German tax collectors volunteer for duty in Greece

Sat Feb 25, 2012 10:47am EST
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By Erik Kirschbaum

BERLIN (Reuters) - More than 160 German tax collectors have volunteered for possible assignments in Greece to help the struggling Mediterranean country gather tax more efficiently, the Finance Ministry in Berlin said on Saturday.

The offer risks fuelling resentment among Greeks who have already reacted angrily to earlier German calls for the appointment of a "budget commissioner" to monitor the Greek government's management of its finances.

German media published news of the possible tax advice mission two days before the German parliament is due to vote on whether to endorse a new 130 billion euro ($175 billion) bailout package for Greece.

International lenders say the public debt burden that forced Greece to seek a bailout two years ago has burgeoned partly because many Greeks evade the tax net.

The German government says it wants to help Greece develop a modern tax administration and has started recruiting volunteers for Greek duty. More than 160 German tax officials with English language skills have signed up and about a dozen also speak Greek, a spokesman for the finance ministry said.

The respected magazine Wirtschaftswoche quoted finance ministers in two states, North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) and Hesse, saying they were ready to send German tax officials to Greece even though it was unclear whether such assistance was wanted.

"Greece's problems today are even worse than the problems faced with former East Germany in 1990," said Norbert Walter-Borjans, NRW finance minister, referring to the period after German unity when west German tax officials went to the ex-Communist east of the country to help improve tax collection.

"There was resistance then among some eastern Germans against western (tax collectors) but that's nothing compared to the reservations Greeks will have against Germans," he added.   Continued...