Tag Archives: European Central Bank

The Greek patient

“I hope and want Greece to remain in the eurozone,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said during her visit to Athens last week, before suggesting that everything – from the next bailout instalment to any possible initiatives to pull the country out of its economic tailspin – were dependant on the content of the soon-to-be published report by the troika.

It was hardly an unqualified endorsement of Greece but was absolutely in keeping with the piecemeal approach Europe’s key decision makers have adopted during this crisis. They’ve hooked Greece up to the IV while they try to find a cure for the illness ailing the whole of the eurozone. As the days roll on, the next drip – the troika review – takes on paramount importance. It has become a matter of life and death. So, it should be of urgent concern to all those involved that at this crucial juncture, the troika’s medical credentials are in serious doubt.

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The Greek crisis: an economic problem, not a moral quandary

Like clockwork, crucial talks between Greece and its lenders have been prefaced by a gaggle of European politicians questioning Athens’s commitment to its bailout targets and its place in the eurozone. Accusations have ranged from a Greece being a “bottomless pit,” to the government, in place for about two months, lacking the will to implement the troika’s program. There has even been a suggestion — if reports are correct — that Athens has failed to cut wages and public spending.

Misdirection, misinformation and downright lies have never been in short supply since Greece’s debt crisis began. Some of the recent comments about Greece have slotted into this regular pattern. Greece can be justly criticized about the slow pace of reforms but there is no basis for raising doubts about its efforts to meet — albeit haphazardly — the fiscal targets set by the European Commission, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund.

To suggest that Greece is in a constant struggle to meet the troika’s fiscal goals because of indifference rather than due to the deteriorating state of the economy or because of the political difficulty of passing unprecedented — by eurozone standards — austerity measures is pure subterfuge. There is little evidence to back up such a claim. Even a cursory glance at the economic indicators proves that Greece has cut both wages and public spending. It may have fallen short in other areas, but in terms reducing expenditure, there can be no doubt that Greece is doing its bit.

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Role reversal in the Greek crisis

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

So, let’s get this straight: When Antonis Samaras was the leader of New Democracy in opposition, he resisted the terms of the EU-IMF bailout to such an extent that it destabilized one government and checked the progress of another. When Evangelos Venizelos was finance minister, he opposed the austerity measures demanded by the troika but found that he had to abandon his theoretical objections when faced with the real intransigence of Greece’s lenders.

A few months on and Samaras — now prime minister — is having to accept a new round of spending cuts to satisfy the troika, while Venizelos — now PASOK leader — is the one arguing that further austerity will exacerbate the recession, even though he approved the size of the cuts when he was finance minister.

Confused? It doesn’t stop there. For the last two-and-a-half years, no top representative of the eurozone or International Monetary Fund has visited Greece. Over the past few days, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso has been to Athens and Eurogroup chief Jean-Claude Juncker has made plans to visit on August 22.

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For Greece, ECB = End Close, Beware

The European Central Bank’s decision on Friday to stop accepting Greek government bonds as collateral was not the first such move made by Frankfurt but there was something distinctly ominous about the timing and implications of its choice.

“The ECB will assess their potential eligibility following the conclusion of the currently ongoing review, by the European Commission in liaison with the ECB and the IMF, of the progress made by Greece under the second adjustment program,” the central bank said.

The ECB has twice before this year refused Greek banks the ability to use government bonds to draw much-needed liquidity. The first was after the bond restructuring, or PSI, and the other was before the start of the bank recapitalization process. In both cases, Greek banks were excluded and had to rely on Emergency Liquidity Assistance (ELA) to gain access to funds. They have reportedly drawn more than 60 billion euros this way.

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Mythmakers and problem solvers

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

A few years ago, Greece’s slogan for attracting tourists was “Live your myth in Greece.” The onset of the economic crisis seems to have given license to some people to make up their own myths about Greece. At regular intervals since 2009, they have ignored the complexities and various – domestic and international – causes of the Greek crisis to boil it down to a stodge of clichés, stereotypes, falsehoods and misinterpretations (accidental and deliberate).

It was alarming to hear an intelligent man like European Central Bank executive board member Joerg Asmussen apparently became the latest member of this burgeoning group of politicians, policy makers, journalists and experts engaging in mythmaking. “It is difficult to convince people in countries like Estonia and Slovakia, where the average wage is 1,000 euros to lend to a country where the average wage in the public sector is about 3,000 euros,” he is reported to have told an audience at the Economist conference in Athens earlier this week.

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