Tuesday, February 24, 2015
In the spirit of the popular mandate for a break with the memorandum regime and liberation from debt, the Greek side entered negotiations rejecting the extension of the current “program,” agreed to by the Samaras government, along with the €7 billion tranche, with the exception of the €1.9 billion return on Greek bonds to which it was entitled.
Not consenting to any supervisory or assessment procedures, it requested a four-month transitional “bridge program,” without austerity measures, to secure liquidity and implement at least part of its program within balanced budgets. It also asked that lenders recognize the non-viability of the debt and the need for an immediate new round of across-the-board negotiations.
But the final agreement amounts to a point-by-point rejection of all these demands. Furthermore, it entails another set of measures aimed at tying the hands of the government and thwarting any measure that might signify a break with memorandum policies.
In the Eurogroup’s Friday statement, the existing program is referred to as an “arrangement,” but this changes absolutely nothing essential. The “extension” that the Greek side is now requesting (under the “Master Financial Assistance Facility Agreement”) is to be enacted “in the framework of the existing arrangement” and aims at “successful completion of the review on the basis of the conditions in the current arrangement.”
It is also clearly stated thatonly approval of the conclusion of the review of the extended arrangement by the institutions … will allow for any disbursement of the outstanding tranche of the current EFSF programme and the transfer of the 2014 SMP profits [these are the 1.9 billion of profits out of Greek bonds to which Greece is entitled]. Both are again subject to approval by the Eurogroup.So Greece will be receiving the tranche it had initially refused, but on the condition of sticking to the commitments of its predecessors.
What we have then is a reaffirmation of the typical German stance of imposing — as a precondition for any agreement and any future disbursement of funding — completion of the “assessment” procedure by the tripartite mechanism (whether this is called “troika” or “institutions”) for supervision of every past and future agreement.
Moreover, to make it abundantly clear that the use of the term “institutions” instead of the term “troika” is window-dressing, the text specifically reaffirms the tripartite composition of the supervisory mechanism, emphasizing that the “institutions” include the ECB (“against this background we recall the independence of the European Central Bank”) and the International Monetary Fund (“we also agreed that the IMF would continue to play its role”).
As regards the debt, the text mentions that “the Greek authorities reiterate their unequivocal commitment to honour their financial obligations to all their creditors fully and timely.” In other words forget any discussion of “haircuts,” “debt reduction,” let alone “writing off of the greater part of the debt,” as is Syriza’s programmatic commitment.
Any future “debt relief” is possible only on the basis of what was proposed in the November 2012 Eurogroup decision, that is to say a reduction in interest rates and a rescheduling, which as is well-known makes little difference to the burden of servicing debt, affecting only payment of interest that is already very low.
But this is not all, because for repayment of debt the Greek side is now fully accepting the same framework of Eurogroup decisions of November 2012, at the time of the three-party government of Antonis Samaras. It included the following commitments: 4.5% primary surpluses from 2016, accelerated privatizations, and the establishment of a special account for servicing the debt — to which the Greek public sector was to transfer all the income from the privatizations, the primary surpluses, and 30% of any excess surpluses.
It was for this reason too that Friday’s text mentioned not only surpluses but also “financing proceeds.” In any case, the heart of the memorandum heist, namely the accomplishment of outrageous primary surpluses and the selling-off of public property for the exclusive purpose of lining lenders’ pockets, remains intact. The sole hint of relaxation of pressure is a vague assurance that “the institutions will, for the 2015 primary surplus target, take the economic circumstances in 2015 into account.”
But it was not enough that the Europeans should reject all the Greek demands. They had, in every way, to bind the Syriza government hand and foot in order to demonstrate in practice that whatever the electoral result and the political profile of the government that might emerge, no reversal of austerity is feasible within the existing European framework. As European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker stated, “there can be no democratic choice against the European treaties.”
And the provision for this is to take place in two ways. Firstly, as indicated in the text: “The Greek authorities commit to refrain from any rollback of measures and unilateral changes to the policies and structural reforms that would negatively impact fiscal targets, economic recovery or financial stability, as assessed by the institutions.”
So no dismantling of the memorandum regime either (“rollback of measures”), and no “unilateral changes,” and indeed not only as regards measures with a budgetary cost (such as abolition of taxes, raising of the tax-free threshold, increases in pensions, and “humanitarian” assistance) as had been stated initially, but in a much more wide-ranging sense, including anything that could have a “negative impact” on “economic recovery or financial stability,” always in accordance with the decisive judgment of the “institutions.”
Needless to say this is relevant not only to the reintroduction of a minimum wage and the reestablishment of the labor legislation that has been dismantled these last years, but also to changes in the banking system that might strengthen public control (not a word, of course, about “public property” as outlined in Syriza’s founding declaration).
Moreover, the agreement specifies thatthe funds so far available in the Hellenic Financial Stability Fund (HFSF) buffer should be held by European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF), free of third party rights for the duration of the MFFA extension. The funds continue to be available for the duration of the MFFA extension and can only be used for bank recapitalisation and resolution costs. They will only be released on request by the ECB/SSM.This clause shows how it has not escaped the attention of the Europeans that Syriza’s Thessaloniki program stated that “seed money for the public sector and an intermediary body and seed money for the establishment of special purpose banks, amounting to a total in the order of €3 billion, will be provided through the HFSF’s so-called ‘cushion’ of around €11 billion for the banks.”
In other words, goodbye to any thought of using HFSF funds for growth-oriented objectives. Whatever illusions still existed regarding the possibility of using European funds for purposes outside of the straitjacket of those for which they had been earmarked — and even more that they should be placed under the Greek government’s jurisdiction — have thus been dispelled.