Athens Digest 26.09.2018

• Tsipras-Erdogan: Greece urges Turkey to crack down on smugglers

• Bailout leaves 60 percent of Greeks in debt to tax office

• EU fraud office probes refugee-fund spending in Greece _ report

• Rents spiking at Airbnb hotspots

# Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has renewed calls on Turkey to take a tougher line with migrant traffickers at a meeting in New York with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The two leaders met at the UN General Assembly, joined by their foreign ministers and top aides. Greek officials said Tsipras appealed for closer collaboration to counter traffickers _ as overcrowding continues to worsen at Greek island migrant camps. Tsipras was invited to visit Istanbul, the Greek officials said, while discussions also continued on a proposal to set up a maritime link between the ports of Izmir and Thessaloniki.

# More than 60 percent of Greek taxpayers are behind on their payments, with the total amount owed topping EUR 100 billion. The staggering and steadily worsening numbers were announced by the Independent Authority for Public Revenue, which said that 3.8 million taxpayers have outstanding commitments. Out of that number, 3.6 million owed less than EUR 10,000 (totaling EUR 3.7 billion), 240,000 taxpayers owed between EUR 10,000 and 100,000, while 41,232 major debtors owed more than EUR 91 billion, much of which is considered lost through bankruptcy. The state is also behind on its rebate payments by some EUR 1.8 billion: EUR 875 million in corporate taxes, EUR 228 million to tax paying individuals, and 474 million in VAT refunds.

# The European Union fraud agency is investigating possible “irregularities” in spending EU-funds for food distribution to migrants and refugees in Greece, according to Politico. The probe was confirmed by a spokesman for the European Anti-Fraud Office, OLAF. According to the previous audit (period Oct. 2016 – Oct. 2017) there was no evidence of misused funds. The audit procedure for the period until October 2018 is going to start next month. OLAF will send its results to the European Commission within the next months including the case which is currently under investigation, after the information provided by the DG Home to the auditors.

# Rents have surged by up to 35 percent in the past year in Greek urban areas popular with short-term hospitality services like Airbnb, according to survey conducted by estate agents Remax. Overall, rents were up 8.4 percent nationwide on the year _ 6.9 percent in greater Athens and 14.4 percent in Thessaloniki. The rates were also buoyed by the broader financial recovery in Greece. Only two areas in greater Athens saw a (continued) drop in rental rates: the upscale northern suburbs of Ekali and Nea Erythraia.

On our Radar: Tied with Swaziland
Greece, despite enduring years of structural and spending reforms, still fails to offer its citizens the level of economic freedom seen in other advanced economies, according to an influential report by Canada’s pro-free market Fraser Institute. In 2018, the country ranked in 108th place globally on the Institute’s Economic Freedom Index _ level with China and Swaziland. The report covers 162 countries and territories. It gauges size of government, taxation, rule of law, property rights, and regulation, among other factors.