One of the most successful media messages in the election campaign of the Coalition of Radical Left SYRIZA - their promise to tax the Greek shipowners - does not seem to particularly bother the big business associated with the merchant marine. "There can be no Greek government that is indifferent to the prosperity of Greece. Shipping is one of the pillars of this prosperity," Theodoros Veniamis, president of the Union of Greek Shipowners, commented on Alexis Tsipras’ threat. At a press conference on the last day of the shipping exhibition Posidonia 2012, he admitted that the Union has no intention of seeking a meeting with representatives of the radical left - as did the Bankers Association and the Union of Greek Industrialists, but if the Left invite them to a meeting they will not refuse.
"Political instability in the country does not affect us as businessmen. We follow the policy of shipping, which does not change depending on the government," said Theodoros Veniamis, who is confident that Greece will have a government after the elections on 17 June and shipping tycoons will work well with it. "The Greek merchant marine is entirely oriented to the global market. We are very competitive and should remain such," was his argument against the idea of imposing taxes on shipowners like on all other citizens of Greece.
"As a merchant marine, we have a good business model, which is very effective outside Greece. Both profits and damage are outside our country, so the internal economic problems of Greece do not affect us. It does not matter to us whether it is inside or outside the euro area," the president of the Union of Greek shipowners was crystal clear. He refused to comment on issues related to the collapse of the Athens Stock Exchange but stressed that Greek merchant shipping has no difficulties in financing even under the difficult financial conditions in the global market. "Despite the crisis, the Greek merchant marine is prospering. The sea can suffer but it never dies."
The competitiveness of the Greek merchant marine is obviously based solely on tax evasion, because shipowners in Greece are only concerned about keeping that privilege of theirs. Of course, they are willing to help the country, to help their fellow citizens in this difficult time. So, they have raised a charity fund to which each has contributed according to his wishes and means. There will be no official list of donors and of the amount of donations because they want to keep their privacy. However, they know among themselves how much everyone has donated.
"We have been considering the establishment of this fund since last summer. It regards our capital, which we will allocate for purposes determined by us," Theodoros Veniamis was adamant. Shipowners will soon announce details about the fund and about the programmes under which they will allocate the money. One of their priorities is to support families with small children, experiencing financial difficulties, the other one is vocational education in the industry.
It is an open secret that maritime academies in Greece are neglected and some are to be closed. From this year, the state has decided to stop the free feeding of cadets and free boardinghouses from next year. "Following our proposal, maritime academies were included in the EMPA programme. For four years, the Greek state did not bother to use the 15 million euro allocated for them," protested the president of the Union of Greek Shipowners. But the most appalling fact is that the state does not allow the establishment of a private maritime academy to be financed by the tycoons.
Theodoros Veniamis reminded that shipowners donated to Greece fire-fighting equipment and ambulances for nearly 20 million euro after the fire disaster in 2007. "The ambulances we bought are the best that have been used in Greece for the past 15 years. They were produced in Germany. We bought a fire engine and special cars for difficult mountainous terrains. We donated 65 boats to the coast guard of Greece too," he recalled.