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The Troika’s Policy in Greece: Rob the Greek people and give the money to private banks, the ECB, the IMF and the dominant States of the Eurozone

On 20 August 2018, the Greek government of Alexis Tsipras, the IMF and the European leaders celebrated the end of the Third Memorandum.

On this occasion, the major media and those in power spread the following message: Greece has regained its freedom, its economy is improving, unemployment is on the decline, Europe has lent Greece 300 billion and the Greeks will have to start repaying that debt in 2022 or in 2032.

The main claims are completely unfounded as Greece remains under the control of its creditors. In compliance with the accords that the Alexis Tsipras government signed, the country must imperatively achieve a primary budgetary surplus of 3.5% which will force it to continue brutal policies of reduction of public spending in the social sector and in investment. Contrary to the dominant message that Greece will not begin to repay its debt until some time in the future, it should be clearly understood that Greece has been repaying considerable amounts constantly all along to the ECB, the IMF and to private creditors, and this prevents it from responding to the needs of its population.

by Eric Toussaint

Part 21 - The disappointed hope of 2015

In January 2015 the Greek people voted Syriza into government on its promise to put an end to the MoA. While the Tsipras government was merely a week old, the ECB took an utterly ruthless measure to put maximum pressure on Syriza. On 4 February 2015 it announced that it was shutting off Greek banks’ access to the liquidities it granted; this was clearly part of a swift and aggressive strategy to destabilize the Greek government. Faced with such aggression the Tsipras government should have responded with bold daring.

The demand included in the Thessaloniki Programme should have been put forward: the cancellation of most of the debt, explaining that it was illegitimate, odious, illegal and unsustainable. Of course, European leaders could not accept this request but the Greek government could have developed an international campaign of explanation in order to gain broad public support. It could have initiated an audit process and declared a moratorium until the audit was completed.

It was essential not to get caught in the wheel of repayment. It was necessary to use the principle of international law that allows a state to declare a moratorium on payments in view of the state of necessity in which it finds itself.

The existence of a humanitarian crisis was the indisputable proof of such a state of necessity. The following reasoning had to be developed: “We are launching an audit (with citizen participation) because what is at stake is finding out why we have reached such a high level of indebtedness – national and international public opinion must know. We do not anticipate on the results of the audit, but it is only normal for payments to be frozen during an audit. Therefore, we suspend repayments during the audit, except for short-term debt. We were elected to replace the Memorandum with a new reconstruction plan. Let’s give time to the negotiation process and meanwhile be patient as we suspend scheduled payments on long-term debt.

If it had launched and used an audit process, the Greek Government should have said, in order to strengthen its position vis-à-vis the Troika: “I am merely enforcing Article 7 (9) of Regulation 472 adopted by the European Parliament on 21 May 2013 requiring EU Member states subject to a structural adjustment plan to carry out a full audit of their debt in order to explain why the debt has reached an unsustainable level and to detect possible irregularities.

Payment suspension had to be urgently decreed, for instance on 12 February 2015. Indeed, between 12 February and 30 June 2015, Greece was to repay €5 billion to the IMF. If we take into account the other amounts to be paid to the IMF in 2015, an additional €3 billion must be added. The ECB demanded repayment of more than €6.5 billion to be made in July-August 2015.

Action also had to be taken regarding banks. As the ECB took the initiative to intensify the Greek banking crisis, it was necessary to act at this level as well and implement the Thessaloniki Programme which said: “With Syriza in government, the public sector will take over control of the Hellenic Financial Stability Fund (HFSF) and exercise all its rights over the recapitalised banks. That means that it will make decisions about the way they are run.

It should be noted that in 2015 the Greek State, through the Hellenic Financial Stability Fund, was the main shareholder of the four largest banks in the country, which accounted for more than 85% of the total Greek banking sector. The problem is that, because of the policies pursued by previous governments, its shares had no real weight in the banks’ decisions because they did not entail the right to vote. It was therefore necessary for the Parliament, in accordance with what Syriza had pledged, to transform the so-called preferential shares held by the public authorities (which do not entail voting rights) into ordinary shares giving the right to vote. Then, in a perfectly normal and legal way, the state could have exercised its responsibilities and provided a solution to the banking crisis.

Finally, two important steps still had to be taken. Firstly, in order to deal with the banking and financial crisis sharpened by Stournaras’s statements since December and by the ECB’s decision on 4 February, the government should have decreed a control of capital movements in order to put an end to flight of capital out of the country. Secondly, it should have set up a parallel payment system. Varoufakis claims that he had a concrete proposal in this respect but he did not propose to implement it following the ECB’s aggression on 4 February.

What was needed was to issue a call to international solidarity before public opinion, social movements, political parties and to encourage, as a government or as Syriza, the creation of solidarity committees in as many countries as possible while negotiating with creditors so as to develop a wide global movement of solidarity.

Let us recall that from the end of February 2015 to the end of June 2015, Yanis Varoufakis and Alexis Tsipras made repeated statements aimed at persuading public opinion that an agreement was in sight and that things were going to mend. If after each major negotiation meeting they had on the contrary explained exactly what was at stake through press releases, oral declarations to the media, speeches on public squares, in front of the seats of European institutions in Brussels and elsewhere, if in other words they had shed light on what was being plotted in the shadows, it would have resulted in gatherings of tens of thousands of demonstrators; social networks would have relayed this alternative discourse to hundreds of thousands or millions of recipients.

Tsipras and his government did not choose this path of resistance. They vainly attempted to reach an agreement with European leaders. In their bid to win them over, they repaid the country’s public debt on the dot. This means they emptied the public treasury to pay €7 billion from February to end of June 2015.

Faced with the harsher demands of the European leaders, who refused that the government meet its promises to the Greek people, Tsipras called a referendum that was held on 5 July 2015. On that day, the Greek people rejected the creditors’ demands with 61.5% of votes. A couple of days later, Alexis Tsipras betrayed the popular mandate and capitulated in Brussels.

Yet an alternative to capitulation was possible and necessary, as we have repeatedly shown. On the basis of the Truth Committee on Greece’s Debt’s findings as presented to the Greek Parliament on 17 June 2015, it was possible to suspend debt repayment and combine the decision with a number of measures relating to banks, taxes, currency, privatizations, wages, retirement pensions, etc. The Greek people would have supported such a programme, as shown by the referendum results.

Instead of showing the courage to implement alternatives, the Tsipras government dragged their country into the gruelling experience of a third Memorandum that ended on 20 August 2018.

During the three years covered by the third Memorandum, attacks against the economic, social, cultural, civil and political rights of the Greek people multiplied as a consequence of decisions made by the Tsipras government, which consistently yielded to the demands of European leaders, Greek and foreign big capital and the IMF.

There is no cause for celebration as the third MoA comes to an end because Greece has not recovered its freedom to act. It is constrained by a number of binding agreements and the burden of the debt that is exacted will remain unbearable for a long time to come.

***

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