Tag Archives: EU

One giant leap for Europe, one small step for Greece

Illustration by Manos Symeonakis

A general rule emerged from the financial crisis that originated in the USA a few years ago: If a financial instrument is too complicated to understand, then you’d better start worrying about how safe it is. So, when one of the world’s leading economists, Paul Krugman, writes of the deal for Greece agreed by eurozone leaders on Thursday, “If you aren’t confused, you aren’t paying attention,” then perhaps we need to put the champagne on ice.

Thursday was undoubtedly a landmark moment for the European Union and the single currency. It was never an inevitability that eurozone leaders would arrive at a deal. When you have 17 leaders with 17 different electorates and myriad domestic concerns to juggle along with worries about the future of the euro, there can never be a guaranteed outcome. Nevertheless, the eurozone chose on Thursday the road to a possible solution rather than the path to an almost certain dissolution. The danger has not been dispelled but more time has been bought.

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Can Greek crisis make euro rather than break it?

It may not seem likely as we head toward Thursday’s eurozone summit but the European Union could be thanking Greece in a few years’ time. Granted, the mutual appreciation and back slapping seems a distant dream given the current angst over the debt crisis, with Italy becoming the latest euro country to run into trouble almost two years after Greece became the first member of the single currency area to hit a wall. Yet the crisis has made the European Union, and the eurozone countries in particular, re-examine their economic and monetary union. The euro area is experiencing a make-or-break moment and while there are some who fear the consequences of the debt crisis are so wide and deep they will lead to the breakup of the single currency as we know it, there are plenty who believe, and are working on, this period of turbulence being the moment that really makes the euro.

“What we’re witnessing is that the EU and the eurozone are at a turning point,” says Jens Bastian, a senior economic research fellow at the Athens-based think tank ELIAMEP (Hellenic Foundation for European & Foreign Policy). “The debt crisis is not only forcing the 17 eurozone members to pool their resources in an unprecedented manner but also to readjust economic sovereignty. That was unthinkable just a year ago.”

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How Greece inadvertently ducked under the rollover bullet

Ilustration by Manos Symeonakis

When French President Nicolas Sarkozy announced two weeks ago that French banks had agreed to participate in a rollover of Greek debt, it seemed a rare moment of relief in the country’s strained efforts to tackle its fiscal crisis. “The idea is that we won’t let down Greece and that we’ll defend the euro, which is in the interest of us all,” said Sarkozy, reflecting a sense of purpose and unity that the European Union has often lacked over the last 18 months.

However, the French proposal — which we will come to — soared briefly on the wings of hope before crashing into the immovable obstacle of reality. Two days of talks between bankers and insurers last week led to the Paris blueprint largely being discarded. However, the rejection of the French scheme appears to have helped Greece dodge a debt bullet. The more experts scrutinized the French plan, the more they realized it was a seriously flawed proposal that would worsen Greece’s debt problems.

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Memorandum II: The sequel – Dude, where’s my state?

Illustration by Manos Symeonakis

As Greece draws breath after voting for a new package of austerity measures likely to pave the way for another loan agreement with the European Union and the International Monetary Fund, this might be an opportune moment to identify one of the key faults with the first memorandum signed last year. Because, like a Hollywood sequel which follows a dire original, Memorandum II is likely to make us want to look away in horror.

There is plenty in the medium-term fiscal plan, or MTFP as it’s known in sequel speak, about reducing public spending. Greece plans to save more than 14 billion euros by 2015. This means, among other things, that the public sector wage bill will be cut by 770 million euros this year, 600 millon in 2012, 448 million in 2013, 300 million in 2014 and 71 million in 2015.

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Desperately seeking a vote of confidence

Illustration by Manos Symeonakis

Picture the scene: It’s two weeks after you’ve led your party to a disappointing election defeat against a faltering government. A high-profile member of your party is mounting a leadership challenge that will require the party faithful to make a choice. What do you do? Recognize where you and your party have gone wrong and explain how you plan to put it right? No. Instead, you call for a vote of confidence from your MPs, which threatens to tear your party apart.

Fast-forward almost four years and you are now prime minister. Your country is standing on the precipice of economic collapse and your foreign partners — who are for the time being preventing this collapse — are losing faith in you. What do you do? Set out clearly what you want to achieve and how you will achieve it? Convince your own party that there is a clear path toward salvation? No. Instead, you make a bungled attempt to form a government of national unity with an opposition that has no appetite for it, reshuffle your Cabinet to appease wavering deputies and then you call for a vote of confidence.

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