiment, hijacked by almost fanatic economists, lobbyists and bankers that seem to be ignoring the reality of millions of EU citizens. For them, succeeding with their projects at all costs is of the utmost importance.

The euro and its economics, or any of its financial institutions should exist for the betterment of a society as a whole, not just the privileged few. No nation should suffer for the survival of a currency. In the end I believe that our leaders have got their priorities totally wrong in this.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

More Europe is the solution for security issues, not less.

http://www.dw.de/privacy-a-central-issue-in-new-schengen-database/a-16729422
Since the Paris attacks earlier this month, the security and anti-terrorism issue across Europe returned to the limelight of our continent's reality.

The worse affected nations outside of France, were Bulgaria and Romania, that saw their hopes to become members of the Schengen Agreement Area,being destroyed.

The focus on the restriction of the Schengen, with partial reinstatement or stricter border controls across the continent resurfaced. The Far-Right French leader Marine Le Pen, called for a suspension of the Schengen Agreement, to deal with the new national security threat.

While this argument is valid, the best solution would be a pan-European reaction to any security threat that any member state is facing, rather a national one.

It is unacceptable that in every crisis, Europe's leaders turn against one of the few benefits that we citizens are enjoying with our country's EU membership. Yet they never are as vocal to limit the banks' or lobbies' influence in the club.

The free movement, programs like the Erasmus and EURES, are highly beneficial for the ordinary Europeans, but in the long term for the European economy too. By having a highly mobile, multilingual and diverse working force, Europe can gain an advantage against its global competitors.

Yet populism seem to sell very well in every crisis. A better pan-European coordination, would not require more centralization or giving "more powers to Brussels", as many fear.

But by deeper cooperation and solidarity among all EU member states, we could turn the Schengen not just into a free movement Agreement, but a common security and defense area.

Partially this has already started. In light of security concerns, the member states established a joint database to be used in manhunts. Called the Schengen Information System (SIS), it has now been reformed in an attempt to make sharing information between offices faster and easier. (Deutsche Welle)

Thus, there is no need for national politicians to scaremonger their citizens anymore, just to gain a few votes. When we are talking about issues that affect all Europeans, national or personal interests should be set aside.

And as we should all learn to stand by each other, I do not see why Romania and Bulgaria should tolerate this unfair treatment by their European "partners." They have to suffer the rising populist agenda in the EU's "heavyweights" like France, Germany and the Netherlands.

To appease internal issues, fears and complexes, the leaders of the core European countries are keeping Bulgaria's and Romania's Schengen membership in suspense.

That is unacceptable and discriminatory against the Balkan nations. They maybe poor, but they have proven to be committed to the European Union, more than many of its older members are.

United we are stronger and the more states participate in a common European defense and anti-terrorism mechanism, the better. You can not secure Europe's borders, by excluding some of the club's members. It is just awkward and nonsensical to talk about protection of the European territory, keep the free movement, while excluding million of your citizens from it.

http://www.debatingeurope.eu/2013/07/09/how-much-more-europe-do-we-actually-need/#.VMVyNY7Sn1Y
It is clear that in this case, "more Europe" is the solution. Closer cooperation in policing, defense, anti-terrorism action, immigration and intelligence agencies.

This unity could also be very crucial to the so much feared Russian "threat", that notably the Baltic states are increasingly worried about.

If Europe shows a determined and fully functioning unity and solidarity, no external threat could in reality challenge it. The rest of the European states must show an increasing support for the club's Eastern or Southern borders, instead of sitting comfortably and passively safe behind the efforts of the bordering nations.

Either with or without the Schengen, immigrants and human traffickers will still strive to enter the heartlands of Europe. It is not Bulgaria's or Romania's fault, it is the result of Europe's economic supremacy over other regions.

Instead of limiting the citizens' freedoms, we should be enhancing them with a coordinated action. Fight populism with resounding results and pan-European initiatives.

End the exclusion and discrimination of certain nations, while supporting those member states that are located in the continent's borders. We are all in this together after all.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Why the economic crisis could result in a disaster for Europe's demographics.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ageing_of_Europe
During the past five years Europe and especially the southern part of it is gripped by an economic crisis. The immediate reaction of the continent's leadership, was to impose harsh austerity measures to tackle it and ensure the viability of the euro, plus the continent's banks.

Yet while they were quick to deal with any threat to the single currency and the potential losses for the European banking system, they seem very reluctant to do so for major social issues that arise from the austerity measures, that they have imposed on us.

Unemployment is high and salaries are slashed. Emigration from the worst hit economies to the more affluent regions of Europe is increasing, as people are getting desperate. And it is mainly the younger generation that emigrates, in order to build a future.

That leads not to just an inevitable brain drain, but also a new demographic problem. Demographics for the European continent have been quite gloomy for the past decades. After Japan, Europe's countries and especially those of the South and Eastern regions, are heading for the worse population decline.

That trend is the result of capitalism and a dramatic transformation of the European economy. Living in our continent may be easier than many other regions, but it is also very expensive and competitive.

We are encouraged by our governments to become consumers, by the constant bombardment of advertising and the creation of a lifestyle that is based on the accumulation of goods, property or services. Europe's industries have been outsourced to countries with cheaper labor costs, so that the multinational corporations could gain more.

That leaves very few low-skilled jobs in our continent, that are usually filled by immigrants. Besides, few Europeans would opt in making a career in such jobs, because they pay little and they offer no secure income or prestige.

As result, European youths must study for longer-well into their mid or late 20s-postponing the age of starting a family, in order to attain degrees that would allow them to have better career prospects. In addition the lifestyle in Europe and the West in general, is becoming more egocentric.

Young people are spoiled by choice and materialism, plus they certainly do not wish to start a family before the age of 30, or even later. The consumerist mentality that we have been embedded with, dictate for a university degree, a car, an apartment, travel the world and buy everything that we possible ever wanted, before we get married, start a family and be bogged down with responsibility.

This trend becomes even worse when finances are bad. European youths tend to stay longer with their parents, simply because they can not afford to live on their own or start a family. The economic crisis has made this certainly very evident in Greece and Spain, where even youths who had initially moved out of their parental homes, returned to live with their parents again due to unemployment.

Even when they decide to have a family, the fertility rates are falling across Europe too.The average child per European woman rate is around 1.59, as of 2009. That is one of the lowest in the world and it is almost sure that it will get even lower due to the economic crisis. People not only do not want large families anymore, but now they can't even afford to have children.

One would think that our leaders would recognize the potential  catastrophe that looms over Europe and act on it, as quickly as they did to save the euro. Wrong! Not only they have taken little measures to deal with the problem, but they chose to cut social security services that helped large families cope with the expenses, as part of the austerity measures.

And all that to make sure that the bond holders in Europe's banking system get their money back. No single currency, market or banking system should be above people, in fact they should serve their interests. The reason of their existence is to make people's lives easier, not make them suffer. It seems that in a capitalist system that is a utopia.

http://www.businessinsider.com/the-greek-crisis-is-about-demographics-2010-5?IR=T
Bringing Greece as example, the forecast looks rather gloomy. According to one of the country's leading newspapers-Kathimerini- Greece's population declined by approximately 60,000 in 2013, mainly due to the economic crisis. The deaths for the first time surpassed the births by 16,300 people and 44,200 more individuals decided to emigrate out of the country than those who entered in Greece. (The article in Greek is here)

It is evident that the crisis has made the demographic problem of the country even worse and no solution has been offered by the Troika, or Greece's European partners. The utmost important issue to them is to save the euro.

Across the Southern region of Europe, just like in the Eastern part after the collapse of Communism, people are getting poorer and many kids are forced to leave their education plans, because their parents can not afford them. The crisis takes young people out of schools and throws them in a future with no jobs or forced emigration.

And since immigration into Europe is also increasing from other war torn, or poverty plagued regions of the world, poor Europeans are faced with a very harsh future prospect. They will have to compete in their own country with immigrants, bringing the two communities in an inevitable clash.

http://www.businessinsider.com/the-greek-crisis-is-about-demographics-2010-5?IR=T
The signs are already visible. Europe is becoming more intolerant, xenophobic and is turning against its very European values or dream. Far-right or nationalist parties are mushrooming all over the continent and they are gaining popularity fast.

Under such developments the continent's leadership seem to be paralyzed and unable to deal with the problem.

They prefer to leave the issue to the next government to solve, but by then it will probably be too late. Europe is aging fast and in the future there just won't be enough young people to work, to sustain the ever increasing number of pensioners. Our continent will simply not have enough workers to tax and pay for the elderly.

A fast solution would be more immigration, but with the recent economic developments across the continent, that will also lead to a worsening backlash. Europeans are afraid of the loss of their national identity, or the so called "Islamization"  of Europe. Higher immigration rates in a short period of time, will only aggravate the continent's xenophobia.

It will be too easy to look at countries that took certain steps towards a solution, with good or medium results. But our governments are too short-sighted. The Scandinavian countries or others such as France, could offer some insight.

Necessary measures do not include more cuts in social security measures, but in fact an increase of support for young families. France pays mothers for up to 3 years parental leave and a monthly cash incentive, which is nearly the minimum wage for a mother to stay off work, for one year following the birth of her third child.

Plus it has developed an income tax system, based on the more children the less tax to pay and government subsidized daycare for children under the age of three, and full time school places for over threes paid for by the government. (BBC)

That has made France into one of the European countries with the highest birth rates. In Scandinavia on the other hand, they give parental leave to both parents to take in turn. Sweden’s family policy is aimed at supporting the dual-earner family model and ensuring the same rights and obligations, regarding family and work for both women and men.

Generous spending on family benefits, flexible leave and working hours for parents with young children and affordable, high-quality childcare are the main factors for success. The country's gender pay gap is also the lowest in Europe. (Europa.eu)

Under an EU led program, we could copy the above policies and promote them across Europe, especially to those countries in need. It is not just the recent crisis hit EU members like Greece, but also most of the former USSR democracies like the Baltic states, that face a gloomy demographic future.

So why isn't there an agreement on this, or a collective action or creation of a family oriented fund, to tackle Europe's demographic problems? If we do not act now, it will be too late. Just by 2050, our continent's population won't be able to support any growth in the economy.

So instead of wasting billions in trying to save the banks, why don't we make a much wiser investment that will prove far more necessary and crucial for our economy in the future; in our social security and child policies.

Europe must start investing in its youth, they are the future and they are the most valuable asset of the continent, than any market or currency. Without future workers, citizens, voters or consumers, the single market that the European elites are trying so hard to salvage to the detriment of social security policies, won't survive anyway.

If the future generations are poorer or unable to have children, then there will be no future for Europe. It is time that our continent changed its priorities and focus on policies that are more people and family oriented.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Je suis Charlie......

http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/world-news/je-suis-charlie-trends-people-4935086
Today is a sad day for France, Europe, freedom of speech and all of us who in our own little way are trying to influence public opinion, or simply entertain it; cartoonists, bloggers, journalists. All of us constantly with our eyes on current affairs, informing, analyzing, satirizing.

If only somebody who disagrees or gets offended by what we do, storms in our offices, our homes or  work environment and kill us in cold blood.

Such attitudes do not belong in a free and democratic society, and those who commit such crimes should not call themselves civilized human beings. If they want to be part of an open society or a democracy and avail of all the benefits that they bring, then there is one simple rule: you respect another person's opinion even if you disagree with it.

Of course I am referring to today's incomprehensible, sad and outrageous events that took place in France's capital, Paris. Three young men stormed the offices of Charlie Hebdo, a satirical magazine that often hosted cartoons that were lampooning Islam and other religions, and killed 12 people. 

Three young men that should be looking at creating a life for themselves, that they had their whole lives ahead of them, living in one of the most privileged countries in the world, chose instead to become terrorists. They killed in the name of their religion, 12 innocent and creative individuals, accomplished and with so much more to offer.

Killing in the name of a religion, in this day and age, is one of the most daft, tragic and outrageous reasons I can imagine. There is no way to explain it. 

Their actions could have very serious consequences for France and Europe in extend, but also for all European Muslims. In a period where France is experiencing an increasing shift to the far-right, with the National Front's Marine Le Pen being tipped to be one of the two major contestants of the next French Presidential Elections in 2017, this could not come at a worse time.

Mrs Le Pen leads the polls at the moment and her major rival, former French President Mr. Sarkozy, will have to make huge concessions to the rising nationalism among the French voters, in order to have a chance to win. If the Far Right wins the election in France, it will inevitably mean more hard times for Europe.

From now until 2017, we will have the Greek elections by the end of this month, the British EU membership referendum and the French elections, where "radical", "anti-EU" parties have gained significantly ground. How will Europe be able to cope under their pressure?

It could also mean that the whole Muslim community across Europe, could face further pressure and discrimination. Just this week we had a march of around 18,000 in Dresden, Germany, against the "Islamization of Europe".

It is clear now that the European Muslims must reject all radical elements in their circles and cooperate with the authorities to isolate them. Simply announcing a statement of condemnation, won't be enough, if incidents such as this are blown out of proportion. 

The young men who did this despicable act today, were French citizens of Arab origin, raised in France. They allegedly have recently returned from Syria, where they have been radicalized. That issue is not anything new. Thousands of European born Muslims have joined the ranks of radical fighters in Middle East.

If the Muslim communities want to avoid any unfair back-clash, then themselves should reject such elements from their communities.  They should stand in solidarity with Christian, Jewish, other religion followers and secular elements in their communities, for the good of our communities and countries. 

But above all, to make a statement both towards the Europeans but especially towards these radicalized individuals, that these acts are not welcome or accepted by anyone in our continent.

Europeans on the other hand must all stand in solidarity and do not scapegoat the whole Muslim community for the acts of a few. These people do not represent a whole religion, but sadly their actions speak louder than the peaceful coexistence of the majority of the Muslim community among us.

Our tolerance, faith, patience and values will be tested. But we should not give into their pressure and entering the chaos of bigotry, hatred, xenophobia and Islamophobia. 

I wish to offer my sincere condolences to the families of the victims and I would also proudly state: I AM ALSO CHARLIE!  Rest in Peace brothers.