Thursday, April 2, 2015

Greece leads Europe to the brink of the fiscal abyss

Keep your eye on what happens in Greece over the next few days. Recent developments may push Europe to the brink of disintegration of the Eurozone.

To start with, Greece is calling Europe's bluff on funding, and threatening to turn to Russia for the injection of cash it needs.  The Telegraph reports:

Two months of EU bluster and reproof have failed to cow Greece. It is becoming clear that Europe’s creditor powers have misjudged the nature of the Greek crisis and can no longer avoid facing the Morton’s Fork in front of them.

Any deal that goes far enough to assuage Greece’s justly-aggrieved people must automatically blow apart the austerity settlement already fraying in the rest of southern Europe. The necessary concessions would embolden populist defiance in Spain, Portugal and Italy, and bring German euroscepticism to the boil.

. . .

Greece could not plausibly remain in Nato if ejected from EMU in acrimonious circumstances. It would drift into the Russian orbit, where Hungary’s Viktor Orban already lies. The southeastern flank of Europe’s security system would fall apart.

. . .

Mr Tsipras is now playing the Russian card with an icy ruthlessness, more or less threatening to veto fresh EU measures against the Kremlin as the old set expires. “We disagree with sanctions. The new European security architecture must include Russia,” he told the TASS news agency.

He offered to turn Greece into a strategic bridge, linking the two Orthodox nations. “Russian-Greek relations have very deep roots in history,” he said, hitting all the right notes before his trip to Moscow next week.

The Kremlin has its own troubles as Russian companies struggle to meet redemptions on $630bn of dollar debt, forcing them to seek help from state’s reserve funds. Russia’s foreign reserves are still $360bn – down from $498bn a year ago – but the disposable sum is far less given a raft of implicit commitments. Even so, President Vladimir Putin must be sorely tempted to take a strategic punt on Greece, given the prize at hand.

. . .

One might righteously protest at what amounts to open blackmail by Mr Tsipras, deeming such conduct to be a primary violation of EU club rules. Yet this is to ignore what has been done to Greece over the past four years, and why the Greek people are so angry.

Leaked IMF minutes from 2010 confirm what Syriza has always argued: the country was already bankrupt and needed debt relief rather than new loans. This was overruled in order to save the euro and to save Europe’s banking system at a time when EMU had no defences against contagion.

Finance minister Yanis Varoufakis rightly calls it “a cynical transfer of private losses from the banks’ books onto the shoulders of Greece’s most vulnerable citizens”. A small fraction of the €240bn of loans remained in the Greek economy. Some 90pc was rotated back to banks and financial creditors. The damage was compounded by austerity overkill. The economy contracted so violently that the debt-ratio rocketed instead of coming down, defeating the purpose.

There's more at the link.

Less than 24 hours after that report comes this news.

Greece is drawing up drastic plans to nationalise the country's banking system and introduce a parallel currency to pay bills unless the eurozone takes steps to defuse the simmering crisis and soften its demands.

Sources close to the ruling Syriza party said the government is determined to keep public services running and pay pensions as funds run critically low. It may be forced to take the unprecedented step of missing a payment to the International Monetary Fund next week.

Greece no longer has enough money to pay the IMF €458m on April 9 and also to cover payments for salaries and social security on April 14, unless the eurozone agrees to disburse the next tranche of its interim bail-out deal in time.

“We are a Left-wing government. If we have to choose between a default to the IMF or a default to our own people, it is a no-brainer,” said a senior official.

. . .

Going into arrears at the IMF – even for a few days – is an extremely risky strategy. No developed country has ever defaulted to the Bretton Woods institutions. While there would be a grace period of six weeks before the IMF board declared Greece to be in technical default, the process could spin out of control at various stages.

Syriza sources say are they fully aware that a tough line with creditors risks setting off an unstoppable chain-reaction. They insist that they are willing to contemplate the worst rather than abandon their electoral pledges to the Greek people. An emergency fall-back plan is already in the works.

“We will shut down the banks and nationalise them, and then issue IOUs if we have to, and we all know what this means. What we will not do is become a protectorate of the EU,” said one source. It is well understood in Athens such action is tantamount to a return to the drachma, even though Syriza would rather reach an amicable accord within EMU.

Again, more at the link.

If Greece collapses out of the Eurozone, it's more than likely that other struggling nations in southern Europe - particularly Portugal, Spain and Italy - would be sorely tempted to follow suit.  That would probably lead to the collapse of the euro as a shared European currency, and lead to the disintegration of the political and administrative union that's been built on the foundation of a currency union.  The long-term possibilities are almost unfathomable.  Don't forget that the combined economies of the Eurozone are similar in size to that of the USA.  Economic chaos there would inevitably rebound on us.  It would have to.  There's no escaping it.

We certainly live in interesting economic times . . .



Coconut said...

There seem to be certain similarities between the behaviour of nations- huge groups of people -and the behaviour of individuals.

In this case, a delinquent teenager who has found the parental money tit has run dry and is threatening to run away and join a gang if the money doesn't start flowing again sharpish.

Anonymous said...

My greek father in law recently returned from Athens, where he emptied his greek bank accounts and transferred all his cash back to the US (he's now a US citizen). Took a good size tax hit, and lost a bit more in conversion back to dollars-but better to lose some than all.

Anonymous said...

Good luck with your new Russian friends and don't let the door hit you in the ass on the way out.


Anonymous said...

Join the EU and be destroyed. EU arrogance and fumbling got Ukraine in its fix. EU arrogance and greed latched on to Greece before it was ready to join. Now Greece is being trampled to death. European empires, past or present simply have insatiable territorial hunger that always gets them and the world into trouble.