Fall is on the corner, and it is time to see how well you have been following the different issues taking place over the summer in the transatlantic arena. Take a short quiz and see if you passed.
“I really cannot remember, in all my time in European politics, whether I have come across a situation like this. This is really all about the European Union. If the EU is going to have any credible force, it is going to have to demonstrate it is capable of solving its own problems.” – President Martin Schulz on July 12th, 2015 during the Euro Summit Meeting
Forget about economics, finance, banking regulations, social welfare policies, debt forgiveness; the future of Greece solely depends on politics. “The answer [of endless negotiations on solving the Greek crisis these last five years] cannot be found in economics,” writes Yanis Varoufakis, the former Greek finance minister, “because it resides deep in Europe’s labyrinthine politics.” Greece’s destiny is a simple political question based on several concept: trust and confidence.
After a week long of back and forth between Greece and the European capitals, Brussels is once again the siege of a Greek marathon. A meeting of the Eurogroup finance ministers started on Saturday, July 11th and ended the next day around 3pm. Ensuing it a general EU summit, with the 28 leaders, was supposed to take place, but was instead cancelled and transformed into a crisis summit of the 19 EU leaders of the Eurozone. The future of Greece as a member of the Eurozone was clearly on the line with a very reticent German team (Chancellor Merkel and her Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble proposing an eventual ‘temporary Grexit’).
As reported by the Financial Times, the finance minister negotiations, which were fruitless and tense, let the way to the EU leaders, whom could not do better considering Germany’s position. Until François Hollande, President of France, whom had been extremely active in advising, helping and defending Greece in the last mile, called for a meeting in Tusk’s office. Preisdent Tusk was reported saying “Sorry, but there is no way you are leaving this room” until a deal is reached.
Interestingly enough, Tsipras’ proposal prior the July 11th meeting included: raising the age for retirement; a VAT hike at 23% across sectors; privatization of key sectors of Greek economy; and removal of tax breaks for some Greek islands. These reforms would permit to unlock a third loan package of $59.6bn until 2018. Tsipras’ proposal was highly similar to the one offered by the international creditors. Even Jean-Claude Juncker during the meeting recognized the proposal brought by Tsipras as almost identical to the one put on the table by the creditors weeks earlier. And the President of European Parliament, Martin Schulz, called for avoiding a Grexit and find a solution.
Based on the deal reached on July 13th, the Greek Parliament voted and agreed on July 15th, on the bailout deal, which was approved with a 229-64 majority. However, Tsipras’ party, Syriza, seems to have lost some unity with 32 Syriza MPs defying their leader’s pleas and rejected the deal. Clearly the terms of the bailout are in direct contradiction with Syriza’s policies, beliefs, and promises, as well as sidelining the results of the referendum. These contradictions could push even further the political crisis in Greece and lead to yet another election during the summer.
Chancellor Merkel, the Finish government and others are not convinced about the proposal and especially Greece’s commitment. The Greek drama is taking more than a simple economic/financial turn, it is purely political. It appears that some EU Member States, like Germany, Finland, Slovakia and others, are more inclined to go after Greece and its leftwing government led by Alexis Tsipras, than finding a real deal that would help in the long term the country.
One core reason is trust, or at least ‘lack of trust.’ Some experts have argued that Tsipras was now on Merkel’s black list after his political coup, the referendum. Merkel and others EU leaders do not trust any longer Tsipras and his government. Or even has argued by Yanis Varoufakis, “based on months of negotiation, my conviction is that the German finance minister wants Greece to be pushed out of the single currency to put the fear of God into the French and have them accept his model of a disciplinarian eurozone.”
Death of the European Project?
The Greek file should be considered as an overall failure for the European ethos. Many economists, like Joseph Stiglitz, have been very critical of the negotiation process and the agreed deal. One of the most virulent denunciation of the deal was Paul Krugman, writing that “it’s [the deal] a grotesque betrayal of everything the European project was supposed to stand for.” Even the International Monetary Fund, a global advocate for austerity measures and straightjacket policies, has been critical of the deal calling instead for a huge debt relief for Greece.
Last but not least, Nicolas Gros-Verheyde of Bruxelles2 wonders about a core question: “Is Europe becoming the sum of its egos?” The Greek file embodies more than solving an economic problem, it has become a vicious fight between powerful EU Member States. These egos are affecting their global visions and understandings of the core principles and values of the European endeavor. But right now, the EU is failing at this important crossroad. The EU cannot find a real solution on any major crisis from counterterrorism in Mali, to migration crisis in the Mediterranean, to Ukraine/Crimea, to the domestic rise of nationalism, and naturally Greece. Are politics killing the EU? It certainly looks like it.
(Copyright 2015 by Politipond. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission).
“All of us are responsible for the crisis and all of us have a responsibility to resolve it.” – President Donald Tusk, July 7th, 2015
Greek citizens voted in majority Oxi to the July 5th referendum. The question asked by the Tsipras government, which was campaigning for a ‘no’ vote, was yes or no to accepting a continuation of the bailout program with all the austerity measures coming with it (read here a previous analysis). The results were very clear throughout the country with 61.31% for the no vote and 38.69% for the yes vote (see here the map produced by the Greek Ministry of Interior showing that the no vote won in each Greek region). Greek citizens felt that the best option – out of two bad – was to reject the terms of the bailout on the table. If for a day the discussion was about the meaning of the ‘no’ vote (is it against the EU, the Euro, or simply a desire to remain a member of the Eurozone), today’s reality is about the future of Greece as a member of the Eurozone. So where do Greece and the EU go from now on?
Negotiations and Survival
In less than two days, a succession of events has taken place. For over five years, it seems that the Greek file was dragging, it has certainly taken an all new meaning and urgency. Prior to the results, Chancellor Merkel of Germany was meeting her counterpart, President Hollande, in Paris in order to find a common ground. The day ensuing the political victory of the Tsipras government, the
infamous Greek finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, announced his resignation. Many advanced that Tsipras had to go in order to demonstrate to his European counterparts that Greece was serious in seeking for a viable option. Varoufakis had gone too far and had lost some of his support within the Eurogroup of finance ministers.
Then on Tuesday, an emergency summit meeting took place with no substantial results.
Tsipras was supposed to bring, as highly recommended by the French government, a new proposal. But the summit meeting failed as Athens did not provide an acceptable option. Tsipras has now until Thursday (as requested by Merkel) in order to present a new proposal to his creditors. A failure in finding an agreement could lead to “the bankruptcy of Greece” warned Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council, “and the insolvency of its banking system.” Tusk added that “tonight I [Donald Tusk] have to say it loud and clear — the final deadline ends this week.” On Sunday, as announced by the 19 eurozone countries on tuesday, the 28 EU leaders will be deciding on the future of Greece.
In addition, the New York Times reported that for the first time – at least publicly – the President of the Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, has announced that he has “a Grexit scenario prepared in detail.” If a Grexit scenario is now on the table, Tsipras will be defending his case before the European Parliament on Wednesday morning.
Consequences of Staying in the Eurozone, or Leaving It?
In the middle of the negotiations and in finding a solution, a key player is the European Central Bank (ECB). Currently the ECB is the institution that is keeping the Greek banks alive by providing liquidity. Because today Greece is unable to borrow money on the international market and the Europeans are the one providing money to Greece in order to have its economy and banking systems going. The ECB will continue to do so if a deal is agreed. However, in the case of a break-up, the ECB will remain a central player as it will stop providing liquidity to Greece. In addition, even if Greece missed its first payment of July 1st to the International Monetary Fund of $1.8bn, the second deadline of July 20th to the ECB of $3.8bn will be key for Greece and the EU.
If Greece wants to stay in the Eurozone, they will have to implement a set of policy measures that will require: tax reforms; fixing the pension program, which will affect early retirement program; labor market practices. Once these are ongoing the international and european creditors will have to give meaningful debt relief.
In the case Greece decides to leave, or is expelled from the Eurozone, then it will have to introduce a new currency. The country will ultimately default on their debts, and will have to create its own economic agenda in order to lay down the foundation for future economic growth. This scenario will naturally require serious structural reforms.
If Size does not matter, Precedent does
The Greek case is not about the size of the Greek economy. In fact the Greek economy only represents 2% of the Eurozone GDP. So far it does not appear that a Greek default could take with it the whole Eurozone and send a massive shockwave throughout the global markets. No, the case of Greece is a matter, for the EU and its Member States, of establishing a precedent. Germany and other wealthy Eurozone members want to avoid such precedent, where a member state refuses to pay its debts and call for a national referendum in order to provide such country leverage at the European level. Chancellor Merkel was correct in claiming that Greece is a sovereign state and has the right to organize such a referendum, however what type of legitimacy does that provide the Tsipras government in coming back at the bargaining table?
The Greek referendum is national decision on a complex financial question. But the Greek referendum does not affect the decision of Greece’s creditors. If the vote empowers Tsipras domestically, it does not at the European level. Now, Tsipras has to navigate in these tumultuous waters of a domestic electorate, opposed to additional austerity, while providing a proposal acceptable to his creditors, most of them highly in favor of additional austerity measures. Tsipras seems to be facing a conundrum, either remaining in the Eurozone and what it entails, or leaving the Eurozone, and dealing with the consequences of a default.
In the mid-term, there are many technicalities that need to be figured out if Greece decided to leave the common currency. The legal baseline is the 1992 Maastricht Treaty,
which does not provide any information in order to leave the common currency. In the contemporary European history (aside from the collapse of Habsburg empire), there are no precedents, no rules and no plans in order to leave a common currency. But with a return of the Drachma, the real question for the Greek government will be about the exchange rate between the Drachma and the Euro as all Greek accounts are in Euros. At the end of the day, the Greek savings will be severely devaluated causing massive financial losses.
The Greek drama illustrates the complexity of the unfinished European construction. Since the Treaty of Maastricht of 1992 laying out the current foundations of the European Union, the Member States have avoided any decisions for furthering/deepening the integration process or completely loosening it. Today, if Greece is in such trouble, is certainly because of its domestic problems (high level of corruption and lack of structural reforms), but as well because of an integration à la carte of the Eurozone. At the end of the day, a Grexit or not is only a technicality. The real question is: will the Eurozone members be working once and for all on finalizing a fully integrated and functional Eurozone?
(Copyright 2015 by Politipond. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission).
The EU is stuck for one reason or two, its euro-tic dilemma. The EU is stuck between 1+28 chairs: the European chair (European level) and the National chairs (Domestic forces). The challenges facing the EU can be solved through two types of policies: either through more integrated policies, or through individual/national policies. However, the current status-quo centered around this Euro-ticism is unsustainable in the short-, mid-, and long-term.
Today two pressing issues are facing the EU with serious consequences if left unresolved, the migrant crisis in the Mediterranean Sea and the Greek debt crisis. Both crises are challenging and complex in their root causes, in the policy design to solve them, in the policy implementation, and on top of it the outcomes – positive or negative – will only be visible in the mid- and long-term. Considering the current negotiations process at the EU level due to the institutional design of the EU and the domestic pressures no viable and sustainable long-term solutions can neither be designed nor adopted.
In the case of the migration crisis in the Mediterranean sea, the EU and its 28 Member States are failing in trying to solve the crisis. So far the only solution has been to increase the funding of the EU agency, FRONTEX, by providing more money and capabilities to EUNAVFOR Med. Nevertheless, the CSDP operation does not have a search and rescue mission, only a border management mandate (refer to chart here). So the EU will be patrolling around Italy and Greece in order to assist the member states in the protection of Europe.
The solution seems quite simple, an orchestrated distribution plan between the 28 Member States to accept a number of refugees over a 10 year period by offering them a blue-card (similar to the American green-card) allowing them to integrate and find a job in Europe. Such policy is sustainable and acceptable based on European values and norms. Additionally, it would work as most of the migrants trying to reach Europe are principally composed of members of the middle-class in their home countries destroyed by war, terrorism and
other sorts of crisis.
It is difficult to imagine that neither France nor Germany cannot assimilate 1000 refugees on year basis. Even if this policy could work on the long-term, it would be political suicidal for Chancellor Merkel and President Hollande to come home with such plan. The domestic radical forces (right and left) would build such a front against the leadership that their political parties would not survive another elections.
Grexit or Nothing?
In the case of the Greek debt crisis, the Euro-tic dilemma is once again ever more present. For over five years, the Greek hot potato has been switching hands in Europe. The present crisis, between Prime Minister Tsipras and the Troika (Commission, ECB, and IMF)+Germany, illustrates the euro-tic tension facing the EU and its Member States. Greece is on the verge of defaulting on its debt of €1.5 billion to the IMF on June 30th (some news in the media claim that an agreement will be reached). The
country is dealing with a debt of €130 billion representing 180% of its GDP.
Like the migration crisis, the solution would consist in deepening the integration process of the Eurozone. The Eurozone cannot have several gears with on the one hand the ECB in charge of monetary policy and on the other 19 individual fiscal policies.
In the case of Greece, one solution could be to pool the debts of all Eurozone members, naturally keeping track of the percentage of each national debt. One common debt would allow better interest rates and strengthen the Eurozone. Naturally, most European citizens would feel cheated if their elected officials came back home after agreeing on such policy. The domestic price for such policy choice would be serious for national leaderships.
The solution for Greece is only long-term at the EU and national level. For the EU, the Member States may have to revisit the treaties and address the weaknesses once and for all. This will not happen as most EU leaders are reticent to touch at the treaties – the last one, Treaty of Lisbon, was a continuity of the failed Constitutional Treaty of 2004 -. Several EU Member State’s constitutions require a referendum in order to validate a Treaty. That would probably not pass the domestic vote.
Greece, one of the weakest Eurozone members, is seeking for a ‘silver bullet’ at home. The Grexit seems a possibility – as opposed to five years ago -. Tsipras is now talking with Russia and signed an energy deal with the country, which is under European sanctions. Moscow and Athens deny talks of an eventual financial assistance. Such move by Athens is quite an aberration considering the current sanctions implemented by the EU against Russia for its annexation of Crimea and continuous involvement in the war in Ukraine.
If Greece is in such precarious situation it is because of its recurrent and embedded problem of corruption and mismanagement of money. In order to really make Greece a sustainable EU and Eurozone member, Greece will need to do some serious structural reform and get once and for all ride of corruption. These will take at least a generation.
Euro-tic nightmare, or the end of solidarity
The tension between European and domestic levels has always been present throughout the European construction. So far, it was manageable because of lesser number of Member States, ‘better’ national leadership, and most importantly a continuous economic growth. The 2007 financial crisis changed everything. Solidarity is much easier in time of growth than hardship. Today, domestic public opinions, throughout the Union, feel more comfortable with extreme political parties – see the latest results of elections in Poland and Denmark – calling for a return to inward looking and revisionist policies than with more center political parties unable to govern. Big Member States, like France, are flirting with extreme right and Britain is getting ready for an eventual secession from the Union.
Ultimately, the Union and its national governments are unmanageable. In this period of socio-politico-economico troubles surrounded by serious geopolitical crises and shifts, the European dream of an ‘ever closer union’ seems on the brink of collapse. EU leaders ought to bring more EU into their domestic policies and narratives, and the EU needs to build new bridges towards domestic electorates. Europe is entering a real period of darkness.