Thursday, February 11, 2010

The epic bail-out of Greece

We can take it more or less for granted that the euro is not going to collapse this time - too much is at stake for the leading members, Germany and France, to allow that to happen. It was, is and always will be a political project, with no economic rationale and little public support for the obvious next step: complete economic and political union with a government that can deal with such problems as Greece and the other PIGS waiting in the wings. (Seems very unfair on pigs, who are delightful and useful animals.)

The Mises Institute has joined the fray with a thoughtful article on the Greek crisis a.k.a. the crisis of the euro, which explains at length and in detail how the eurozone has been funding Greece and her spendthrift ways for some time. The problem with the article as with most writings on this website is their disdain for things political. They really do not understand why the euro was created, why it will be propped up as long as possible and why the creation of a European government is such a difficult proposition.

Avoiding all the obvious, rather gloating comments (and I do feel a certain amoung of schadenfreude, having predicted many of these developments without being an economist), we need to concentrate on how it will affect Britain. This is what Edmund Conway does in the Telegraph today and he is not altogether sanguine. He also reminds us all that it is PIIGS we are talking about, as Italy is in a bad state as well.

"UK banks" he says, "are exposed to these countries to the tune of 16 per cent of gross domestic product." Whatever happens will affect our economy as well.

While we are on the subject, what is likely to happen?

At the moment, it looks as if the eurozone members (mainly France and Germany) will provide cash for a “firewall” bail-out designed to prevent these countries from toppling, but there are some whispers that Britain may have to make a contribution. These figures might help explain why.
So, not joining the euro has saved us from the worst of the disaster but it is not going to leave us unscathed.

There is, of course, another reason why, despite HMG's wriggling whenever a direct question is asked, the UK is likely to be participating in the bail-out. Article 122.2 of the Constitutional Lisbon Treaty.
Where a Member State is in difficulties or is seriously threatened with severe difficulties caused by natural disasters or exceptional circumstances beyond its control, the Council, on a proposal from the Commission, may grant, under certain conditions,Union financial assistance to the Member State concerned. The President of the Council shall inform the European Parliament of the decision taken.
One could argue that this particular disaster was not caused by circumstances beyond Greece's or Spain's, Portugal's, Italy's and Ireland's control but, somehow, I do not see that one taking off at the emergency meeting of the EU Ministers.

Open Europe has produced a handy briefing, full of figures, graphs and quotations about the probably bailing out of Greece and why that is unlikely to help the eurozone. True to their usual principles, Open Europe bemoans the fact that the eurozone is contemplating a series of acts that will weaken it and make it less popular instead of introducing some stringent economic reforms.

Their summary also says that of the 10 possible ways of bailing out Greece, most are either illegal or probably illegal (with different Treaty Articles in conflict) and so the EU will have to break or, at least, bend its own rules. I am shocked, I tell you, shocked.

The paper is worth reading, however.


  1. Quite ironic really, just watching Van Rompoy struggling to read out a statement in english.

    And why not, he is Dutch, but it highlights the problems of a currency and political union with dozens of languages.

    Brown when interviewed says Greece must stick by its commitments - but why should Greece make cuts now, when as far as Britain is concerned he says we have no need to?

  2. Commentators seem unable to decide if it is Ireland or Italy in PIGS - perhaps it should be PIIGS. We feel a pinch here, I cannot speak for Italy. Efforts to save our bacon began in Sept.'08 to salvage something from the wreck caused mostly by lunatic big spenders.
    We, here in Donegal voted no to Lisbon... such a pity the rest caved in.

  3. PIIGS or PIGS were financed inorder to buy industrial goods from the big boys of the EU, including the UK. No one seemed to mind when consumer loans were freely provided for the purchases of Jaguars and BMWs.Tthat development was hailed as a modernisation of banking practice in these countries. Now that the borrowers are in (predictable) difficulty you gripe. Where were you three or four years ago?

  4. Last night on TV Gordon Brown slurred the last word he spoke. It might have been Eurozone or it might have been EUzone. If the latter, we are in for the Greek bailout.

  5. The market was mispricing Greek interest rates (as there was no actual guarantee) and the ECB looked the other way for the sake of convenience. This is very similar to the FSA looking the other way while British banks built up substantial risks in mortgage markets around the world. Greece has privatised the profits in the sense that it has enjoyed an artificial boom and socialised the losses now that everyone else will have to pick up the tab.

    What is the point of a regulator if they don't regulate?

  6. Ailene,
    It is PIIGS, as I mention in the posting. You are quite right. I am so sorry that you lost but glad to hear that one can rely on the people of Donegal.

    I can tell you where I was three and four years ago. Telling people that this is a very bad idea and will end in tears. At least I can now turn round and say I told you so but I do that far too much.

  7. re: PIIGS. I suspect that the chronically bloated state sectors in the Mediterranean PIGS is what differentiates them from Ireland.

    Give you an example ... supposedly the previous government in Greece wound-up the debt-ridden national Airline, Olympic Airways and helped set up a new totally private replacement, Olympic Air (owned by the finacial services group MIG). That's what most people thought they did. But the employees of the former state airline have simply been absorbed into the Greek civil service, thus Greece is still - in reality - burdened with the vast majority of the ex-airline's costs ... plus a whole load of unsellable used aircraft.

    Helen, thanks for the Open Europe link, most illuminating!

    Nick (the Greek one!)

  8. I did realize it was a different Nik but I am always glad to see lots of Ni(c)ks on this forum. In any case, you and I have been exchanging messages for all of those three or four years. ;)

  9. We need someone like Soros to step in and bankrupt PIIGS in the way Iceland was shafted, that would do for the euro and the UN-EU (EPP) single world gov by stealth project. All the king's horses...