Category Archives: European Union

No debate please, we’re European

shhhOn the eve of Greece agreeing its first EU-IMF bailout in May 2010, the CEO of investment firm PIMCO, Mohamed El-Erian, expressed doubts about the package,  what it demanded of Greece and whether the Europeans would be able to manage the  process. “This is a daunting challenge,” he wrote in the Financial
Times
. “The numbers involved are large and getting larger; the  sociopolitical stakes are high and getting higher; and the official sector has  yet to prove itself effective at crisis management.”

El-Erian raised the  issue of private sector involvement, or PSI, almost two years before it happened  and warned the eurozone that it was walking into a potential disaster. “What started out as a public finance issue is quickly turning into a banking problem too; and, what started out as a Greek issue has become a full-blown crisis for  Europe,” he wrote.

This week, Bloomberg revealed that PIMCO has been selling the Dutch bonds it was holding. Until now a financial, AAA-rated safe-haven in the eurozone crisis, the Netherlands’ bond yields are edging upward, its coalition is under pressure and “austerity fatigue” is apparently setting in. El-Erian’s warning in May 2010 that the Greek debt crisis would “morph into something much broader” has been proved correct.

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Greece and the IMF: Three years of not understanding each other

Illustration by Manos Symeonakis

Illustration by Manos Symeonakis http://xpresspapier.blogspot.gr/

Three years ago, then Prime Minister George Papandreou stood on Kastelorizo’s harbor as the Aegean glistened in the background and children yelped with joy. The ensuing period has proved anything but sun-kissed child’s play for Greece. The appeal made by Papandreou to the eurozone and the International Monetary Fund that day has set the tone for almost everything that has happened in Greece over the past three years. Where it will lead is far from clear.

Even though the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the IMF make up the troika of lenders that have provided Greece with some 200 billion euros in bailout funding during the last 36 months, the Washington-based organization’s role has grabbed the attention of most Greeks. Even now, April 23, 2010 is referred to by many as the day Papandreou “sent Greece to the IMF.” Even though the Fund has provided only a fraction of the loans disbursed so far, its actions often come under the greatest scrutiny. Although there has been a growing realization that some of Greece’s partners in the eurozone and the ECB have been behind some of the troika’s toughest demands, the IMF continues to be a regular target for critics.

The problem is that these often indiscriminate attacks, dismissing the IMF as a Trojan horse for neoliberalism, mean that proper analysis of the troika’s three elements is pushed aside. In this fog, it has become difficult to work out where there are grounds for genuine criticism of the IMF. In this respect, an op-ed by Mohamed El-Erian, the CEO of PIMCO investment firm, on the Fund’s shortcomings is timely and extremely useful.

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Confidence or confidence trick in the eurozone?

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Illustration by Manos Symeonakis http://xpresspapier.blogspot.gr/

At a meeting of eurozone finance ministers in February, Greece’s Yannis Stournaras asked a fairly straightforward question: Could the troika explain what, if any, impact the International Monetary Fund’s miscalculation of fiscal multipliers had on the Greek adjustment program?

The question came in the wake of the IMF admitting a few weeks earlier that it had underestimated the recessionary impact that rapid fiscal adjustment would have in the current negative economic climate. The IMF assumed the fiscal multiplier of spending cuts and tax hikes was around 0.5 percent of gross domestic product – in other words, austerity measures equivalent to 1 percent of GDP would produce a 0.5 percent decline in economic activity. Its economists, however, discovered that the real fiscal multiplier was between 0.9 and 1.7 percent of GDP.

In Greece, critics of the bailout saw this as evidence that its austerity formula should be consigned to the rubbish bin. They put considerable pressure on the government to respond to the IMF’s revelation. Fearful of what implications an admission that the program had been built on unsound foundations might have on public opinion, the coalition played down the Fund’s findings.

Bearing this in mind, Stournaras put a rather tame question to Greece’s lenders after admitting to journalists that he could draw no reliable conclusions from the new analysis on the fiscal multipliers provided by the IMF’s chief economist Olivier Blanchard.

The response to Stournaras’s low-key request was a full-on blast from European Economics and Monetary Affairs Commissioner Olli Rehn. So forceful was the response, in fact, that one had to wonder whether the level of protest suggested that Greece might have a serious case.

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Margaret Thatcher: Her Master’s Voice

Illustration by Manos Symeonakis for Cartoon Movement http://www.cartoonmovement.com/p/6035

Illustration by Manos Symeonakis for Cartoon Movement http://www.cartoonmovement.com/p/6035

More than the bouffant hair, the handbags, the power suits and pussybow blouses, it was the voice that lingered.

For anyone growing up in the UK in the Eighties, Margaret Thatcher’s voice was unforgettable. Proceedings in the House of Commons were not televised until 1989 and, until then, TV news had to make to with displaying pictures of Parliament and playing audio of the debates, which often consisted of Thatcher swatting away her opponents with her polished vowels.

That memorable voice, though, was the product of elocution lessons, which were part of a wider effort to make Thatcher more appealing. This was not the only illusion of the Conservative leader’s time in power.

One cannot question that when she became prime minister in 1979, Thatcher took over a country in a steep decline. The economy was tanking, inflation was rising, industrial relations were mired and a general post-colonial malaise had descended over the UK. Getting out of this mess was an immense challenge.

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Cyprus: The eurozone’s omnishambles moment

Petros Karadjias/AP

Petros Karadjias/AP

At the beginning of last week, Cypriot politicians insisted they would not choose a “suicidal” option for their country. By the end of the week, they picked one that would inflict mortal wounds instead.

Nicosia’s handling of its unprecedented predicament has been cataclysmic. But the approach adopted by the European Union and International Monetary Fund to Cyprus’s problems has also been disastrous. The eurozone has been building up to an omnishambles moment throughout the debt crisis and it finally struck in a small island state in the Eastern Mediterranean.

The agreement arrived at in Brussels early Monday, following hours of talks involving Cypriot officials, eurozone finance ministers and EU and IMF chiefs, is being billed as the least worst option after all sides took successive wrong turns on the way. That may be the case but it will be little consolation to thousands of Cypriots who have lost a big chunk of their deposits and face uncertain times ahead.

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Cyprus: It’s not about the numbers

Cyprus Financial CrisisThe Eurogroup agreed on Monday night to allow Cyprus to change the make up of its controversial deposit tax. Instead of imposing a levy of 6.75 percent on savings under 100,000 and 9.9 percent on those above 100,000 – as agreed in Brussels in the early hours of Saturday – Nicosia can play around with the numbers, just as long as it raises the arranged amount of 5.8 billion euros.

Cyprus’s new but already beleaguered President Nicos Anastasiades is proposing that bank customers with deposits under 20,000 euros should not be taxed at all, while keeping the levy the same for the remaining depositors. Cypriot MPs have already shown a reluctance to approve the tax, mindful of the impact on depositors but also the long-term damage it could do to the island’s banking system and economy.

However, what’s happened over the past few days and what’s likely to happen in the days and weeks to come has little to do with numbers. It is much more about perceptions. Even if a financial meltdown is averted in Cyprus this week, the decision to tax depositors there in order to reduce the eurozone and International Monetary Fund contribution to the island’s bailout has sown the seeds for a future eruption.

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After Cyprus, eurozone risks transmission failure and running out of road

?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????The Eurogroup’s decision on Friday to impose a one-off tax on depositors in Cyprus may mark a turning point in the euro crisis. Only, the single currency’s decision makers might soon realize that in taking this particular turn, they also ran out of road.

Under pressure from several members of the eurozone – Germany in particular, if reports are accurate – the new Nicosia government agreed that deposits above 100,000 euros would be taxed 9.9 percent and those under 100,000 at a rate of 6.75 percent.

This is an unprecedented decision for a eurozone country. It is also one whose potential consequences reach much further than an island in the eastern Mediterranean. It threatens to cause the transmission system between the economic and financial sectors on one side and the political and social on the other to seize up. Without this, the euro cannot be propelled forward. It cannot function.

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