Tag Archives: Greece

Greece’s Debt Problems

Greece Moves Closer to a Eurozone Exit

Once again Greece stands at the exit door of the Eurozone (EZ). In the past Greece’s possible exit had been discussed in hushed and guarded terms. The conversations behind the public displays of support for Greece indicated a growing impatience with the country’s failure get its finances in order. Quietly European leaders and financial institution have considered different scenarios that might result from a Greece exit from the EZ. United States banks and American financial companies have moved to limit their exposure  if Greece defaults. Hundreds of lawyers and financial advisers are reviewing legal documents and agreements in effort to protect their American clients’ interests. A Greek default would cause a wave of litigation which US companies hope would be heard under New York State or British law and the cases heard in friendly venues. More importantly; the banks do not want to be repaid in devalued currencies or worthless drachmas.

I have always argued that the EZ should not become involved in expensive and futile rescue attempts of the Greek economy.

Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras recently traveled to Germany and France for consultations with his counterparts over Greece’s implementation of the agreed upon austerity measures. The Greek leader’s coalition government was only formed upon the agreement that the country would renegotiate the terms of the bailout agreement(s).  Most Greeks are weary of the imposed austerity measures that were agreed to in exchange for having their economy rescued from default. The recent Greek presidential election was a protest vote against the austerity measures. Though the leaders of the more economically stable EZ countries have voiced support for Greece’s plight, there has never been much hope that the bloc would renegotiate  the bailout agreement. PM Samaras’ was tasked with requesting from his counterparts a two-year extension for Greece to carry out the required cost cutting. The measures are needed to qualify for the next 33.5bn-euro installment of its second 130bn-euro bailout. With the EZ teetering on the brink of another recession and other EZ members requesting bailouts, it might not have been the best time for Greece to ask for its money without having complied with the terms of the agreements.

The first high level meeting on PM Samaras’ schedule was with German Chancellor Merkel. The Greek leader had to appreciate the difficulty of his task in convincing the Germans to give his country more time to comply with the terms of the bailout agreement(s). Chancellor Merkel is credited with having successfully argued for the EZ’s austerity measures strategy of resolving the Europe’s debt crisis. After the meeting the two leaders held a joint new conference. PM Samaras stated the following in front of a gathering the international press:

“Greece will stick to its commitments and fulfil its obligations. In fact, this is already happening…We’re not asking for more money…(Greece) needed time to breathe”.

The German response did not surprise anyone; no decision would be made on Greece’s request nor would additionally funds be released until the Trioka’s September report has been received and reviewed. Chancellor Merkel reiterated her emotionally empty support for Greece’s continued membership in the EZ.  She expressed Germany’s position in clear and concise terms:

“For me, it’s important that we all stand by our commitments, and in particular await the [publication of] the troika report, to then see what the result is…But I will encourage Greece to follow the path of reform, which demands a lot of the Greek people.”

Some experts suggest that Ms. Merkel spoke in conciliatory terms  to prepare Germans for continued financial support for Greece. I disagree with this interpretation of her comments. Volker Kauder who is the leader of Chancellor Merkel’s political party stated that he had not problem with Greece exiting the EZ. The comments from leaders and financial experts, taken together, indicate that the Germans have grown resentful of mortgaging their future to rescue the economies of other member nations.

PM Samaras next arrived in France for face to face consultations with French President Hollande. The Greek leader again requested a two-year extension for Greece to implement the necessary cost cutting measures. I am sure that PM Samaras believed that President Hollande would be more understanding of Greece’s plight. President Hollande was recently elected to his office based on a platform of promoting growth versus cost cutting and austerity measures. The French leader expressed understanding for Greece’s difficulties but indicated that the country must carry out the austerity measures. President Hollande also said that any decision on Greece’s request would have to await until the September report of the Troika. It is a given that the Troika’s report will conclude that Greece has not made any real progress on implementing the requested measures. The Greeks must realize that they, likely, will not receive any more bailout funds.  

During his trip to Germany and France PM Samara’s failed to get any meaningful concessions for his tired and angry countrymen. It is inconceivable to me that he would have expected to receive more time to put Greece’s finances in order and, at the same  time, received additional bailout funding. His mission was doomed to fail from the start. It must be remembered that his coalition government is built upon Greek resistance and anger to the austerity measures.  The massive street protests cannot be explained away as isolated incidents of discontent. The Greek PM had to go to Germany and France on his hands and knees to ask for some breathing room. It is possible that Samara’s government will not withstand the failure to get concessions from the EZ. On the other hand Greece’s exit from the EZ is now a done deal.

Continued Problems for the Eurozone and Greece

This past week German Chancellor Angela Merkel received some good news in her battle to save the EZ. The German Federal Constitutional Court , a highly respected institution in Germany, ruled in favor of the chancellor’s power and right to take part in bailouts of debt ridden EZ members. An interest group who opposed the  bailout of Greece filed the case that was decided. The Court’s ruling did not give the Chancellor a complete victory.  The Court held that the Chancellor had to seek the Bundestag’s (legislature’s) approval for  any future bailouts. Still, Chancellor Merkel hailed the decision as an endorsement of her policy to use German resources to save the Euro. I disagree with the Chancellor’s interpretation of the Court’s decision. The German head of state must understand that the Court issued a legal ruling and not a political statement supporting the bailouts. The decision  does not address the merits of the Chancellor’s decisions, policies  or actions relative to the bailouts.  Unfortunately, the Chancellor’s political fortunes are tied to the success or failure of the already issued bailouts. I doubt that there will be any more large bailouts in the future.

The week’s bad news for Chancellor Merkel was that Greece had not yet taken any affirmative steps to carry out the agreed upon austerity measures. Greece’s failure to follow EZ indicts hastens the demise of the financial organization.

In a earlier posting I argued against a financial bailout of Greece’s economy.  In a later post I warned that continued financial help to Greece would lead to the collapse of the EZ. I did not understand the logic behind promising to lend more money to Greece before it took any real steps to implement the required austerity measures. In the past Greece had failed to carry out agreed upon austerity measures. Why would the EZ leaders think that this time Greece would (or could) start to organize its finances? I posed the simply question; what would the EZ do if Greece failed to carry out (again) the austerity measures?  I think that Chancellor Merkel has to now face her worst nightmare and consider the possibility of this eventuality.

This week EZ leaders expressed their dismay with the lack of progress Greece had made in implementing the austerity measures. Evangelos Venizelos, Greece’s finance minister, defended his government’s efforts to comply with the EZ’s budgetary package. He asserted that Greece’s relationship with the troika, experts and monitors from the EU, IMF and ECB, were on an even keel. Yet, it is widely known that the troika suspended its latest monitoring mission to Greece. It is believe that the leaders of these groups are frustrated by Greece’s foot dragging and excuses. Now Greece seeks to delay the implementation of many of the agreed upon reforms. Experts are now predicting that Greece will miss its deficit target unless it immediately slashes spending.

Peter Spiegal, Brussels Bureau Chief of the Financial Times, recounts his conversations about Greece with attendees at this year’s Ambrosetti  conference. The workshops and forums were held in Northern Italy from September 2 2001 and concluding on September 4, 2011. Mr. Spiegal expressed surprise that many attendees were willing to discuss the possibility that Greece might not continue as a member in the EZ. He stated in the interview that many  of the attendees now believe that it might be necessary to force Greece out.  The Brussels Chief said that six months ago many people would not have considered this a possibility. You can see the video of Mr. Spiegal’s interview on his conversations with attendees at the Ambrosetti conference.

In another related development the chief of the International Monetary Fund, Christine Lagard, urged policy makers of the Group of 7 to take bold and joint action to curb the global economy crisis. She set the stage for the finance ministers’ meeting in France. Ms. Lagard correctly described  the world as “collectively suffering from a crisis of confidence in the face of a deteriorating economic outlook.” The IMF chief specifically alluded to the EZ countries that had already received EU and IMF rescues. Ms. Lagarde said publically what most leaders and experts are privately saying; Ireland, Portugal and Greece shoulder the burden of meeting their deficit targets. Her subtle though firm message was that these countries would not receive any further financial help.

Against the back drop that Greece was not implementing the austerity measures, the G-7 finance ministers and central bank governors met in Marseilles France. Their two-day meeting did not produce a joint strategy for jump starting their stalled economies. Actually the meeting failed to produce any tangible or meaningful results. Just like the EZ the G-7 consists of nations that have divergent sovereign interests that prevent unity of purpose and action. The G-7 meeting concluded on a note of resignation  and unfulfilled promises.