Send in the clowns
One of the highlights of my week is reading The Economist from cover to cover (normally starting with the Obituary at the wrong end). Several hours of sanity and good syntax. Come August and the Silly Season each year, I know I can take my foot off the pedal and glide through the depleted pages of archived material and non-news. Not this year. The world didn’t stop as Europeans headed for sand and sun. Ironically, though, the one country that was missing from last week’s edition – for the first time in living memory – was Greece, the silliest of European countries. This was clearly more an issue of fatigue, than not having anything to write about.
So, that leaves me to fill you in about the goings on in South East Europe’s favourite loony-bin.
As everybody knows, last month the Greek Parliamentary Circus approved an agreement reached by its leading clowns, headed by the comi-tragic Alexis Tsipras, to sell Greece out to the European Union, European Central Bank, IMF and Universe. Pivotal to the success of the agreement will be Greece’s ability to substantially increase tax revenue. Enhanced tax collection and enforcement in a country that sees no wrong in tax evasion is going to be a real trapeze act, but it was the VAT reforms that caught my eye.
The European Union does not have a unified VAT rate system – as long as a country’s standard rate is at least 15% and there are no more than two reduced rates of at least 5%, members can do what they like. Members other than Greece, that is. Already toting a standard rate of 23% with reduced rates of 13% and 6%, the Government had to find another 1% contribution to GDP from ‘the silent killer’. Taking the standard rate any higher would have been the equivalent of a collective downing of hemlock, so the solution was ‘found’ in scrapping the reduced rates on all sorts of things.
The 13% rate is now to apply only to basic food, energy, hotels and water (hotels were previously at 6.5%, so they don’t really count as a benefit). What is amusing is that a new super-low rate of 6% will apply to, wait for it, pharmaceuticals (logical), books (ugh?) and theatre (they’re having us on). As much as I love literature and the performing arts, they can hardly be classified as No. 1 in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. In any event, Homer, Herodotus and Plato are all pretty much out of copyright, so their works tend to be quite cheap anyway. And, as far as theatre is concerned, while it might be reasonable for the desperate Government to be praying for a Deus Ex Machina to get them out of this appalling Greek Tragedy, Sophocles is not going to do it for them this time.
I would actually expect the conniving Greeks to take a leaf out of the Spaniards’ book. When Spain was hit with the need for reform at an earlier stage of the Euro crisis, some Spanish theatre owners found a novel way to get around the increased VAT on tickets. They sold carrots (which due to their basic food status were taxed at the reduced rate) at inflated prices and added a theatre ticket free of charge.
The other great change in Greek VAT is that the Aegean Islands are to lose their reduced VAT rate status from October 1. The result will be that, whatever nudists save on their holiday clothes will now go on their hotels and food. Bare-faced cheek, if you ask me.
Have a wonderful summer.