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The Syndicate takes over Greece

Off the keyboard of Yanis Varoufakis

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Published on Yanis Varoufakis Blog on July 22, 2015

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Europe’s Vindictive Privatization Plan for Greece – Project Syndicate

For the Project Syndicate site click here. Or…

ATHENS – On July 12, the summit of eurozone leaders dictated its terms of surrender to Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, who, terrified by the alternatives, accepted all of them. One of those terms concerned the disposition of Greece’s remaining public assets.

Eurozone leaders demanded that Greek public assets be transferred to a Treuhand-like fund – a fire-sale vehicle similar to the one used after the fall of the Berlin Wall to privatize quickly, at great financial loss, and with devastating effects on employment all of the vanishing East German state’s public property.

This Greek Treuhand would be based in – wait for it – Luxembourg, and would be run by an outfit overseen by Germany’s finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, the author of the scheme. It would complete the fire sales within three years. But, whereas the work of the original Treuhand was accompanied by massive West German investment in infrastructure and large-scale social transfers to the East German population, the people of Greece would receive no corresponding benefit of any sort.
Euclid Tsakalotos, who succeeded me as Greece’s finance minister two weeks ago, did his best to ameliorate the worst aspects of the Greek Treuhand plan. He managed to have the fund domiciled in Athens, and he extracted from Greece’s creditors (the so-called troika of the European Commission, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund) the important concession that the sales could extend to 30 years, rather than a mere three. This was crucial, for it will permit the Greek state to hold undervalued assets until their price recovers from the current recession-induced lows.
Alas, the Greek Treuhand remains an abomination, and it should be a stigma on Europe’s conscience. Worse, it is a wasted opportunity.

The plan is politically toxic, because the fund, though domiciled in Greece, will effectively be managed by the troika. It is also financially noxious, because the proceeds will go toward servicing what even the IMF now admits is an unpayable debt. And it fails economically, because it wastes a wonderful opportunity to create homegrown investments to help counter the recessionary impact of the punitive fiscal consolidation that is also part of the July 12 summit’s “terms.”
It did not have to be this way. On June 19, I communicated to the German government and to the troika an alternative proposal, as part of a document entitled “Ending the Greek Crisis”:

“The Greek government proposes to bundle public assets (excluding those pertinent to the country’s security, public amenities, and cultural heritage) into a central holding company to be separated from the government administration and to be managed as a private entity, under the aegis of the Greek Parliament, with the goal of maximizing the value of its underlying assets and creating a homegrown investment stream. The Greek state will be the sole shareholder, but will not guarantee its liabilities or debt.”

The holding company would play an active role readying the assets for sale. It would “issue a fully collateralized bond on the international capital markets” to raise €30-40 billion ($32-43 billion), which, “taking into account the present value of assets,” would “be invested in modernizing and restructuring the assets under its management.”
The plan envisaged an investment program of 3-4 years, resulting in “additional spending of 5% of GDP per annum,” with current macroeconomic conditions implying “a positive growth multiplier above 1.5,” which “should boost nominal GDP growth to a level above 5% for several years.” This, in turn, would induce “proportional increases in tax revenues,” thereby “contributing to fiscal sustainability, while enabling the Greek government to exercise spending discipline without further shrinking the social economy.”

In this scenario, the primary surplus (which excludes interest payments) would “achieve ‘escape velocity’ magnitudes in absolute as well as percentage terms over time.” As a result, the holding company would “be granted a banking license” within a year or two, “thus turning itself into a full-fledged Development Bank capable of crowding in private investment to Greece and of entering into collaborative projects with the European Investment Bank.”

The Development Bank that we proposed would “allow the government to choose which assets are to be privatized and which not, while guaranteeing a greater impact on debt reduction from the selected privatizations.” After all, “asset values should increase by more than the actual amount spent on modernization and restructuring, aided by a program of public-private partnerships whose value is boosted according to the probability of future privatization.”

Our proposal was greeted with deafening silence. More precisely, the Eurogroup of eurozone finance ministers and the troika continued to leak to the global media that the Greek authorities had no credible, innovative proposals on offer – their standard refrain. A few days later, once the powers-that-be realized that the Greek government was about to capitulate fully to the troika’s demands, they saw fit to impose upon Greece their demeaning, unimaginative, and pernicious Treuhand model.
At a turning point in European history, our innovative alternative was thrown into the dustbin. It remains there for others to retrieve.

Read more at http://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/greece-privatization-plan-public-assets-by-yanis-varoufakis-2015-07#HHZZL9E3voHpScF5.99

Did the Greeks DESERVE to get Greeked?

Off the keyboard of John Ward

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Published on The Slog on July 16, 2015

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GREECE: Applying a needle and thread to the idea that somehow “the Greeks deserved it”

“Rape ‘er? Are you kiddin’ mate? She was f**kin* gaggin’ for it”

I really don’t know how to define or rationalise this post other than calling the piece “getting it off my chest”.

I was directed to Richard North’s site this morning and read a lucid, well documented column from a powerful eurosceptic voice. But something throwaway towards the end got right up my nose and evoked the comment thread that follows.

Maybe at times I get too sensitive about Greece and what’s being done to it. God knows, I’m more aware than most of the infuriating nature of the place at times. But if you sympathise with this summary, I’d deem it a great favour if you’d pump some internet oxygen into it.

‘Oh dear. Just when I thought that, at last, an article about endemic Greek corruption was going to reach the right conclusion, it turns into a vague apologiae for Troika gangsterism.

I have been a regular visitor to Greece and enthusiastic Grecophile for 45 years. I have probably written more on the injustices inside (and done to) Greece than any other Western blogger. So allow me please to expand and correct here and there.

1. As you point out, Franco-German to Greece export & banking corruption is every bit as disgusting as that of the Greek élites. I don’t see anyone punishing Germany. Or France.

2. 80% of Greeks approve of tax evasion because history has taught them that their payments go into the same back pockets of bureaucrats and bent developers as everything else that the ordinary Greeks produce with such thrift and passion.

3. The entire medical sector is about 6-7% of the Greek population. Every doctor and dentist I’ve ever met takes bribes… even when the treatment is free on the State. None of these people have suffered a jot from austerity, and over 90% of them vote Nia Dimokritia. Pharmacies cheat the system because they too are an élite mafia. Ordinary Greeks don’t benefit from this corruption, they pay through the nose for it. It is the corrupt pols who refuse to regulate it.

4. Despite all this obvious evidence of WHERE the corruption problem lies, Troikas 1&2 chose to deal with precisely those people fostering it…who of course heaped the cost of austerity onto the people who are not the problem. But the EU is every bit as corrupt as they are: Herr Doktor Schäuble prefers to deal with those of like mind to himself.

5. When at last the vast majority of Greeks woke up and elected a government determined to root out and destroy the pre-1789 style privilege of the élites on their backs, the EU, EC, ECB, and Eurogroupe gargoyles worked overtime to turn down every proposal they made and destabilise that Syriza régime. This would seem quixotically deranged behaviour for a group of people allegedly in favour of “reform”. Here they were, presented with the most idealistic, honest and popular Greek political party for more than 40 years…but as the IMF correctly reports, EU fiscal blackmail in the final fortnight (all of it illegal under EU Law) took Greek debt unsustainability from the surreal to the impossible.

What exactly makes you think either Tsipras or the toiling classes he represented ‘deserved’ that level of depraved sociopathy?

6. Cornered at last, the IMF’s Christine Lagarde has blown a massive hole in this ridiculous wall of Brussels-am-Berlin sanctimony. The aim of these three bailouts is now clear for all to see: it never was nor indeed could ever be debt repayment. To use the French term, it was a summary and gratuitous execution pour encourager les autres. And at a level even more base than that, it was a full-frontal attack by federalist fanatics on the sovereignty of a nation…a nation I observe, year in year out, working much harder than any Nordeuropeans of my acquaintance.

https://hat4uk.wordpress.com/2015/07/14/new-troika-perfidy-revealed-by-reuters-the-smoking-gun-with-creditor-dna-all-over-it/

Greece: No Plan B

logopodcastOff the microphone of RE

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Aired on the Doomstead Diner on July 15, 2015

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Snippet:

…I took a break from the Greek Souvlaki Kabuki Theater last week, after being thoroughly saturated with this nonsense for the last month, beginning about the time that Souvlakis stormed out of negotiations with the Euroclowns and the Tsipras called for an impromptu referendum on the terms being offered to them in order to get fresh input of Funny Money they would never see, but merely go to pay interest on old loans that are steadily accumulating over time here.

In what should have been a fairly predictable outcome, the Greek population soundly reected the proposals in a 61-39% majority, but according to Brit Prep School Butt Boy Ambrose Evans-Prtchard Alex the Less than Great did not predict that, but rather thought they would lose this referendum and then Syriza could go ahead and sign the slavery contract with the approval of the slaves. Unfortunately for Alex his pollsters got this wrong, leaving him in the unenviable position of having to go back to the bargaining table once again, this time himself without Souvlakis running interference…

For the rest, LISTEN TO THE RANT!!!

Greek Debt Deal Collapsing

Off the keyboard of Michael Snyder

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Published on The Economic Collapse on July 14, 2015

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The ‘Greek Debt Deal’ Is Already Starting To Fall Apart

The “deal that was designed to fail” has already begun to unravel.  The IMF, which was expected to provide a big chunk of the financing, has indicated that it may walk away from the deal unless Greece is granted extensive debt relief.  This is something that the Germans and their allies have resolutely refused to do.  Meanwhile, outrage is pouring in from all over Europe regarding what the Greek government is being forced to do to their own people.  Most of this anger is being directed at the Germans, but the truth is that without German money the Greek banking system and the Greek economy will completely and utterly collapse.  So even though Greek Prime Minister Alex Tsipras admits that this is a deal that he does not believe in, he is attempting to get it pushed through the Greek parliament, and we should know on Wednesday whether he was successful or not.  But even if the Greek parliament approves it, we could still see either the German or the Finnish parliaments reject it.  It seems as though nobody is really happy with this deal, and these negotiations have exposed very deep divisions within Europe.  Could this be the beginning of the end for the eurozone?

The Germans appear to believe that they can push the Greeks out of the eurozone and that everything will be okay somehow.  This is something that I wrote about extensively yesterday, and it turns out that a lot of other prominent voices agree with me.  For example, just consider what Paul Krugman of the New York Times had to say about this.  I am kind of amazed that he finally got something right…

Suppose you consider Tsipras an incompetent twerp. Suppose you dearly want to see Syriza out of power. Suppose, even, that you welcome the prospect of pushing those annoying Greeks out of the euro.

Even if all of that is true, this Eurogroup list of demands is madness. The trending hashtag ThisIsACoup is exactly right. This goes beyond harsh into pure vindictiveness, complete destruction of national sovereignty, and no hope of relief. It is, presumably, meant to be an offer Greece can’t accept; but even so, it’s a grotesque betrayal of everything the European project was supposed to stand for.

Greece desperately wants to stay in the euro, and they desperately want money from the rest of Europe to keep coming in.  At this point, they will agree to just about anything to keep from getting booted out of the common currency.  That is why the Germans and their allies had to make the deal so horrible.  They were attempting to find some way to make things so harsh on the Greeks that they would finally choose to walk away.

And to a certain extent it seems to be working.  Even some members of Syriza are publicly declaring that they are going to vote against this package.  The following comes from the Washington Post

Greek Energy Minister Panagiotis Lafazanis, who leads a hard-line leftist faction within Syriza, said in a statement Tuesday that the country’s creditors had “acted like cold-blooded blackmailers and economic assassins.”

Yet he also took indirect aim at Tsipras, calling on the Greek prime minister to reverse himself and tear up the agreement, which he described as a violation of the party’s ideals.

Even if Tsipras can pass the deal in Parliament, as he is expected to do, Lafazanis vowed that the Greek people would “annul it through their unity and struggle.”

Right now, the vote looks like it could be quite close.  Even though Greek Prime Minister Alex Tsipras has publicly admitted that this is a deal that “I do not believe in“, he is really pushing hard to get the votes that he needs.  In fact, according to Reuters he has been actively reaching out to opposition parties to secure votes…

Having staved off a financial meltdown, Tsipras has until Wednesday night to pass measures tougher than those rejected in a referendum days ago. With as many as 30-40 hardliners in his own ranks expected to mutiny, Tsipras will likely need the support of pro-European opposition parties to muster the 151 votes he needs to pass the law in parliament.

But even if this deal gets through parliament, it is highly questionable whether Greece will actually be able to do what is being required of them.  For instance, the 50 billion euro “privatization fund” seems to be something of a pipe dream

Privatisation agency Taiped has put out to tender assets with a nominal value of 7.7 billion euros since 2011, but has cashed in only just over 3.0 billion euros, according to 2014 figures.

On June 26 even the International Monetary Fund (IMF), one of Greece’s creditors, raised eyebrows over the idea of raking in lots of money from privatisations.

It stressed that the sale of public banking assets was supposed to raise tens of billions of euros but it was “highly unlikely that these proceeds will materialise” considering the high levels of nonperforming loans in the banking system.

It said that realistically only 500 million euros of proceeds were likely to materialise each year — at which rate it would take around 100 years to reach the 50 billion euro goal.

For the moment, though, let’s assume that the Greek parliament agrees to these demands and that by some miracle the Greek government can find a way to do everything that is being required of them.

And for the moment, let’s assume that this deal is approved by both the German and Finnish parliaments.

Even if everything else goes right, this deal can still be killed by the IMF

The International Monetary Fund has sent its strongest signal that it may walk away from Greece’s new bailout programme, arguing in a confidential analysis that the country’s debt is skyrocketing and budget surplus targets set by Athens cannot be achieved, reports FT.

In the three-page memo, sent to EU authorities at the weekend and obtained by FT, the IMF said the recent turmoil in the Greek economy would lead debt to peak at close to 200 percent of economic output over the next two years. At the start of the eurozone crisis, Athens’ debt stood at 127 percent.

In order for the IMF to participate in this new Greek bailout, the IMF must deem Greek debt to be sustainable.  And at this point that does not appear to be the case

Under its rules, the IMF is not allowed to participate in a bailout if a country’s debt is deemed unsustainable and there is no prospect of it returning to private bond markets for financing. The IMF has bent its rules to participate in previous Greek bailouts, but the memo suggests it can no longer do so.

But the Germans made it very clear that there would be no bailout unless the IMF was involved.

So what would satisfy the IMF?

The IMF study seems to indicate that massive debt relief for Greece would be required.  The following comes from Reuters

The study, seen by Reuters, said European countries would have to give Greece a 30-year grace period on servicing all its European debt, including new loans, and a dramatic maturity extension. Or else they must make annual transfers to the Greek budget or accept “deep upfront haircuts” on existing loans.

Needless to say, those kinds of concessions are anathema to the Germans.  There is no way that anything like that could ever get through the German parliament.

But to be honest, the Germans never intended for this deal to be successful anyway.  Just consider what German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schauble told reporters on Tuesday

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schauble made clear in Brussels on Tuesday that some members of the Berlin government think it would make more sense for Athens to leave the euro zone temporarily rather than take another bailout.

This is what Schauble and his allies have wanted all along.  This entire “deal” was crafted with the intent of creating conditions under which Greece could be forced out of the euro.

By this time tomorrow, we should know what the Greek parliament is going to do.  However, that won’t be the end of the story.  One way or another, the Germans are going to get their wish.  But once they do, I think that they will be quite surprised by the chaos that is unleashed.

Yanis Varoufakis Intervention

Off the keyboard of Yanis Varoufakis

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Published on Yanis Varoufakis Blog on June 28, 2015

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As it happened – Yanis Varoufakis’ intervention during the 27th June 2015 Eurogroup Meeting

The Eurogroup Meeting of 27th June 2015 will not go down as a proud moment in Europe’s history. Ministers turned down the Greek government’s request that the Greek people should be granted a single week during which to deliver a Yes or No answer to the institutions’ proposals – proposals crucial for Greece’s future in the Eurozone. The very idea that a government would consult its people on a problematic proposal put to it by the institutions was treated with incomprehension and often with disdain bordering on contempt. I was even asked: “How do you expect common people to understand such complex issues?”. Indeed, democracy did not have a good day in yesterday’s Eurogroup meeting! But nor did European institutions. After our request was rejected, the Eurogroup President broke with the convention of unanimity (issuing a statement without my consent) and even took the dubious decision to convene a follow up meeting without the Greek minister, ostensibly to discuss the “next steps”. 

Can democracy and a monetary union coexist? Or must one give way? This is the pivotal question that the Eurogroup has decided to answer by placing democracy in the too-hard basket. So far, one hopes.

 

Intervention by Yanis Varoufakis, 27th June 2015 Eurogroup Meeting

Colleagues,

In our last meeting (25th June) the institutions tabled their final offer to the Greek authorities, in response to our proposal for a Staff Level Agreement (SLA) as tabled on 22nd June (and signed by Prime Minister Tsipras). After long, careful examination, our government decided that, unfortunately, the institutions’ proposal could not be accepted. In view of how close we have come to the 30th June deadline, the date when the current loan agreement expires, this impasse of grave concern to us all and its causes must be thoroughly examined.

We rejected the institutions’ 25th June proposals because of a variety of powerful reasons. The first reason is the combination of austerity and social injustice they would impose upon a population devastated already by… austerity and social injustice. Even our own SLA proposal (22nd June) is austerian, in a bid to placate the institutions and thus come closer to an agreement. Only our SLA attempted to shift the burden of this renewed austerian onslaught to those more able to afford it – e.g. by concentrating on increasing employer contributions to pension funds rather than on reducing the lowest of pensions. Nonetheless, even our SLA contains many parts that Greek society rejects.

So, having pushed us hard to accept substantial new austerity, in the form of absurdly large primary surpluses (3.5% of GDP over the medium term, albeit somewhat lower than the unfathomable number agreed to by previous Greek governments – i.e. 4.5%), we ended up having to make recessionary trade-offs between, on the one hand, higher taxes/charges in an economy where those who pay their dues pay through the nose and, on the other, reductions in pensions/benefits in a society already devastated by massive cuts in basic income support for the multiplying needy.

Let me say colleagues what we had already conveyed to the institutions on 22nd June, as we were tabling our own proposals: Even this SLA, the one we were proposing, would be extremely onerous to pass through Parliament, given the level of recessionary measures and austerity it entailed. Unfortunately, the institutions’ response was to insist on even more recessionary (aka parametric) measures (e.g. increasing VAT on hotels from 6% to 23%!) and, worse still, on shifting the burden massively from business to the weakest members of society (e.g. to reduce the lowest of pensions, to remove support for farmers, to postpone ad infinitum legislation that offers some protection to badly exploited workers).

The institutions new proposals, as expressed in their 25th June SLA/Prior Actions document, would make a politically problematic package – from the perspective of our Parliament – into a package that would extremely difficult to push through our Parliamentary caucus. But this is not all. It gets worse much worse than that once we take a look at the proposed financing package.

What makes it impossible to pass the institutions’ proposal through Parliament is the lack of an answer to the question: Will these painful measures at least give us a period of tranquillity during which to carry out the agreed reforms and measures? Will a shock of optimism counter the recessionary effect of the extra fiscal consolidation that is being imposed on a country that has been in recession for 21 consecutive quarters? The answer is clear: No, the institutions’ proposal is offering no such prospect.

This is why: The proposed funding for the next 5 months (see below for a breakdown) is problematic in a variety of ways:

First, it makes no provision for the state’s arrears, caused by five months of making payments without disbursements and of falling tax revenues as a result of the constant threat of Grexit that has been wafting in the air, so to speak.

Secondly, the idea of cannibalising the HFSF in order to repay the ECB’s SMP-era bonds constitutes a clear and present danger: These monies were earmarked, correctly, for strengthening Greece’s fragile banks, possibly through an operation that deals with their mountainous NPLs that eat into their capitalisation. The answer I have been given by senior ECB officials, whose name will remain unsaid, is that, if need be, the HFSF will be replenished to cope with the banks’ capitalisation needs. And who will do the replenishing? The ESM, is the answer I was given. But, and this is a gigantic but, this is not part of the proposed deal and, moreover, it could not be part of the deal as the institutions have no mandate to commit the ESM in this manner – as I am sure Wolfgang will remind us all. And, moreover, if such a new arrangement could be made, why then is our sensible, moderate, proposal of a new ESM facility for Greece that helps shift SMP liability from the ECB to the ESM not discussed? The answer “we will not discuss it because we will not discuss it” will be very hard for me to convey to my Parliament, together with another package of austerity.

Thirdly, the proposed disbursements’ schedule is a minefield of reviews – one per month – that will ensure two things. First, that the Greek government will be immersed every day, every week in the review process for five long months. And well before these five months expire, we shall enter into another tedious negotiation over the next program – since there is nothing in the institutions’ proposal capable of inspiring even the faintest of hopes that at the end of this new extension Greece can stand on its own two feet.

Fourthly, given that it is abundantly clear that our debt will remain unsustainable by the end of the year, and that market access will remain as distant then as it is now, the IMF cannot be counted upon to disburse its share, the 3.5 billion that the institutions are counting as part of the funding package on the table.

These are solid reasons why our government does not consider it has a mandate to accept the institutions’ proposal or to use its majority in Parliament in order to push it through and onto the statutes.

At the same time, we do not have a mandate to turn down the institutions’ proposals either, cognizant of the critical moment in history we find ourselves in. Our party received 36% of the vote and the government as a whole commanded a little more than 40%. Fully aware of how weighty our decision is, we feel obliged to put the institutions’ proposal to the people of Greece. We shall endeavour to spell out to them fully what a Yes to the Institutions’ Proposal means, to do the same regarding a No vote, and then let them decide. For our part we shall accept the people’s verdict and will do whatever it takes to implement it – one way or another.

Some worry that a Yes vote would be a vote of no confidence in our government (as we shall be recommending a No vote), in which case we cannot promise to the Eurogroup that we shall be in a position to sign and implement the agreement with the institutions. This is not so. We are committed democrats. If the people gives us a clear instruction to sign up on the institutions’ proposals, we shall do whatever it takes to do so – even if it means a reconfigured government.

Colleagues, the referendum solution is optimal for all, given the constraints we face.

  • If our government were to accept the institutions’ offer today, promising to push it through Parliament tomorrow, we would be defeated in Parliament with the result of a new election being called within a very long month – then, the delay, the uncertainty and the prospects of a successful resolution would be much, much diminished
  • But even if we managed to pass the institutions’ proposal through Parliament, we would be facing a major problem of ownership and implementation. Put simply, just as in the past the governments that pushed through policies dictated by the institutions could not carry the people with them, we too would fail to do so.

On the question that will be put to the Greek people, much has been said about what it should be. Many of you tell us, advise us, instruct us even, that we should make it a Yes or No question on the euro. Let me be clear on this. First, the question was formulated by the Cabinet and has just been passed through Parliament – and it is “Do you accept the institutions’ proposal as it was presented to us on 25th June in the Eurogroup?” This is the only pertinent question. If we had accepted that proposal two days ago, we would have had a deal. The Greek government is now asking the electorate to answer the question you put it to me Jeroen – especially when you said, and I quote, “you can consider this, if you wish, a take or leave it proposal”. Well, this is how we took it and we are now honouring the institutions and the Greek people by asking the latter to deliver a clear answer on the institutions’ proposal.

To those who say that, effectively, this is a referendum on the euro, my answer is: You may very well say this but I shall not comment. This is your judgement, your opinion, your interpretation. Not ours! There is a logic to your view but only if there is an implicit threat that a No from the Greek people to the institutions’ proposal will be followed up by moves to eject Greece, illegally, out of the euro. Such a threat would not be consistent with basic principles of European democratic governance and European Law.

To those who instruct us to phrase the referendum question as a euro-drachma dilemma, my answer is crystal clear: European Treaties make provisions for an exit from the EU. They do not make any provisions for an exit from the Eurozone. With good reason, of course, as the indivisibility of our Monetary Union is part of its raison d’ etre. To ask us to phrase the referendum question as a choice involving exit from the Eurozone is to ask us to violate EU Treaties and EU Law. I suggest to anyone who wants us, or anyone else, to hold a referendum on EMU membership to recommend a change in the Treaties.

Colleagues,

It is time to take stock. The reason we find ourselves in the present conundrum is one: Our government’s primary proposal to you and the institutions, which I articulated here in the Eurogroup in my first ever intervention, was never taken seriously. It was the suggestion that common ground be created between the prevailing MoU and our new government’s program. For a fleeting moment, the 20th February Eurogroup statement raised the prospect of such common ground – as it made no reference to the MoU and concentrated on a new reform list by our government that would be put to the institutions.

Regrettably, immediately after the 20th of February the institutions, and most of colleagues in this room, sought to bring the MoU back to the centre, and to reduce our role in marginal changes within the MoU. It is as if we were told, to paraphrase Henry Ford, that we could have any reform list, any agreement, as long as it was the MoU. Common ground was thus sacrificed in favour of imposing upon our government a humiliating retreat. This is my view. But it is not important now. Now it is up to the Greek people to decide.

Our task, in today’s Eurogroup, ought to be to pave the ground for a smooth passage to the referendum of 5th July. This means one thing: that our loan agreement be extended by a few weeks so that the referendum takes place in conditions of tranquillity. Immediately after 5th July, if the people have voted Yes, the institutions’ proposal will be signed. Until then, during the next week, as the referendum approaches, any deviation from normality, especially in the banking sector, will be invariably interpreted as an attempt to coerce Greek voters. Greek society has paid a hefty price, through huge fiscal contraction, in order to be part of our monetary union. But a democratic monetary union that threatens a people about to deliver their verdict with capital controls and bank closures is a contradiction in terms. I would like to think that the Eurogroup will respect this principle. As for the ECB, the custodian on our monetary stability and of the Union itself, I have no doubt that, if the Eurogroup takes a responsible decision today to accept the request for an extension of our loan agreement that I am now tabling, it will do what it takes to give the Greek people a few more days to express their opinion.

Colleagues, these are critical moments and the decisions we make are momentous. In years to come we may well be asked “Where were you on the 27th of June? And what did you do to avert what happened? At the very least we should be able to say that: We gave the people who live under the worst depression a chance to consider their options. We tried democracy as a means of breaking a deadlock. And we did what it took to give them a few days to do so.

POSTSCRIPT – The day the Eurogroup President broke with the tradition of unanimity and excluded Greece from a Eurogroup gathering at will

Following my intervention (see above) the Eurogroup President rejected our request for an extension, with the support of the rest of the members, and announced that the Eurogroup would be issuing a statement placing the burden of this impasse on Greece and suggesting that the 18 ministers (that is the 19 Eurozone finance ministers except the Greek minister) reconvene later to discuss ways and means of protecting themselves from the fallout.

At that point I asked for legal advice, from the secretariat, on whether a Eurogroup statement can be issued without the conventional unanimity and whether the President of the Eurogroup can convene a meeting without inviting the finance minister of a Eurozone member-state. I received the following extraordinary answer: “The Eurogroup is an informal group. Thus it is not bound by Treaties or written regulations. While unanimity is conventionally adhered to, the Eurogroup President is not bound to explicit rules.” I let the reader comment on this remarkable statement.

For my part, I concluded as follows:

Colleagues, refusing to extend the loan agreement for a few weeks, and for the purpose of giving the Greek people an opportunity to deliberate in peace and quiet on the institutions’ proposal, especially given the high probability that they will accept these proposals (contrary to our government’s advice), will damage permanently the credibility of the Eurogroup as a democratic decision making body comprising partner states sharing not only a common currency but also common values.

 

PRESS CONFERENCE PRESENTATION IMMEDIATELY AFTER THE 27th JUNE 2015 EUROGROUP MEETING

The Battle of Yesterday vs Tomorrow

Off the keyboard of John Ward

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Published on The Slog on April 19, 2015

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ANALYSIS: Why the standoff between Greece and the EU is really the first major battle in the war between Yesterday and Tomorrow

2day2morrow19415As the days drag on towards some kind of dénouement to what is rapidly becoming the silliest, longest and most empty threat of a death sentence in political history, I continue to be amazed that the Western media are reporting the Greece-eurogroupe ‘deadlock’ as if it was a purely technical matter.

There are only two elements of the ‘crisis’ that concern me: the emotional dimension of an at times infuriating but fundamentally sound culture I’ve loved for over forty years being pelted by a salvo of Brussels sprouts, controlling sauerkrats, and past-sell-by date Frankfurters; and the former politics student’s fascination with the factions and rivalries on both sides.

If you’re a Python nut like me, then you will remember the Life of Brian sequence where Graham Chapman innocently asks the anal splinter-group leader Michael Palin if “we” are the People’s Group for the Liberation of Palestine, and Palin snaps back, “Are you f**king mad? We f**kin’ spit on the PGLOP. We, my friend, are the People’s Army for Palestine Liberation. There’s a world of difference”.

Sadly, a great deal of contemporary in-fighting between Middle East opponents of the US, Israel and NATO have proved in the 36 years since that movie how madness will eventually – somewhere – become reality. But it is also one of the strongest arguments against large States like Europe, China, the US and Russia that the citizens reach a point where a substantial minority no longer feel any affection for the much-vaunted body. For them, it’s more of a cadaver: a giant corpse they simple cannot remember as the flower of their youth.

More and more, this anthropological reality both colours and muddies European affairs.

The current impasse/standoff/crisis/negotiation is not – let’s get this straight for starters – a conflict between the EU and Greece. It is not even a war between national liberty and superstate dictatorship.

Rather, it’s the first battle in what could be a long war between yesterday and tomorrow. And be aware: the battle is no way as simple as ‘EU yesterday vs Greek tomorrow’: this is a battle in which there are more false flags, civil wars around the edges and power struggles going on than in the emerging Nazi Party of 1931.

*********************

Let’s deal quickly with my first concern: although depicted as the punishment of corrupt Greek politicians, backhanding officials and tax-evading taverna owners, none of that is even closely related to the facts. Far from punishing Nia Demokratia, PASOK and their serially unpleasant leaders, the Troika has insisted from Day One that it will only deal with these gargoyles. This is the same principle as hanging the war criminals at Nuremburg….up to but not including rocket scientists the victors wanted on their sides.

Germany largely benefited from corrupt officials (especially during the various insane arms deals with Greece) rather than suffering in any way; and precious few of those Fat Crats have been brought to justice….although Syriza is now on the case.

And finally, small businesses evade tax in Greece because the tax system is corrupt, not through greed in many cases: they know that every pol and bureacrat wants a kafelaki (small envelope). And people evade the Troika taxes today because they see them for what they are: a disgraceful attempt to pick the pocket of the vagrant in the gutter. I live in France now, and I’ve visited Greece between forty and fifty times in the last half-century; everything I see related to le noir francais is exactly the same as in Greece – except for one thing: it’s a far bigger problem in France.

I’m told by some that the desire to evade tax became an act of patriotic resistance during the Ottoman hegemony over Greece, but that was a long, long time ago: more accurate, I think, is the phrase used to me over and over again: “It’s a national sport”….and the trophy is nothing more than sticking it to the depraved elites that have been sitting on real Greeks for decades.

The punishment meted out by the Troika fits not the crime, but the greed, geopolitical ambitions and cynical control freakery of its three prongs – Wall Street, the US/EU, and Berlin/ECB interest groups. This is far from empty conspiracist assertion: the investment banking firms and Hedge Funds got clean away with a fat profit during the initial bailouts, Schäuble stands accused of conspiring with Venizelos to exaggerate the size of debt hole in 2010, a German-controlled and run concept of Fiskalunion has emerged directly from this totally unnecessary mess, the federalisation of the EU has been accelerated, and above all the euro was saved to die another day.

Greece, Italy, Spain and Portugal are on Calvary at the moment, but they’re dying to cleanse a worthless currency of its flaws, not to save anyone’s soul. And no amount of crucifixions from here to Warsaw via Budapest are going to remove the euro’s flaws.

Greece is saddled with an obscene debt and carpet-bombed economic structure because Schäuble wanted to convince the markets of eurozone viability, Trichet’s borrowing controls were hopelessly lax, Goldman wanted to sell credit, Sarkozy was terrified of the effect on his banks, and Berlin wanted – plus ca change – to run Europe using the best alternative to military force: the munnneeee.

There is little difference in general substance between QE and Zirp killing economies across the globe, and ClubMed austerity killing most of the ezone economy: except of course, the one in Germany. Gott in Himmel: perish the thought that such a thing might occur.

*********************

Nobody in the neoliberal owned and controlled press is ever going to accept that version of events, no matter how empirically databased it is. But no other explanation can explain the consistent actions of those in charge of the fiscal policies involved….policies that cannot possibly be related to sound economic actions – or even sound minds.

The mistake many observers and commentators make is to get the motive for the Greek tragedy wrong: get it right, and everything makes complete sense. Read the MSM account, and none of it does.

However, as I pointed out at the start of this mini-essay, there’s no simple tug-of-war going on. The best analogy I can summon up for the moment is to see the EU/ECB/Berlin attack on Greece as akin to Abe Lincoln deciding to attack Samuria-Shogun-Meiji fractured Japan just after the first Battle of Bull Run.

The two ‘sides’ in 2015 square up as follows:

EC vs Eurogroupe vs Frankfurt vs IMF vs ECB vs Berlin vs Paris vs UK

vs

Syriza vs KKE vs PASOK vs Nia Demokrita vs Golden Dawn vs To Potami vs ephiles vs ephobes

Without getting into too much detail, Jean-Claude Junker’s power base is the EC. Inside that, he has an anti-austerity rebuilding fund of allegedly €350bn, whose purpose he has kept deliberately vague. He befriended Alexis Tsipras, and could shaft the eurogroupe royally if he decided to invest it in Greece on a bigger scale than at present. This is because the eurogroupe’s attempt to wrest power from Juncker gets up his nasal orifice – and threatens the Cyprus-style tax evasion racket he runs in Luxembourg.

But the Frankfurt Bundesbank hardliners think the eurogroupe and its ally the ECB will have a disastrous effect on money supply and inflation via QE…plus (they assert) it was a mistake to let the US-controlled IMF and its mathematically dyslexic boss Christine Lagarde loose anywhere in Europe. In Berlin, however, Schäuble wants to have total control over the reins of euro-fiscal policy, and so would do anything to vapourise ECB boss Mario Draghi…while Chancellor Merkel (whom Schäuble dislikes, but who has the electoral appeal he lacks) has similar doubts to me about what Draghi’s really up to: is he working for the euro, or is he working for its replacement, the Dolleuro?

Paris, meanwhile, is infinitely more guilty of fiscal vandalism than Greece (as are Germany and Holland) but is no longer avoiding the consequences of its soi-largesse with quite the ease it was. The French Establishment has been rattled by some of the fiscal disciplinary methods imposed on France after the March eurogroupe summit: but Berlin must beware of pushing too many French voters towards the undiluted anti-EU nationalism of Marine Le Pen’s Front Nationale.

And last but not least, dear old Blighty stuck out there in the island limbo of “Ukip if you want to, but we’re wide awake, and we want out”.

You may think the Sceptred Isle doesn’t count, but I would suggest you’re wrong. At the moment, the Eunatics face threats on four ClubMed fronts, interference from the US, and an allegedly weak Putinesque Russia which suggests that it isn’t either weak or stupid. The last thing the EU elites need is to roil the markets with a secession request from Britain in 2018….even if it is only England by then.

This does, I think, go a long way to explaining why Draghi has of late switched tack, and begun persuading his ‘colleagues’ that the time is not yet quite right for the Greeks to default. Much smart money had been targeting April 26th as the moment of truth for Athens. But yesterday the ECB boss told a Washington audience that he “won’t even contemplate” the possibility of a Greek default on its debt repayments during April, because such an event would throw the eurozone into “uncharted waters.” This from the man who six weeks ago claimed that Greek default would be no more than a gnat-bite on the bum for eurobanks…because this time, the system “is prepared”. Yeh, right: that must be why he arm-twisted the ELA into coughing up the liquidity to help Greece pay off the last IMF kilo of flesh, sorry, installment.

Far more money is now being placed on a Greek default on or after May 9th. And spookily, that just happens to be two days after the UK General Election finishes. I think it would be safe to say that – were a Greek default to throw everything into European bond-spiking confusion before April 26th – there would be a massive Ukip surge, as well as potential pressure on the UK’s George Osborne in terms of borrowing rates. The continued UK national debt explosion is, after all, the Chancellor’s Achilles heel.

So there you have it. Or rather, you don’t: because twixt you, me, the gatepost and the other girls, trying to discern 8 x 8 possibilities producing 64 possible outcomes (when any new left-field factor could make that 4096 scenarios) is the original mug’s game.

Much better, I’d opine, to stick to the basics. And I’ve remained consistent about these since this rapidly dwindling time-window began last February 24th.

Those who would rather have a meteorite collide with Earth than give up on the euro project have far, far more to lose than a nation of 11.5m people who would (in my view) be much better off deserting the euro. But there remains that Greek inferiority complex pride thing of not wanting to be the catalyst of destroying a single market that acts as an economic and political bulwark against American multinational domination of the Globe.

I think that viewpoint to be muddled, but then I’m not Greek, or foraging in the Athens garbage cans. My gut feeling is that Varoufakis underestimated the Cosa Nostra nastiness of those with whom he must deal, and Troika2 underestimated the fatigue of the Hellenic population at large with being made a scapegoat.

Either way, a lot of very sour derivative bets placed on euro success cannot be allowed to trigger an omni-directional bazooka aimed at Wall Street. Sorry to repeat myself, but I still think the high face-cards are in the Greek hand.

Eurosummit Breakdown

Off the keyboard of John Ward

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Published on The Slog on February 17, 2015

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Who did what and why?

As one Troika dies, another is born

Practically every Western press title and news bulletin this morning uses the word ‘defiant’ in relation to Greece’s rejection of the New Troika’s terms, and it isn’t a compliment.

The Greek contingent rejected the ‘deal’ because it wasn’t a deal, it was just the same old same old. But up until 90 minutes before closure, it had been something else. Allegedly drafted and then pushed hard by French finance minister Pierre Muscovici, the first draft (a copy of which Varoufakis still has) offered Greece more time, few targets, and then an attempt at economic growth.

It was taken off the table by yet another Troika – in most cases, remotely: Mariano Rajoy, Wolfgang Schäuble, and of course (no drum roll required) Mario Draghi. During the final day, Spanish PM Rajoy (for purely selfish political reasons, it would appear) scrambled around desperately trying to get the hawks to play more of a vulture role. His ginger-group plus the EC/ECB/Berlin/Frankfurt axis canned the original draft, and insisted on a return to all the original demands.

Then some of them briefed the press pack with pernicious spin about Greece messing them about, moving goalposts etc and being (this week’s insult of choice) “anti-European and irresponsible”. The truth is that, some time around 10.45 am CET, Varoufakis was lining himself up to sign the draft. Getting back to the realities:

– Greece cannot be allowed concessions, because Podemos would immediately demand the same (Rajoy)

– Greece’s load cannot be reduced, because then they might pay it back (Draghi)

– Greece’s flagrantly spendthrift behaviour must not be rewarded, and more austerity is the only answer (Schäuble).

So then – as many of us always suspected – the deal was scuppered by a hardline, corrupt, anti-libertarian Spaniard, a banker whose career is followed by clouds, and who retains his loyalty to Wall Street, and the residue of a tragically failed assassination attempt upon Germany’s top spook.

The only vaguely satisfying things to emerge from this charade are first, that once again the quintessence of controlling fascism that lies at the EU’s heart has been revealed; and second, the Western MSM really do not have a clue about how to handle the Greek attitude.

Four days ago, I wrote in reply to Merkel’s assertion that “Europe’s success is that it will always find a compromise”:

‘The small issue I have with this bollocks is that the movement by either side so far is tiny – in fact, barely above homoaeopathic…. In just 36 hours we have gone from “Drop Dead” to “Let’s compromise”. But where can it go from here? In my view, nowhere: the two sides are incompatible unless one or the other radically invents itself. Neither of them will do that.”

Sure enough, the Brussels Brigade reverted to type with black arts and making up new rules as they went along. And as they promised, Syriza refused to renege on its election commitments.

Watch those markets crash as the bond yields spike. The euro is dead, the EU dream has become a nightmare, and the fundamental attitude split between Berlin and Paris  is once again there for all to see.

Stay tuned.

Knarf plays the Doomer Blues

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