The Greek bailouts were a banking crisis in disguise. In an excerpt of her upcoming book, editor-in-chief, Claire Connelly, explores how Greece took the fall for decades of irresponsible lending by French and German banks. If Greece continues to participate in the European Union, democracy is doomed.
It is somewhat fitting that the birthplace of democracy is now the battle ground for its continued existence.
The cliche of opulence and laziness disguises real Greek misfortune at the hands of the European community – and America – resulting in one of the most offensive punchlines of all time: Somehow Greece deserves the economic disaster wrought upon it, a severity not seen since The Great Depression.
In reality, the country’s long financial crisis is one big deliberate illusion created by some of the world’s largest banks and multinational conglomerates that have sidelined governments and made the rule of law and the will of the people all but irrelevant.
It has prioritised multinational profits over the economic needs of Eurozone countries, and even those outside of the union. With no sovereign currency with which to balance the score, Greece has become utterly subject to France, Germany, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the European Central Bank, (ECB).
The money from the three bailouts did not go to Greece at all and did not restore prosperity – it was never designed to in the first place – but flowed straight back into the coffers of French and German banks whose bad decisions over the last half century became the burden of the Greek people.
Banks never pay for their own mistakes. The European Union was formed – at least in part – to avoid the wars, destruction and barbarism of the 1920s, ‘30s, and ‘40s – but a monetary union with no federal mechanisms and no recourse for exploitation has led to war by other means. (It is no coincidence that fascism has reared its ugly head in Europe’s economically weaker nations while Germany continues to dominate the Eurozone).
If Greece continues to participate in the European Union, democracy is doomed.
The EU was created as an industrial cartel with the sole purpose of diminishing democracy and made the rule of Parliaments all but irrelevant. These technocrats and finance moguls will not simply hand back back their power to Europe.
Greece and its participating Eurozone partners should take the bold decision to leave the EU to save Europe from itself.
The Euro is actually the Deutschmark in disguise
The EU was formed on the condition member states follow a German design.
The European Central Bank (ECB) is headquartered in Germany, and its economy dominates the Eurozone, giving Germany defacto control over the Euro.
The industrial powerhouse accounts for one in every five dollars generated in the European Union. Germany recorded the world’s largest current-account surplus in February, about €270bn (almost $300 billion US), surpassing even China.
It certainly doesn’t hurt that the Deutsch Mark was kept in circulation long after it adopted the Euro in 1999. Germans were able to exchange Deutsch Marks for Euros up until 2002 at an exchange rate of 1.96:1.
Strict rules crafted by Germany during the formation of the monetary union resulted in countries of varying economic strength borrowing at almost the same interest rate as its strongest nations, namely, Germany. The ECB would soon find its balance sheets loaded up with government debts of weaker nations borrowing at the same rate as the stronger ones, putting the entire European banking system at risk. In 2011 French and German banks held nearly €1 trillion of Spanish debts.
The Euro gives Germany an artificially weak currency which may not help the incomes of its people but it has nonetheless been the country’s ticket to prosperity because it keeps the price of exports low and has therefore allowed it to become the world’s second largest exporter, with two thirds going to Eurozone members. The weaker its other Eurozone nations, the more competitive its exports become. This is no way to run a monetary union.
It wasn’t Greece’s debt
The Greek financial crisis was actually a French and German banking crisis for which Greece took the fall, the result of decades of irresponsible spending and lending.
When Greece joined the Euro it went on a spending spree, building roads, airports, new subway systems, infrastructure and a state-of-the-art military arsenal all built and provided by German companies. Companies which, incidentally, have been accused of bribing Greek politicians to secure military and civilian government contracts.
The Euro was designed to limit competition between the industries of member nations while shifting deficits and surpluses around the continent. Greece’s deficits are Germany’s surplus, and so on.
Had Greece still been using the Drachma, it had a chance of keeping its deficits in check, because it could decide on its own how to set interest rates and tax currency, but when replaced with the Euro, French and German loans caused its deficits to explode and it had no option but to accept the terms of its creditors, even though they knew the debt had no chance of being repaid.
Banks – having been bankrupted by the 2008 Global Financial Crisis – stopped lending, and Greece, unable to rollover its debt, became insolvent. As a result, the three French banks which had issued loans to its European nations faced peripheral losses twice the size of its economy.
More to the point, the French and German banks didn’t want the debts to be repaid. But they also didn’t want countries like Italy, Spain, Portugal and Ireland to default.
France’s top three banks had loaned €627 billion to Italy, Spain and Portugal and €102 billion to Greece and were staring down a 30 to 1 leverage ratio, meaning that if it lost only 3.33% of its loans to defaults, its capital would be wiped out and banking regulators would be forced to shut the banks down.
And if Greece defaulted on its debt, the banks were concerned Spain, Italy, Portugal and Ireland would follow, resulting in a 19% loss of French debt assets, far and above the 3% that would lead to its insolvency.
The three French banks needed a €562 billion bailout, but unlike the US which can shift its losses to its central bank, the Federal Reserve, France a) had no such central bank to shift its losses to, having dismantled it in favour of the European Central Bank, and b) the ECB was prohibited upon its formation to shift bad debts onto its books.
Likewise, Germany’s banks also went bust and required a €406 billion bailout – which it received – but it was barely enough to cover its US-based toxic derivative trades which led to the crisis in the first place, let alone what they had leant to their European neighbours. The banks came back begging, mere months after being cut a €406 billion cheque by the German government.
“Greece’s bankruptcy would force the French state to borrow six time its total annual tax revenues just to hand it over to three idiotic banks,” former Greek finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis wrote in his expose of the ‘bailout’ negotiations, Adults In The Room.
Had the markets found out this secret, interest rates would have skyrocketed and €1.29 trillion of French government debt would have gone bad and the country bankrupted, and the EU with it.
German Chancellor, Angela Merkel and (then) French President Nicolas Sarkozy alike knew that asking for more bailout money would have been political suicide.
Greece was used to cover up the lie
The EU’s founding treaty bars it from refinancing government debt. So the IMF was used as a go-between, convinced by (then, director), Dominique Strauss Kahn to bend its rules regarding lending to bankrupt states before its debt is restructured.
Under the guise of refinancing a bankrupt state, more than €1 trillion worth of bailouts were provided to the ailing French and German banks – not by the EU but as a series of bilateral loans from “the European community”, or individual countries – to Greece. Greece “repaid” its “debt” and the money flowed back into the coffers of French and German banks. Along with Greece, the burden of a second bank bailout was lumped onto the shoulders of even more vulnerable countries including Brazil, Indonesia, Portugal, Slovakia, Spain and Ireland. Greece would shoulder the blame in exchange for crippling austerity measures as a way to restructure its debt, while the the European community was totally unaware they were paying for the mistakes of French and German banks. But make no mistake. The Banks, The ECB, the French and German and Greek governments, the troika, they all knew. And they did it anyway.
Had Greece stuck with the drachma, thus preserving its monetary sovereignty, it could have bailed itself out of the crisis by issuing more of its own currency to its debtors while also re-inflating bankrupt industries, providing much-needed income for its citizens.
But by signing away its currency independence it became subject to the political and economic interests not just of France and Germany but of the bureaucrats and politically unaccountable organisations that run the EU.
The Greek crisis highlights the urgent need for a return to national currencies
If 2008 has demonstrated anything it is that financial malfeasance is not only not going to stop, it will only become further legitimised by any government or bureaucracy that believes their systems are too big, important and embedded to fail. For this reason it is essential that citizens of the world have monetary protections against further bad trades.
The ability to issue currency is alone the greatest tool governments have against insolvency.
Either the Euro should be disbanded altogether and the member states return to their currencies of origin, meeting to discuss trade deals that mutually benefit governments, industries and people, or the rules of the European Central Bank need to change.
No country should be brought to its knees by the bad trades of another, least of all its citizens.
Specialising in economics, technology and policy, Connelly is working on her first book and podcast series, How the World Really Works*. (*Title may be due to change). You can pre-order a copy here. #shamelessselfpromotion.
With more than a decade of experience under her belt, Claire has written for leading publications including The Australian Financial Review, The Saturday Paper, ABC, SBS, Crikey, New Matilda, VICE & others. She is the co-host of The Week In Start-Ups Australia, and features regularly as a commentator on TV and radio shows including Radio National's Download This Show, ABC's The Drum, Ten's The Project, and more.
How do you spend your days?
I am the editor-in-chief of Renegade and founder of Hello Humans, a subscription journalism experiment. I also freelance & consult for a number of publications of the editorial and commercial variety.I work from home. I am a bit of a work-hermit. I can mostly be found on the internet and at the dog park.
Why is this important to you?
Now more than ever, it is really important to make sense of the world around us. But in an age of information saturation it is becoming harder to distinguish the truth from bullshit. Part of the reason I am doing this is to help people differentiate between the truth and narratives being sold by people and organisations with vested interests.
I want to help people identify rhetorical red flags and immunise themselves against a sea of bullshit.
What drove you to focus on journalism?
I guess you could say my parents played a fairly big part in my becoming a journalist, much to their despair. Watching the news, reading the paper and listening to the radio was a compulsory activity in my household. My parents read me the paper before I could read.
Being engaged in the world around us was the way we repaid our debt to society.
They channelled the last of their politically active twenties and thirties into fostering our curiosity and distrust of authority. It wasn’t until I reached university that I fell in love with economics, politics and international relations.
Was there a particular moment you can remember that led you to this field?
The day Israeli Prime Minister, Yitzchak Rabin was assassinated, (the 4th of November 1995). I was 10. It was a weekend and I was in my winter school uniform complete with pinafor and scratchy tights. I played clarinet in the school orchestra and we were due to play at the old folks home. And I was pissed. And I said so.
The phone rang, and with tears rolling down her face, my mum turned to me and said the concert had been cancelled. Yitzhak Rabin, the Israeli Prime Minister had been killed.
I threw my stuff down and turned to get changed. But before I could my mum grabbed me firmly. I will never forget the look of disappointment on her face. She made some comment about how Rabin did not die for my convenience.
“You live in this house, you have clothes on your back and warm blankets and three square meals a day. You may not do anything with your education that we pay for, but you will be informed.”
She sat me down in front of the ABC and made me watch eight hours of assassination coverage. Little had I known the world was falling apart.
That day pretty much sealed my fate.
You can read more it here if you are interested.
What drives you professionally?
Justice. Egomania. Curiosity. And the fact there is no other profession more suited to my personality.
In your opinion what are the three biggest problems facing the developed and developing world?
Neoliberalism. Economic and social instability and insecurity. Banking fraud. Climate change. (Ok that’s four things. I never was very good at lists).
If you hadn’t become a journalist what would you have done?
My mum wishes I had studied law.
What led us to this moment in history?
We are living proof of a 30 year operation to permanently reduce the responsibility ofgovernment over the wellbeing of its constituents. You can read more about that here. (Link to neoliberalism piece).
What are the lessons we failed to learn during and since the 2008 crisis?
Austerity is a means of redistributing the profits in of productivity in which we all used to share to the world’s uber-wealthy.
The global financial crisis was one small step for man, one giant leap for the banking industry. It cemented financial crises as a permanent phenomenon and the formalisation of corporate revolution.
It signalled to the world that government exists only to support the private sector, triggering a wave of disillusionment which allowed neoliberalism to complete its task at hand: the complete and utter destruction of democracy, replacing it with a market society in which economics permeates every facet of modern life, from education to healthcare to law & order.
Even the military operates as a for-profit model, conveniently privatising any activity that sits outside the criminal justice system.
Some call the bail-outs of 2008 a failure of neo-liberalism. To the contrary, the private sector attained almost exactly what it set out to achieve: a system with no obligation to true economic recovery, that supports only profits and the corporations which generate them.
We keep voting for wealthy populist leaders thinking the knock-on-effects will put dollars in our pocket when the very opposite is true.
So long as voters continue to accept the mythic propaganda sown over the last 30 years that tax breaks & subsidies create jobs, deficits are bad, surpluses are good and that any instability is somehow the fault of the poor, our economic insecurity will only continue to increase.
Can you list some ‘baby steps’ out of the current economic mess?
A return to full employment.
A royal commission into the continuation of subprime mortgage fraud. (It didn’t go away after the GFC. In fact it was pretty much legalised).
Slash the cost of university degrees & create new pathways for the unemployed and underemployed to attain new skills and education.
Deficit spending to create infrastructure that will create the jobs of the future.
Support local agriculture.
Reduce private debt.
If you were a President / Prime Minister what would your first three pieces of policy be?
A job guarantee.
Re-introduce a price on carbon.
Legalise gay marriage.
Tell us something you have been wrong about?
I didn’t think that in 2017 that gay marriage and abortion would still be illegal in Australia.
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