Post originally appeared on The Automatic Earth blog.
Greece paid off the IMF yesterday with its IMF reserves. Is that a big deal? Whatever you may want to read into this, it’s been obvious for years that Greece needs major debt restructuring if it wants to move forward and have a future as a country -let alone a member of the eurozone-. Instead, the EU/troika anno 2010 decided to bail out German and French and Wall Street banks (I know there’s an overlap)- instead of restructuring the debts they incurred with insane bets on Greece and its EU membership- and put the costs squarely on the shoulders of the Greek population.
This, as I said many times before, was not an economic decision; it was always entirely political. It’s also, by the way, therefore a decision the ECB should have fiercely protested, since it’s independent and a-political and it can’t afford to be dragged into such situations. But the ECB didn’t protest. And ever since the deed was done, Brussels presents it as if it were as unavoidable as Noah building the Ark. It’s not. It’s still just another decision to put banks before people.
And in this case the people have come out on the very short end of a very long stick. That’s what the Greek discussions have been about ever since Syriza was elected, with a substantial majority, to be the government in Athens. And no matter how many times how many people may claim Greece lived above its means for years, it’s obvious that the unemployed and the hungry children and the elderly without health care did not.
The troika says they bailed out the Greek people. The Greek people say only 8-9% of that bailout ever went to them, with the rest going to cover the losses of international systemic banks, and to the utterly corrupt previous Greek political and economic elites, which, coincidentally, the troika was only too happy to strike deals with, so much so that on the eve of the election Greeks were urged to vote the same elites into power once more, even if they were demonstrably to blame for the downfall of the Greek economy.
The troika wants the Syriza government to execute things that run counter to their election promises. No matter how many people point out the failures of austerity measures as they are currently being implemented in various countries, the troika insists on more austerity. Even as they know full well Syriza can’t give them that because of its mandate. Let alone its morals.
It’s a power game. It’s a political game. It always was. But still it has invariably been presented by both the international-press and the troika as an economic problem. Which has us wondering why this statement by ECB member and Austrian central bank head Ewald Nowotny yesterday, hasn’t invited more attention and scrutiny:
The Greek problem is more a political question than an economic one, a member of the European Central Bank said Monday. Discussions with political parties such as Greece’s left-wing Syriza and Spain’s Podemos may be refreshing by bringing in new ideas, “but at the end of the day, they must [end in] results,” ECB member Ewald Nowotny said, adding discussions are “not about playing games.”
The central banker declined to speculate on how to solve Greece’s financial problem saying the issue “is much more a political question than an economic question.” Mr. Nowotny also doesn’t see the ECB’s role as creating a federalized financial government inside the euro zone. “We cannot substitute the political sphere,” he said.
That seems, from where we’re located, to change the discussion quite a bit. Starting with the role of the ECB itself. Because, for one thing, and this doesn’t seem to be clear yet, if the Greek problem is all politics, as the central bank member himself says, there is no role for a central bank in the discussions. If Greece is a political question, the ECB should take its hands off the whole Greek issue, because as a central bank, it’s independent and that means it’s a-political.
The ECB should provide money for Greece when it asks for it, since there is no other central bank to provide the lender of last resort function for the country. Until perhaps Brussels calls a stop to this, but that in itself is problematic because it would be a political decision forced on an independent central bank once again. It would be better if the ‘union’, i.e. the other members, would make available what Greece needs, but they -seem to- think they’re just not that much of a union.
In their view, they’re a union only when times are good. And/or when all major banks have been bailed out; the people can then fight over the leftover scraps.
The IMF has stated they don’t want to be part of a third Greek bailout. Hardly anyone seems to notice anymore, but that makes the IMF a party to political decisions too. Lagarde et al claim they can’t loan to countries that don’t take the ‘right’ measures, but who decides which measures are the right ones? What’s more, how does the IMF, in that vein, explain the recent loans to Ukraine? Is Kiev doing better than Athens from an economic point of view? Or is this just us sinking into a deepening political quagmire?
Moreover, if we take Mr. Nowotny on his word, why are there still finance ministers and economists involved in the Greek issue negotiations? Doesn’t that only simply lead to confusion and delay? Every single news outlet in the world has taken over German FinMin Schäuble’s comment that Greece should have a referendum if they want, and that maybe that would clarify matters.
But that is not something for Schäuble to comment on, no more than it would be for Greek FinMin Varoufakis to suggest a referendum in Germany. While everyone would consider the latter preposterous, the same everyone takes the former serious. That’s power politics for you, and a press that’s lost track of its position in the world. A press that’s turned into a propaganda mechanism for whoever’s in charge at any given moment in time.
If the Greek issue is now, or perhaps has always been, an overwhelmingly political one, as Nowotny suggests, why do we still have Varoufakis and Dijsselbloem (who only has a degree in agricultural economics, whatever that may be) and former German secret service head Schäuble, discussing matters? After all, why would you leave political issues up to your finance ministers to discuss? That’s not their field.
If it’s all political, shouldn’t it be the political leaders, Merkel and Juncker and Tsipras, talking instead? Something tells us that might not be such a bad idea in any case. Certainly by now. If the ECB itself already says it’s not about money…