Thursday, June 30, 2011

Greece has a choice. Austerity or Bust

For Ollie Rehn to get angry, it has to be serious. The mild-mannered European Commissioner for the monetary union lashed out at Germany for saying there should be a Plan B for the Eurozone if Greece fails to implement a €28bn austerity package.

Luckily for Commissioner Rehn, the vote today in the Greek parliament meant that Greece finally commits to doing something serious to tackle a bloated public sector and inefficient tax and revenues service. Today’s vote was a defining moment for Greece and the Eurozone.

Put simply, without austerity measures Greece misses its debt and deficit targets; if the targets are not met, lenders will not make the quarterly aid payments, if those payments are not made then Greece defaults, if Greece defaults then the ensure Eurozone comes under serious pressure. It’s not just the Greeks that are under pressure – but Germany, France – and even the UK, a country outside the Eurozone and not even part of the latest bail-out – are feeling the pressure too. Greece knows what is at stake for its Eurozone partners which is why it has not simply rolled over straight away but rather held out for better terms and supplementary aid measures.

The €120bn bail-out must work – and it can only work if Greece gets its finances in order. The future of the Eurozone is at stake. Forcing Greece out of the single currency is not the solution. It shouldn’t even be an option. Greece will get some benefit in the long term of a devalued Drachma but there would be turmoil in the meantime. It’s not an option for the Eurozone either. A well-placed source in the Council told me last night that the knock-on effect would be enormous.

David Cameron. The UK Prime Minister got assurances that the European Financial Stability Mechanism will not be used for the bail-out at the European Council last Friday. The UK does not have a veto on how the EFSM is used – even though it has contributed 15% of the fund. However Cameron must be hoping that his decision to walk away from the Greek bail-out doesn’t haunt him. A Greek sovereign default could provide a whole new set of problems for the City of London.

José Manuel Barroso. The Commission President has sweetened the pill with EU structural funds – and done so without raising new money. Only a quarter of the €20bn funds allocated to Greece for the period 2007-2013 has been spent which means there is plenty of EU funds for the next 2 years. He has also pledged money to fund an upgrade of the country’s tax IT infrastructure. Despite criticism that this smacks of nation-building for a third-world country, this initiative is a smart move.

Villains: Antonis Samaris. The Centre-Right party leaders were right to round on Greek opposition leader Antonis Samaris last week. He shouldn’t be playing petty political games.

Angela Merckel: The German Chancellor gets a mention for “kicking the can down the road”. The second bail-out could have been avoided if Germany had forced Greece to take action earlier.

Neither a hero nor a villain in this story, Ollie Rehn is more like a referee between Greece and other Member States. The last time anyone saw Ollie angry was when my colleague, Tobias played against him in Sweden-Finland football game and he was unfairly tackled. Mr Rehn is clearly a big believer in fair play which is good news for all the members of the Eurozone that he needs to keep on-side.


  1. The second bail-out is designed to help Greek people and will definitely succeed. I watched as Merkel and Sarkozy made their joint statement yesterday. It was dotted with phrases like “Markets are worried”, “Investors need reassurance” and packed with the technical language of monetarism. It sounded like a set of engineers making minor adjustments to an unmanned probe about to be launched into space. It was utterly devoid of any sense that at the centre of what was being discussed was the proposed extent of misery, poverty, pain and even death that a sovereign European partner, an entire nation was to endure. In fact most commentators agree, that this second package is designed to do exactly what the first one did: buy more time for the banks, at considerable expense to the Greek people. There is no chance of Greece ever being able to repay its debt – default is inevitable. It is simply servicing interest and will continue to do so in perpetuity.

  2. Have a read of this -

    The media is intent on painting greeks as lazy selfish and violent, wanting the bailout but not the austerity that comes with it. In reality, they want neither. And they can't afford the austerity. Even before the recession, 1 in 5 greeks lived in formal poverty.

    Also, they do not have a bloated public service.

    “In 2005, government employment in Greece amounted to 14% of the
    total labour force, very close to the OECD average.” Source: OECD Comparison of Employment in the Public Domain Survey and Labour Force Survey

    So many lies going around.