Thursday, October 20, 2011

Greece at its Limit

It seems that the ECB's thirst for austerity-punishment for Greece has not yet been fully slaked. From the FT:

Troika warns time running out for Greece

Greece should get its next €8bn in international aid, but its economic outlook is deteriorating so rapidly that the second bail-out plan, agreed just three months ago, is no longer adequate to keep Athens afloat, international lenders have determined.

The findings are part of a highly anticipated report by the so-called troika of Greek lenders – the European Commission, International Monetary Fund, and European Central Bank – and sent to eurozone countries on Thursday morning. The Financial Times obtained a copy of the report.

...Part of the reason for the delay is a standoff between two of the members of the troika – the IMF and ECB – over whether Greece can keep paying its debts without taking more stringent austerity measures. The ECB has taken a tougher line, while the IMF has urged more leniency.
The Greek parliament just passed the previously agreed-to package of tax increases and spending cuts. But I am willing to bet that it is the very last round of austerity measures that Greece will be able to enact. Here are excerpts from Gavin Hewitt's gripping column from yesterday:

Athens erupts over austerity cuts

Athens was expecting violence. The expectation of it hung in the air. It is all people have spoken of in recent days. Even tourist hotels some distance from the parliament were boarding up. As a 48-hour general strike took hold shopkeepers were hammering in place steel shutters. The fear that emerged in hushed conversations was that there could be serious casualties. Such is the rage, the frustration that has built over months.

...I joined some students heading for the parliament. They are outraged that schools have a shortage of books. One young man said to me that he was not prepared to see decades of social progress sacrificed to satisfy the European Union and the IMF. Some waved banners with Che Guevara's picture. Then the column stopped, and from the left marched builders, arms linked, carrying poles with red flags on top. They walked with purpose. They have seen the construction industry collapse.

Then metal workers and teachers. It seemed at times as if the whole city was on the move. ...Marches and skirmishes soon became running battles across the capital But the numbers kept coming; great rivers of protesters.

...And with the marchers came young men and women in black hoods and masks. They began tearing at a wire fence that the police had slung across the road at the side of the parliament.

When eventually the police lost patience and fired the first tear gas grenade, the sound echoed across Syntagma Square and the crowd cheered.

There is a sense here that this is the key battle if spending cuts and wage increases are to be defeated.

Then skirmishes became running battles. Some of the anarchists had petrol bombs that snaked through the air falling around the riot police. They replied with volleys of tear gas and stun grenades.

...Europe's leaders had insisted that in exchange for bailing Greece out, it had to slash its deficit. The Greek foreign minister told me on Tuesday that no European country had ever tried such cuts in such a short space of time.

But seeing the vast numbers on the street, the government ministries occupied, the violence, it has to be asked whether Greece can impose these new austerity measures.

And if it can't, will the EU and IMF go ahead with the next tranche of bailout money. The so-called troika (the EU, IMF, the ECB) is delivering its report this week. Without the next 8bn euros ($11bn; £7bn) Greece will be unable to pay its bills within weeks.

But the mood has hardened here. There is less fear of default.

The finance minister said on Wednesday that "what the country is going through is really tragic".
Greece will continue to miss the deficit targets set by the troika. The ECB can continue to demand that Greece raise taxes and cut spending by even more, but further austerity-punishment will not help. At some point very soon Germany is going to have to make a simple decision: does it, for its own self-interest, come up with the money needed to fix this crisis, irrespective of what's happening in Greece; or does it say no, and elevate the crisis by an order of magnitude. I wish I had confidence in the answer.

UPDATE: Lifted from the comments:

petercorner: I can't help but notice the parallels between the Versailles treaty reparations, and what the [ECB] wants from Greece - to quote Keynes:
"The policy of reducing Germany to servitude for a generation, of degrading the lives of millions of human beings, and of depriving a whole nation of happiness should be abhorrent and detestable -- abhorrent and detestable, even if it were possible, even if it enriched ourselves, even if it did not sow the decay of the whole civilised life of Europe."


  1. Anonymous2:08 PM

    I'm sorry for Greece, but I don't see that the Germans will increase their help very much. The people were never asked if they wanted the Euro, and if they had been asked, probably they would have rejected it. And now with all that huge rescue packets the constitution court set a limit, that further help packets needed a referendum, since another packet would seriously restrict future parliaments in their decisions.

    So i guess Merkel is not really the limiting factor, it is the people. She can't govern against the german people unlimited. And the germans never profited from the Euro, they had to go through a very difficult phase during the first 10 years. Maybe the company leader see the advantages, but not the ordinary people. There are quite many people nowadays in germany who get 30% less income then they had 5 or 10 years ago. So don't expect too much from Germany.

  2. Anonymous3:11 PM

    Totally agree with last paragrph. But the Germans are known for their "Grundlichkeit" and mrs. Merkel seems to be an exponent of that. So expect (again) to little to late.

  3. dilbert dogbert5:47 PM

    The Europeans have to decide if they want to be Europeans or just fragments as Germans, French, English you name it.  We had one horrific civil war that settled the issue, no matter what governor Good Hair says.  We were young and mostly of one culture and Europe is many cultures and old old old.  The two horrific civil wars of last century should have settled the issue but I guess not.

  4. petercorner5:30 AM

    I can't help but notice the parallels between the Versailles treaty reparations, and what the IMF wants from Greece - -to quote Keynes
    "<span>The policy of reducing Germany to servitude for a generation, of degrading the lives of millions of human beings, and of depriving a whole nation of happiness should be abhorrent and detestable,--abhorrent and detestable, even if it were possible, even if it enriched ourselves, even if it did not sow the decay of the whole civilised life of Europe."</span>

  5. VerySeriousSam5:58 AM

    The Greek government promised their creditors much and delivered almost nothing yet.

    Most of the cuts the people are protesting against are at present mere announcements.

    None of the selling of state owned companies happened yet.

    And none of the improvements in tax collection are realised so far.

  6. <span>Yes, its really like the Versailles treaty, germans have never paid for the destructions they made in Europe during the two world wars, and many of them are ready to break europe for short term money.</span>

  7. Gustavo7:48 PM

    over indebtedness is a big issue, but lack of competitiveness and unemployment is the root problem and it is not going to get fixed with debt haircuts. 
    Argentina 2001... 22 people died for the peg to end and a debt default to happen.

  8. Mayra6:02 AM

    <span>That is a bad joke (from you)</span> >:o
    Salary and pensions straight cuts are very real. Raise of taxes too.
    You are not very serious AT ALL!!!!

  9. Mayra6:03 AM

    <span>Well, just ask Germas to pay what they SHOULD HAVE PAID to Greece 60 years ago and that will be all.

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