English translation of my op-ed, published in today’s print edition of “Il Sole 24 Ore”
The final hour is approaching. After months of negotiations, Greece and its creditors seem to have arrived at an impasse. Monday’s Eurogroup meeting could be decisive. If an agreement is not reached, Greece will not able to repay its debts to the IMF. From a technical standpoint it is not yet a default but it is close. In the mean time, the European Central Bank (ECB) is keeping Greek banks alive with continuous injections of liquidity through a line of credit called – not coincidentally – Emergency Liquidity Assistance (ELA). These injections of liquidity compensate the increasingly frantic bank runs. Without the liquidity provided by the ELA, Greek banks would be unable to reopen Monday. At that point, the only way for Greece to save the banking system would be to print its own currency: it would be the infamous Grexit.
In this extremely tense context, it is difficult even for experts to understand the position of both sides and it is easy to slip into the stereotypes of evil Germans or lazy and corrupt Greeks. Even the press, which should inform in an analytical matter, for the most part seems to have become a pure sounding board of preconceived political positions. For this, I tried to go to the source and read the proposals of the Greek Minister of Finance Varoufakis at the last Eurogroup. No longer trusting the way in which these positions could be reported in European press, the minister put them directly on his web page.
I have to admit that I was left surprised by their reasonableness. Varoufakis proposes a plan to increase the competition in various markets starting from the construction market; a reform that facilitates the creation of new business; and a severe anticorruption plan. In return he requires a reduction by 0.5% of the primary budget surplus and a shift of the Greek debt by the ECB to the European Stabilization Mechanism, in such way to permit Greece to participate in the benefits of Quantitative Easing. Few people know that today Greece is the only country in the Eurozone that doesn’t benefit from QE because the ECB owns Greek bonds above the limits. Seeing as the limit was decided in January of 2015 when the ECB already held these bonds, it is clear that it had been chosen purposefully to exclude Greece. Finally, Varoufakis requires that pensions not be touched any further.
How is it possible that such a reasonable program is not accepted by Europe? I asked a series of experts and the responses were two. Firstly, this program is still a little bit too vague and effectively the discussion is not equipped with many figures. But the main reason is because no one trusts the Greek government. Contributing to this sense of distrust was not only the behavior in the negotiations but also several internal initiatives (among which the abolition of teacher assessments), which made the Tsipras government “not very credible”.
Surely there is a problem of credibility; the Tsipras government is made of outsiders. It is very difficult for a group of outsiders to take control of a government and manage a country effectively during a crisis like this one. But let’s remember that the reason why the Greeks voted for this government is because the previous insiders were part of the problem (for example, Samaras was one of the leaders of a party whose government had falsified budget data) and maybe for exactly this reason they were too submissive to the requests of the Troika. Let’s not forget that even the Renzi government had trouble in the first months with presenting numerically accurate plans and it backtracked on the Invalsi teacher evaluations. Not for this it was vilified by the European press, quite the opposite .
Certainly, Syriza pays for an original prejudice, in as much as it is a formation of the radical Left, which in some components refutes the market economy. It is also true that both Tsiparis and Varoufakis have made mistakes. But even the IMF has made grave errors (ones they even admitted to) and yet its vertices are not treated with the same contempt. Syriza mostly pays the attempt to change the way in which negotiations occur at the European level. European bureaucracy thrives off secrecy, because it is not accustomed to responding to an elected democratic government. For this reason the European bureaucracy finds itself uncomfortable with a government that makes transparency a priority. The distrust that Europe shows in their regards is mainly distrust of diversity, a diversity that threatens the survival of actual European bureaucrats. How can we come out of this impasse?
The only person in this moment that can save the situation is Angela Merkel. It is up to Merkel to hold Varoufakis to his proposals and act as a guarantor of an agreement. It was the support of Merkel that permitted Draghi to rescue the euro in 2012. And it could be her support that permits an agreement tomorrow. Certainly, her electoral interests go in the opposite direction. Germans, and even more so her voters, are tired of Greece and extremely contrary to any concession. But this is the moment in which we may see if Merkel is just the head of the German government or also the leader of future Europe. A true leader does not look only at their personal interest, but also at the heart of their entire nation’s interest, in this case the entire European nation. And this interest is certainly for an agreement. I don’t mean an agreement at all costs, but one along the reasonable positions outlined in Varoufakis’ proposals. Either Merkel becomes the midwife of a new Europe or she will find herself relegated by history as responsible for having killed forever a European dream.
L’ora X si sta avvicinando. Dopo mesi di negoziati la Grecia e i suoi creditori sembrano arrivati a un’impasse. La riunione dell’Eurogruppo di domani potrebbe essere decisiva. Se un accordo non viene raggiunto, la Grecia non è in grado di ripagare i suoi debiti nei confronti del Fondo Monetario Internazionale. Da un punto di vista tecnico non è ancora default, ma ci siamo vicini. Nel frattempo la Banca centrale europea (BCE)sta tenendo in vita le banche greche con continue immissioni di liquidità attraverso una linea di credito chiamata – non a caso – Emergency liquidity assistance (ELA).
Queste iniezioni di liquidità compensano la corsa agli sportelli sempre più frenetica. Senza la liquidità fornita dall’ELA le banche greche non potrebbero riaprire lunedì. A quel punto l’unico modo per salvare il sistema bancario sarebbe stampare una propria moneta: sarebbe la famigerata Grexit.
In questo contesto estremamente teso è difficile anche per gli esperti capire le posizioni delle due parti ed è facile scadere negli stereotipi dei tedeschi cattivi o dei greci pigri e corrotti. Anche la stampa, che dovrebbe informare in modo analitico, sembra per la maggior parte essere diventata una pura cassa di risonanza di posizioni politiche preconcette. Per questo ho provato ad andare alla fonte ed ho letto le proposte avanzate dal ministro delle Finanze greco Varoufakis all’ultimo Eurogruppo. Non fidandosi più di come potrebbero essere riportate sulla stampa europea, il ministro ha messo queste proposte direttamente sulla sua pagina web.
Devo ammettere che sono rimasto sorpreso della loro ragionevolezza. Varoufakis propone un piano per aumentare la competizione sui vari mercati a cominciare da quello delle costruzioni; una riforma che faciliti la creazione di nuove imprese; e un severo piano anticorruzione. In cambio richiede una riduzione dello 0,5% del surplus primario di bilancio e uno spostamento del debito greco detenuto dalla Bce all’European Stabilization Mechanism, cosicché da permettere alla Grecia di partecipare ai benefici del Quantitative easing. Pochi sanno che oggi la Grecia è l’unico Paese dell’eurozona a non beneficiare del Qe perché la Bce possiede titoli greci al di sopra del limite. Visto che il limite è stato deciso a gennaio 2015 quando la Bce deteneva già questi titoli, si capisce che è stato scelto apposta per escludere la Grecia. Infine, Varoufakis richiede che non vengano toccate ulteriormente le pensioni.
Come è possibile che questo programma così ragionevole non sia accettato dall’Europa?
Ho chiesto ad una serie di esperti e la risposta è stata duplice. Innanzitutto questo programma è ancora troppo vago, ed effettivamente il discorso non è corredato da molti numeri. Ma il motivo principale è che nessuno si fida del governo greco.