Thursday, June 19, 2014

Greece sues for 7 billion euros over German submarines that have never sailed

By Holly Watt, Whitehall Editor 12 Jun 2014

Exclusive: Military deal which became symbolic of financial crisis now at centre of international legal case over Greece’s geo-political reputation

Greek Submarines in Shipyards

In total the submarine deal has cost at least three billion euros Photo: Greek Navy Press Office

Greece has launched a multi-billion euro claim against one of Germany’s biggest defence firms who sold the financially-beleaguered country four submarines in a complicated deal which has become symbolic of the country’s economic woes.

The controversial deal has threatened Greece’s position in NATO, according to well-placed sources, led to the criminal prosecution of the country’s defence minister and the resignation of a senior Naval figure.

The Telegraph today publishes photographs of the four submarines, which are still unfinished in a Greek shipyard almost 15 years after they were first ordered.

It can now be disclosed that the Greek Government has launched a seven-billion euro compensation claim against ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems and Abu Dhabi Mar – the defence firm and shipyard now responsible for the order.

A 200-page document sent to the ICC International Court of Arbitration states that Greece’s international position was compromised by the failure to supply the submarines and its position in NATO was undermined.

“The issue is so sensitive that we could claim even higher economic compensation from the Arabs and the Germans because the submarines are connected with the geostrategic role of the country, its place within NATO, and the fact that the country is awaiting the finalisation of the Exclusive Economic Zone which has brought several investors who want to invest in its natural resources,” said a well-placed source.

Following years of delay, the Greek Government has recently insisted that the submarines are finally due to start full sea trials imminently, although no date has been set. When one of the Greek submarines first went to sea, it was found to list heavily in certain sea conditions.

Greece’s spending on defence systems before the economic meltdown has attracted controversy, with the four submarines coming to symbolise the waste. The country was Europe’s largest importer of weapons, spending four per cent of GDP on armaments. It had 1,300 tanks – more than twice as many as Britain.

Greek politicians claimed that Germany encouraged Greece to spend vast sums on weaponry and then criticised the country for profligacy. However, a 3 billion euro deal to buy the four submarines – vessels the country does not even need – have become a tipping point and the new Greek administration now appears determined to seek compensation.

The ICC appeal is likely to be part of Greece’s attempts to shift the blame for its massive overspending onto other European countries. The International Court of Arbitration resolves international commercial disputes.

“If there is one country that has benefited from the huge amounts Greece spends on defence it is Germany," said Dimitris Papadimoulis, an MP with the Coalition of the Radical Left party, said previously.

Last year, the former defence minister Akis Tsochadzopoulos was jailed after being found guilty of receiving an €8m bribe from Ferrostaal, one of the German companies involved in the deal. Ferrostaal agreed to pay a €140m fine.

Stelios Fenekos, a 52-year-old vice admiral of the 22,000-man strong Greek Navy, also resigned his position in the wake of a row over the vessels. He said he did so in protest at the Greek defence minister’s decision to purchase the submarines, as well as other decisions taken that Mr Fenekos considers “politically motivated”.

"How can you say to people we are buying more subs at the same time we want you to cut your salaries and pensions?" said Admiral Fenekos.

The four Class 214 submarines have been mothballed in the Skaramangas shipyard near Athens in Greece for over two years, having been ordered over 15 years ago.

Workers left the shipyard in April 2012, but were recently told they would be rehired on wages 35 per cent lower than their previous salaries.

In total the submarine deal has cost at least three billion euros – three times more than the EU demanded that the Greek administration save from the country’s budget by cutting workers’ pensions, a move that sparked violent unrest in Athens.

Although the economy of the country is now slowing improving, Greece has received international financial bailouts which total 215 billion euros. In return for the bailout, Greek was ordered to adopt extreme austerity measures.

The four boats that are currently in Skaramangas were finally handed over to the Greek navy in March, although the deal was first signed in 2000. At that time, the Greeks ordered three Class 214 submarines with an option on a fourth.

ThyssenKrupp Marine bought the shipyard, which was responsible for building the submarines in 2002 and subsequently sold on a large shareholding to Abu Dhabi Mar.

The Navy is expected to carry out minor modifications on them and undertake sea trials in Souda Bay, Crete, before commissioning them into service.

The submarines are almost 214 feet long and carry 5 officers and 22 crew.

ThyssenKrupp Marine declined to comment as the company said it had not seen details of the claim.

Greece sues for 7 billion euros over German submarines that have never sailed - Telegraph

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Golden Dawn leader hits out at Greek parliament's 'plot' to prosecute him

Helena Smith in Athens, Thursday 5 June 2014

Nikos Michaloliakos condemns 'pseudo-democrats' in hostile speech after being stripped of political immunity

Nikos Michaloliakos speaking at the Greek parlioament on Wednesday.

Nikos Michaloliakos speaking at the Greek parliament on Wednesday. Photograph: Thanassis Stavrakis/AP

Hurling abuse, telling other MPS to shut up and describing himself as an "unrepentant nationalist", the imprisoned leader of Greece's neo-fascist Golden Dawn party sent shudders through the country's political arena on Wednesday as deputies in the Greek parliament voted to prosecute the politician on charges of operating a criminal gang.

Nearly nine months after being incarcerated in Athens's high-security Korydallos jail, Nikos Michaloliakos made his first appearance in public in combative mood. It was the first time a leader elected by democratic process has been escorted into parliament in handcuffs and under armed guard.

As diehard Golden Dawn supporters outside the building, – shouted "you have made a mockery of them all, great leader" a wan-looking Michaloliakos blasted MPs who had assembled in the chamber with the purpose of stripping him of his political immunity.

"I am the head of Greece's third largest party," he railed, reminding deputies of the far rightists' unexpectedly strong showing in recent European and local elections. "Shame on you, you pseudo-democrats, for setting up this plot against us … You have drawn up charges with your eyes on opinion polls. You are a sad minority government. You put me in prison for no reason. But I do not fear prison. My handcuffs are a badge of honour."

Of the 224 MPs present, an overwhelming 223 voted in favour of formally instituting legal proceedings against Michaloliakos. The party's second-in-command, Christos Pappas, and a leading Golden Dawn MP, Yannis Lagos, were similarly stripped of their immunity. All three men – along with around 30 other prominent party cadres – are in prison pending trial later this year.

Their appearance, described by senior officials as "troubling" for a government clinging to power with a majority of two, is a foretaste of the tactics the extremists are expected to pursue in the months ahead.

The far-rightists' transformation into a nationalist, patriotic group – from the outset they have denied they are Nazi sympathisers – has seen them discard the violence that catapulted them into parliament on a wave of anti-immigrant sentiment in June 2012. The neo-fascist party has instead focused on the "rotten" political establishment widely blamed for twice-bailed-out Greece's economic meltdown.

The party's anti-European, anti-Semitic, anti-immigrant and homophobic rhetoric has won increasing appeal among middle class Greeks, with Golden Dawn winning 9.4% of the total vote and three MEPs in the European elections last month.

The showing, a 25% increase on its performance in national elections two years ago, was attributed as much to swaths of the population being pauperised by the crisis as to growing numbers being unconvinced by the charges against the group.

In perhaps the most telling turnaround, the extremists appear to have won over more educated Greeks as well as the working classes in areas once considered left-wing strongholds in Athens, the region worst affected by the crisis.

Playing on those sentiments, Yannis Lagos, the MP accused of ordering the murder of Pavlos Fyssas – an anti-fascist rapper whose death spurred the crackdown against the party – insisted nothing had been found to support the accusations against Golden Dawn.

Telling MPs the organisation had "lots of evidence" to prove the judicial investigation was politically motivated, he said: "If we go to trial we will make a mockery of you across Europe. Golden Dawn is not going to be erased – ever."

The two magistrates investigating the group have received death threats, as has the prosecutor who ordered the inquiry.

Human rights groups say it is imperative that the inquiry is carried out to the "highest judicial standards".

Tad Stahnke of Human Rights First said: "Golden Dawn's popularity, even after revelations about its Nazi ideology and its alleged involvement in two murders and dozens of assaults, underscores the need for rigorous and credible prosecution that meets the highest European judicial standards and is not tainted by accusations of political motivation."

Golden Dawn leader hits out at Greek parliament's 'plot' to prosecute him | World news |

SS songs and antisemitism: the week Golden Dawn turned openly Nazi


Helena Smith The Observer, Sunday 8 June 2014

Supporters of the far-right party gave Hitler salutes and sang the Horst Wessel song outside parliament last week. Helena Smith reports from Athens on how Golden Dawn has taken on a sinister new tone

Golden Dawn leader hits out at Greek parliament's 'plot' to prosecute him

Golden Dawn rally

Golden Dawn supporters wave party and Greek national flags during a rally outside parliament on 4 June. Photograph: REX/LOSMI CHOBI

It has been a bad week for democracy in Athens. All around this great Greek city, the politics of hate now lurk. On Friday I got a taste of it in the tiny Italian-style cafe I frequent off Syntagma Square.

It arrived in the form of two middle-aged men, both supporters of the neo-fascist Golden Dawn – and, by their own account, the holders of university degrees, well-travelled and well-informed. Over espressos, they began to engage in an animated discussion about all that is wrong with Greece.

The first, a self-described businessman decked out in designer suit, brogues and silk tie, blamed the country's economic collapse on malfeasance, corruption and uncontrolled immigration. "The only way to teach our filthy politicians is to bring in Golden Dawn," he trilled, his eyes locked in a fierce glare. "These gentlemen are patriots, proud Greek nationalists, and they know how to deal with the scum, the foreigners who never pay taxes, who steal our jobs, who have taken over our streets."

Dismissing charges that Golden Dawn is a criminal gang masquerading as a political group, the second – a self-described government employee – said the far right was the best response yet to the great Jewish conspiracy of an interconnected banking system that has come with globalisation. "Let's not forget all the faggots and the Jews, the wankers who control the banks, the foreigners who are behind them, who came in and fucked Greece," he insisted. "The criminals who have governed us, who have robbed us of our future, of our dreams, need a big thwack."

Last Wednesday Greece got that jolt when Nikos Michaloliakos, Golden Dawn's imprisoned leader – who stands accused of murder and assault – made his first public appearance in almost nine months. The politics of hate took over Athens as the 58-year-old was hauled before parliament, ahead of a vote to lift his immunity from prosecution, on further charges of illegal weapons possession.

Emboldened by its recent success in European and local elections – in which the party emerged as the country's third biggest political force, thanks to a softening of image that has attracted ever-growing numbers of the middle class – the extremists drove home the message that they were not only on the rebound but here to stay. And as they ran roughshod through the house of democracy, hurling abuse at other MPs in an unprecedented display of violence and vulgarity, there was no mistaking what Golden Dawn is: a party of neo-Nazi creed determined to overturn the democratic order. For, far from being contrite, the handcuffed Michaloliakos was in unusually aggressive mood, giving Nazi salutes, telling the house speaker to "shut up", and instructing guards to take their hands off him.

Outside, black-shirted Golden Dawn supporters, lined up in military formation in Syntagma Square, gave a hearty rendition of the Nazi Horst Wessel song – albeit with Greek lyrics. All this was a far cry from the party's recent efforts to distance itself from the thuggery and racist rhetoric from which it was born.

"That day democracy felt a bit weak," said Pavlos Tzimas, a political commentator who has watched the party's rise from its fringe group beginnings in the early 1980s. "After all the revelations [about criminal activity], after all the prosecutions against its MPs, it still has the nerve to act in such a way, in scenes of hate that, frankly, I cannot recall ever being seen inside the parliament," he sighed. "Golden Dawn is not a passing phase, it will not disappear with the end of the crisis, it feels untouchable, it fears nothing, and what we saw this week is its real face. It is not like other extremist parties in Europe. It is a true neo-Nazi force whose aim is to use democracy to destroy democracy."

The crackdown against Golden Dawn – triggered by the killing of an anti-fascist rapper at the hands of a self-confessed party cadre last September – was meant not only to bring offenders to justice but reverse the group's seemingly unstoppable ascent. At first the round-up of party leaders seemed to dent the ultranationalists' popularity. For the first time since June 2012, when it was catapulted into parliament with 6.9% of the vote and 18 deputies, its ratings dipped. But in an alarming display of rehabilitation, the neo-fascists won 9.4% of the vote in the European elections on 25 May and, in the race for the Athens mayoralty on 18 May, were backed by 16.1% of the electorate even though its candidate, Ilias Kasidiaris, sports a swastika tattoo and assaulted two left-wing female politicians during a live TV show. In both cases the results were the most shocking endorsement yet of the anti-liberal party.

What worries Tzimas most is not just the coarsening of public debate but the "banalisation of violence" that is now stalking Greece. "We seem to be getting used to it, and that frightens me," he said.

In an explosive political climate, where popular rage is at boiling point nearly five years into the country's worst crisis in living memory, the politics of hate so embodied by Golden Dawn is becoming increasingly pervasive. "Who cares if six million Jews were exterminated?" asked the businessman back at the cafe, in a shocking endorsement of that reality. "I don't care if they were turned into soap. What I care about is the salary I have lost, the never-ending taxes I am forced to pay, the criminals who rule this country, the anger I carry inside."

In a global survey released by the Anti-Defamation League last month, Greece at 69% was found to be the most anti-Semitic country in Europe.

"This is the deeper explanation for the growth of Golden Dawn," says Dimitris Psarras, author of The Black Bible of Golden Dawn, which chronicles the party's meteoric rise. "Greece has deep cultural differences with the rest of Europe. After the second world war, it did not undergo real democratisation because we had civil war [1946-49]. And after that the deep state was never really purged [of extreme right-wing elements]. Even when it was a small group, Golden Dawn had ties to the Greek state."

The party's fielding of two retired generals on its European election ticket was testimony to those ties. With three Golden Dawn MEPs now about to take seats in Brussels, the burning question for many is how to confront the extremists. Following the poll, even France's Front National leader, Marine Le Pen, ruled out relations with them.

The independent MP and prominent novelist Petros Tatsopoulos, himself the focus of much of the fascists' fury in parliament last week, thinks there is no other way but to ban Golden Dawn. "It was a huge, historic mistake on the part of our parliament not to de-legitimise Golden Dawn," said Tatsopoulos, until recently an MP with the radical left. "It should have been banned, not for its Nazi ideology but because it is a paramilitary force … who, if it could, would press ahead with a coup d'état," he told the Observer. "We know how these people work. The fascist poison that Greece is experiencing is not just political, it is poisoning every aspect of social life, the way people think, the way they behave. I honestly believe that the 500,000 Greeks who voted for Golden Dawn were very conscious of what they were doing."

Was democracy in its own birthplace now under threat? "Golden Dawn is on stand-by," he averred. "I don't know how long it will take, but if this voluntary blindness continues, if the crisis goes on, it will be a real threat to democracy in the near future."

SS songs and anti-Semitism: the week Golden Dawn turned openly Nazi | World news | The Observer

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Bruised and confused: why Greeks voted against the gods of Europe

Elena Panaritis

Elena Panaritis The Observer, Sunday 1 June 2014

Ravaged by austerity measures and caricatured as lousy managers and born tax evaders, the Greek electorate went left and right in their efforts to say no to the EU


Enthusiasm for the EU in Greece has waned following the euro crisis, with a lack of decisive action being blamed. Photograph: Louisa Gouliamaki/AFP/Getty Images

In last month's elections a majority of Greeks – now routinely depicted by the gods of Europe as lousy managers and born tax-evaders – reacted by shunning the pro-EU parties. They made the anti-European and populist left and far-right parties the rising stars at the polls. Even Syriza, the radical (though not so radical any more) left-wing party that secured 26.6% of the votes did not do as well as expected. Once very anti-austerity and ready to go up against Brussels, it has since watered down its tactics.

Analysing the results via ideological labels is perhaps less important than seeing beyond the political shake-up to the bruised reputation of a very proud people. The Greeks now often feel like unwanted guests at the EU table.

Add to this feeling the economic realities: the imposed never-ending austerity, GDP reduced by 30% and nearly wiping out the middle class, and the grim future Greek people face with youth unemployment running at over 60% (28% overall).

From the start of Greece's economic crisis, most of the richer EU members were emotional and openly angry, blaming the Greeks for all their woes when in fact it wasn't a problem of household private deficit and overspending, but of public sector mismanagement and bad governance.

The crisis was the end result of an overly bureaucratic and cumbersome system that became even more bureaucratic because of additional European directives. A lack of transparency facilitated the mishandling of government and public budgeting.

What was so much needed was reform and simplification, allowing for transparency to build trust. This is the missing ingredient with the national government, and now EU governance.

Ironically the Greeks, in contrast with many other Europeans, have long been pro-integration since the Treaty of Rome in the 1960s. They adopted the euro – putting to rest the drachma, the oldest currency in the western world – with optimism. Compare this reaction with, say, France, where prices are still printed in both euros and old French francs. And when the troika of the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the IMF arrived in Athens to help the country put its financial house in order, they were widely welcomed. Most Greeks believed the troika could fix a broken system.

Instead, Greece's "bail-out" packages, initially at high interest rates, were perceived clearly to be only money transfers for the Greek state to pay back its debt. Persistent austerity and fiscal measures eroded further some of the healthy forms of governance that remained (police and judiciary included). This allowed for the rise of the far-right ultra-nationalist Golden Dawn, especially in urban centres.

Not surprisingly, then, the troika's welcome was short-lived. Those who are suffering the consequences of bad governance and politics are the middle class, the low-income earners, the pensioners receiving just ¤600 a month and now unable to cover their basic needs. They feel insecure and unprotected. Meanwhile, those who took advantage of the old ways of bad governance seem not to be touched that much. In short, the euphoric pro-European mood soured and turned into a silent vote of dissatisfaction and a clear: "Thank you, EU, but no thank you." What did for the EU in the elections is the serious lack of leadership it has shown in tough times. The euro crisis, for instance, was persistently not seen as such, but blamed as a Greek crisis for its first three years.

More specifically, the stubborn unwillingness of Brussels to use its powers to make quick decisions and avoid the spreading of the crisis constituted a supreme error.

Instead, decisions were offloaded on to the national parliaments. The same parliaments were never asked to approve European subsidies on common agricultural policy or regional harmonisation policy.

The reality was a non-handling of the crisis. We observed the lack of any leadership and responsibility. This created two very different forms of punishment. The first, from the markets, spread the euro crisis and credit "downgrading" of several countries, including France (the second pillar of the Union with Germany). The second punishment, carried by grassroots anger, came from the people, demanding a change of the EU, as seen in last month's elections

So, in the case of Greece, this is a response to the blind following of austerity which prolonged recession and created a great depression – as well as producing greater inequalities and making a recovery difficult to see.

In the north (France, Germany, Austria), the Euro sceptics are gaining for different reasons. The people are tired of being asked to give more to the south and to those "lazy and irresponsible Greeks" especially since they have their own domestic issues to address.

Leaders are asked to take brave decisions – these still haven't been taken in Europe, and quite frankly I do not think they will be taken soon because Europe has become a big bureaucratic elephant with a life of its own. Large entities like this are not known for their ability to be flexible or adapt to the reality on the ground. I fear things will become worse before they start getting better.

A growing number of Greeks and other Europeans are now tired. They do not see any light at the end of the tunnel. Positive political statements about the end of the crisis mean very little to them. In general, the EU has disappointed the Greeks. Instead of making decisions, the EU postponed them. There was a lot of talk, endless meetings in Brussels; kicking the can down the road every time only prolonged the pain. This created anger, discontent and impatience.

Europe is no longer the club of the elite (De Gaulle and Adenauer, Mitterrand and Kohl) and these elections made it clear. Last month's vote reflects this change. The bottom line is that the euro crisis game was played out in Greece, and the European vision has been lost in Brussels.

Elena Panaritis is an economist who has worked at the World Bank and was a Pasok member of the Greek parliament from 2009 until 2012

Bruised and confused: why Greeks voted against the gods of Europe | Elena Panaritis | Comment is free | The Observer

Only 8% of Greece’s 1.27million jobless gets unemployment allowance

Posted by keeptalkinggreece in Society

The majority of Greece’s 1,274,843 jobless receive no unemployment allowance. According Employment Agency (OAED) , only 102,026 jobless received the allowance in April 2014. That is less than one out of ten of the country’s at least 1,274,843 men and women without job.

Although employees pay their social security contributions month-in month out during their entire working life, they are eligible to receive unemployment allowance for only one year, when they lose their job. Long-time jobless are been simply kicked out from the social system.

In Greece’s of austerity loan agreements, the jobless allowance is just 360 euro per month. Not much in a country suffering from recession and deflation.

This morning I saw a middle-aged woman on television saying that she was unemployed for three years and therefore she stopped receiving the allowance since two years.

How do these people come along? With the help of relatives and friends, piling up debts that they will most likely never be able to pay back.

Quiz How many people have got no unemployment allowance in the last 4 years?

ELSTAT Unemployment month March – unemployed in numbers

2009 9.2%   459,957

2010 11.7%  589,021

2011 16.1%  793,769

2012 22.6%  1,095,478

2013 27.2%  1,304,263

2014 26.8%  1,274,843

BTW: Today, ELSTAT issued the unemployment figures for March 2014 as 26.8%.

In comparison February 2014: 29.9% and March 2013: 27.9%

However the ELSTAT noted that in March the counting was based on 2011-census, while the statistics in previous months were based on 2001-census and therefore the figures and rates were not comparable.

PS I’m going to cook a spicy Ratatouille today that cannot be compared to previous stewed vegetables dishes as the ingredients will be slightly different.

Only 8% of Greece’s 1.27million jobless gets unemployment allowance