By Roberto Savio
In this column, Roberto Savio, founder and president emeritus of the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and publisher of Other News, writes that the purpose of Greece’s third bailout is clear – all but seven percent of the 86 billion euros will go to pay debt with the other European governments, recapitalize Greek banks, pay interest on Greece’s debt and pay the debt of the state with Greek enterprises, while the country’s citizens will see none of it.
SAN SALVADOR, Aug 20 2015 (IPS) – The long saga on Greece is apparently over – European institutions have given Athens a third bailout of 86 billion euros which, combined with the previous two, makes a grand total of 240 billion euros.
“How could any economist, even in the first year of studies, fail to understand that, by cutting consumption and raising taxes you are bound to depress an already depressed economy?”
There is no doubt that the large majority of European citizens are convinced that this is a great example of solidarity, and that if Greece is not now able to walk on its own feet, the responsibility will lie solely with Greek citizens and their government.
But this is only due to the fact that the media system has, by and large, ceased to provide alternative views … and some people even ignore that the bailout is a loan, and therefore increases the country’s debt.
In fact, the productive economy of Greece saw very little of that money because the bailouts were merely financial operations and Greek citizens, not only did not see anything, they have even had to pay a brutal price.
The truth behind the operation has been aptly described by Mujtaba Rahman, the respected chief Eurozone analyst for the London-based Eurasia Group, who said: “The bailout is not really about a growth plan for Greece, but a plan to make sure the European Central Bank (ECB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) get paid, and the euro area does not break up.”
And the purpose of this third bailout is clear. Of the famous 86 billion, 36 billion will go to pay the debt with the other European governments (and first of all Germany). Another 25 billion will go to recapitalize the Greek banks, because much capital left the country, heading for safer European banks. Another 18 billion will go to pay interest on the debt which Greece has been piling up. And, finally, seven billion will go to pay the debt of the state with Greek enterprises.
So, seven will go to the real economy and nothing to the citizens, who will have now to go through several new drastic measures of austerity, which will further depress their standards of living and their ability to spend.
Financially, the bailouts have been a success. All the losses and bad exposure of European institutions have been passed on to Greece. Before the first bailout, French banks were exposed with bad bonds for 63 billion euros, now only for 1.6 billion with no losses. German banks have gone from 45 to five billion.
What is intriguing is that a number of studies show that until the very last moment, when it was widely known that Greece was in deep crisis, European banks and investors continued to buy Greek bonds.
Were they certain that Greece would pay? No, but they were confident that the Greek government would be rescued, and that they would therefore recover their investments, which is exactly what happened.
The financial system has now a life of its own and has nothing to do with real economy, which it dwarfs by being 40 times larger (if we judge by the volumes of daily financial transactions against the production of good and services). Capital is untouchable and circulates freely in Europe, unlike its citizens. And now there is a great wave of legislation to introduce lower taxation for the richest one percent!
During the negotiations, one frequent accusation levelled against the Greeks was that they were unable to have their rich ship-owners pay their share of taxes. Of course, ship-owners place their money where it cannot be reached.
But is this not hypocritical when we know that there are at least two trillion euros stashed in fiscal paradises, and that, just to give one example, nobody has got Ryanair to really pay taxes? Not to mention the fact that when he was prime minister of Luxembourg, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker granted secret tax rebates to over a hundred international companies?
Now Agence France Press has circulated a new astonishing study from the German Leibnitz Institute of Economic Research, which says that Germany has profited from the Greek crisis to the tune of 100 billion euros, saving money through lower interest payments on funds the government borrowed amid investor “flights to safety” and “these savings exceed the cost of the crisis – even if Greece were to default on its entire debt.”
Meanwhile, a large number of studies point out how, by having a positive balance of trade with its European partners, Germany is in fact sucking capital from Europe.
Interpreting the third bailout and its conditions of austerity as a mere economic operation would be to commit a great error.
No economist can believe that Greece will be able to pay back and not only because it has always had a fragile economy, with little industry and with tourism as its main source of income (aggravated by decades of mismanagement and the corruption of its traditional parties, the very parties that European leaders would like to see come back).
Greece is already in recession and now the doubling of VAT is going to compress consumption further, also because there will now be further reductions in pensions and public salaries (which have been already cut by 20 percent). It is widely believed that the Greek debt will now reach 200 percent of its GDP, up from 170 percent prior to the bailout.
How could any economist, even in the first year of studies, fail to understand that, by cutting consumption and raising taxes you are bound to depress an already depressed economy?
Well, it is no coincidence that the IMF, which is the Rotary Club of conservative economists, has refused to join this bailout. The IMF has said it will not put in any money unless European creditors (which is a diplomatic way of saying Germany) accept a restructuring of the Greek debt.
It is clear that the bailout has not been a technical but a political operation. Many European leaders, starting with Juncker himself, intervened in last month’s internal Greek referendum, asking Greeks to vote against Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras. They indicated clearly and openly, in a campaign that the Wall Street Journal repeated in the United States, that the revolt against austerity and the neoliberal economy should be stopped dead in its tracks to avoid political contagion.
For her part, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has declared on German television that she has come to the conclusion that °Tsipras has changed°. This has an air of dejà vu … was it not then British Prime Margaret Thatcher who, intent on destroying the trade unions, launched her famous TINA slogan – There Is No Alternative?
And is there no alternative to this kind of Europe? (END/COLUMNIST SERVICE)
Edited by Phil Harris
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS – Inter Press Service.