Nicholas Levis reports from Greece – JUNE 21, 2015

Nicholas Levis

Nicholas Levis

I attended the pro-Syriza rally last Thursday, and ended up having drinks with Paul Mason! Yes, with ND taking the streets for the first time, the pro-austerity rally on Friday was bigger, based on the pictures. (If you saw their signs in English, the joke making the rounds is that the rally was sponsored by Google Translate. For Greeks: Τόρα τους λέμε Μενουμευρωπαίους.)

Anti austerity Protest

Anti austerity Protest

But there was not much difference. Both rallies were well under 10,000. Both looked like unusually middle-aged crowds for demos. Youth may seem largely indifferent, but it’s unimaginable that with 50% unemployment among them for years they feel any stake in favoring austerity. The danger is that the government has not been inspiring people and the general sense is some rotten deal is coming.

It has impressed me that people are not generally acting or talking as if the banks might be closed tomorrow. Yakkety-yak on trains and buses, small talk I overhear among Greeks at the university, is almost all stink-normal stuff. Nothing about the crisis except as a kind of weather. Perhaps there is a popular overload after all these years of the same shit. People have told me (and I’ve also heard it on the TV talk rounds) that Tsipras/Varoufakis have already signed Memorandum III with the Troika and everything happening on the news is just theater. Others, meanwhile, think Tsipras made a secret deal with Russia/BRICS.

In any case, about a billion a day are being withdrawn from Greek banks, says the news. The Greek central bank (under leadership appointed by ND the week before the election) joined the ECB in stoking panic about a bank run. Naked threats. Today the monthly Avgi poll shows increased support for the government’s course and has prompted complaints from ND. There’s a lot of talk, but it’s all talk so far, about the IMF being cut out of tomorrow’s Eurogroup talks in preparation for a separate deal with the EU. The IMF in particular is being blamed as the architects of the memoranda and austerity policy.

All last week I’ve been watching the Vouli (Parliament) channel, which I’ve taken to calling Zoe TV, because she really is a star. If I might be allowed a bit of hero worship! The Debt Truth commission and a separate one on the events of 2010 have been covered round the clock. There is an oft-played commercial from Spain, of people in various city squares reading a message of solidarity in Greek and repeating that the debt is odious and should be written off. The truth commission, as you all know, has pretty much called it all odious, and you can find their report online. The 2010 commission has had testimony from economists who were employed by ELSTAT (the Greek statistics bureau) at the time, who are presenting a new story about what happened. According to this, the sudden spike in debt and deficit after the election of Little Georgie Papandreou was not simply a discovery of crooked deals that had been kept off the books by the prior governments, as was claimed, and as we’ve believed. On the contrary, the commission is finding that under the direction of EUROSTAT and the ministry, the ELSTAT economists were forced to violate EU accounting rules in force since 1995 to make the deficit look much bigger than it was, through a variety of tricks. They were let go soon after. So what proportion of the spike was because of prior camouflage to meet Maastricht criteria and what was fabricated by crooked accounting on the spot is not clear. Either way, big lies were employed to make the crisis much worse.

The message appears to have finally sunk in here and internationally, as we have known all along, that there was never a bailout – that 90% of the new debt went into the rescue of European banks, and never reached the Greek economy. German taxpayers were tapped to bail out German banks, and Greeks were made responsible for paying it back even as the austerity program (intentionally) shrank the economy made it impossible for them to sustain payments.

The 2010 committee’s testimony prompted conniptions later on the floor from Loverdos, the PASOK politician whom you may remember as one of the ministers behind the disgusting election maneuver in 2012 detailed in the great film by Zoe Mavroudi, Ruins. (The police rounded up hundreds of women at random on the street, gave them forced HIV tests, and charged those who tested positive on assault, on the basis of this crazy story about prostitutes luring good Greek family fathers – hundreds of them, none of whom ever appeared – so as to intentionally give them AIDS.)

Samaras is trying to get Potami and PASOK to hold a leadership summit, and it’s reported that he’s met behind the scenes with the former prime minister and originator of neo-liberal economics in Greece, Simitis (who got out early enough that his shit supposedly doesn’t stink), who has a Greek-German background and is seen as a backchannel. Oh, and more bullshit is flying about how Merkel and Schäuble are split. No problem in finding either narrative: EU about to fold in terror of euro breakup, EU absolutely iron in its determination to cause the Syriza government to fall as the only priority.

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Greek Parliament: Konstantopoulou Calls Debt Audit Commission

Why Should the Greek Debt Be Audited?

Zoe Konstantopoulou (centre) with Eric Toussaint (right).

Zoe Konstantopoulou (centre) with Eric Toussaint (right).

By Eric Toussaint, translated by Christine Pagnoulle and Vicki Briault
Committee for the Abolition of Third World Debt (CADTM)

March 21, 2015 — The president of the Greek parliament, Zoe Konstantopoulou, has set up a commission to audit the Greek debt and has asked me to play an active part in it. I have accepted the role to assume its scientific coordination.

This commission was launched on March 17, 2015, in Athens. |1| Recently the Athens correspondent for Le Monde wrote,

The Speaker of the parliament promised she would set up a commission to audit the Greek debt in the coming weeks, aimed at finding out whether part of the Greek public debt is odious, illegal or illegitimate. She declared, “People have a right to demand that the portion of the debt that the commission finds to be illegal be cancelled”. |2|

Such is the intricate context in which I write.

Without claiming to be exhaustive, we can propose the following definitions:

Illegitimate public debt: debt that was contracted by a government without considering the public interest or undermining the general interest.

Illegal debt: debt contracted in violation of the current legal or constitutional system.

Odious public debt: loans to authoritarian regimes or granted on conditions that violate the social, economic, cultural, civic, and political rights of the people concerned.

Unsustainable public debt: debt that can only be paid back with dire consequences for the people such as a dramatic degradation of its living conditions, of health care and education, an increase in unemployment. In short, debt that undermines basic human rights. In other words, debt whose repayment makes it impossible for governments to provide basic human rights.

Paragraph 9 of Article 7 of Regulation No 472/2013 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 21 May 2013 (which strongly undermines the sovereignty of the member States that have to implement adjustment policies) maintains that States subject to structural adjustment should carry out a complete audit of public debt in order to explain why indebtedness increased so sharply and to identify any irregularities. Here is the text in full:

A Member State subject to a macroeconomic adjustment programme shall carry out a comprehensive audit of its public finances in order, inter alia, to assess the reasons that led to the building up of excessive levels of debt as well as to track any possible irregularity. |3|

The Greek government under Antonis Samaras refrained from applying this regulation so as to hide from the Greek population, the real reasons for the increase in debt and the irregularities linked to it. In all, about 30 Greek and International experts will take part in the commission and a preliminary report is expected in June. Citizen participation is fundamental to a rigorous and independent audit process.

Here are some key points that could be revealed by carrying out an audit:

Greek debt, which was at 113% of GDP in 2009 before the onset of the Greek crisis and the intervention by the Troika, which now holds 4/5 of total debt, reached 175% of GDP in 2014. We therefore see that the Troika intervention was followed by a very considerable increase in Greek debt.

Between 2010 and 2012, the loans that the Troika granted to Greece were very largely used to repay its most important creditors at that time, mainly the private banks of the principal European economies, starting with the French and German banks. |4| In 2009, some 80% of Greek public debt was held by the private banks of seven EU countries. Fifty percent was held by French and German banks alone. In a recent ARTE documentary |5| Paulo Nogueira Batista, one of the IMF’s executive directors, claims that all IMF board members knew that the loan was actually intended to save the French and German banks not Greece. |6|

Philippe Legrain, advisor to the president of the European Commission José Manuel Barroso in 2010 when the Troika granted its loan, specifies that “IMF decision makers were overruled by the IMF managing director of the time, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who was then running for the French presidency and consequently wanted to prevent French banks from facing losses. Similarly German banks had persuaded Angela Merkel that it would be terrible if ever they should lose money. So the Eurozone governments decided to pretend that Greece was only facing temporary problems.” They had to bypass “an essential principle in the Maastricht Treaty, namely the no-bail out clause. The loans to Athens were not intended to save Greece but the French and German banks that had been foolish enough to grant loans to an insolvent State.”

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