“In the lack of judgment great harm arises, but one vote cast can set right a house” – Aeschylus (525 BC-456 BC) Image: Ilargi for TAE
The EU is a morally bankrupt blind behemoth that, in a doomed attempt to survive, destroys everything around it just to keep itself standing. In that, it is hardly different from several incarnations of the 20th century politburos in Russia and China – and those are by no means the darkest comparisons that could spring to mind.
There are tons of people working in and for the EU, some of whom are smart while others are not, some who are honest and some who are just self-centred , but the apparatus has become a vortex that sucks in all of them. There many be just a small window left for Europeans to retain a grip on democracy. There's not much left. Stock markets may give the impression that things are going fine, but that is possible only because increasingly severe austerity measures are spreading rapidly, and have now reached the core, not just Greece and Spain. The EU induced illusions will keep coming fast and furious, however, until they don't. And then it will be too late for democracy.
It's all in a terribly shaky state already though. Ironically, maybe that's the people's best hope, that it will collapse before the power games are solved with the bureacrats as winners. Today, Italian PM Mario Monti lost his majority in the Senate; he could be gone within days. Only to bring back Silvio Berlusconi. Also today British Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne announced that UK austerity will last till 2018 and that he needs to borrow another £100 billion to soothe the deficit. Which led Fitch to threaten a UK downgrade. Mario Draghi, however, claimed that the Eurozone will swing back to growth in 2014. And no matter how hard you may find that to believe, remember: he can't be voted out of office. Draghi doesn't care about his credibility with voters, he wants credibility in the financial world. And he has it, because he delivers.
The next step in the elaborate European centralization plan was announced today by EU President Van Rompuy.
European leaders proposed an industry-financed fund to cover costs of winding down failing euro-area banks, seeking to deepen the bloc’s integration and limit fallout from future financial crises.
Nations in the currency bloc should back the creation of a centrally managed "European Resolution Fund," according to a report prepared by European Union President Herman Van Rompuy. The fund would be financed by levies on banks and could have a credit-line to the euro area’s firewall fund for sovereigns, according to the report.
"Establishing a single resolution mechanism is indispensable," according to the report, prepared for a summit of EU leaders in Brussels Dec. 13-14. The move "would mitigate many of the current obstacles" to managing bank failure, including "national bias and cross-border cooperation frictions," the report says.
EU nations have provided €4.6 trillion ($6 trillion) of capital injections, guarantees and other support to their banks since 2008, in a bid to prevent a meltdown of the financial system following the collapse of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc.. The banking crisis has ravaged nations’ public finances, forcing Spain and Ireland to seek international aid.
Financed by levies on banks, but apparently still in need of "a credit-line to the euro area’s firewall fund for sovereigns". Which is being financed by the same core countries who are now taking money away from their own people through austerity. "…to cover costs of winding down failing euro-area banks". Which is not at all what a sovereign fund is for.
A sovereign fund, by the way, that is no longer as strong as it was once made out to be. And which will therefore become more expensive. For those same austerity-hit people.
The European Stability Mechanism and European Financial Stability Facility were downgraded by Moody’s Investors Service, which cited a high correlation in credit risk present among the entities’ largest financial supporters.
The ESM was cut to Aa1 from Aaa, while the EFSF provisional rating was lowered to (P)Aa1 from (P)Aaa. Moody’s said in a statement that it would maintain a negative outlook on each. The EFSF has about €161.8 billion ($210.1 billion) of bonds outstanding according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
The move follows downgrades of the EFSF’s second-biggest contributor after France lost its top grade at Moody’s and Standard and Poor’s this year. Investors often ignore such ratings actions, evidenced by the drop in France’s 10-year bond yields since last week’s Moody’s downgrade and a rally in Treasuries after the U.S. lost its AAA at S&P in 2011.
The EFSF’s "rating is at the mercy of the creditworthiness of its biggest backers," Nicholas Spiro, managing director of Spiro Sovereign Strategy in London, said before the actions. "Another downgrade of the EFSF would show how the creditworthiness of the euro zone’s rescue fund itself is being affected by the worsening economic conditions in the core." [..]
The Luxembourg-based EFSF was formed in 2010 to provide loans to cash-strapped European Union countries. The ESM will replace the temporary EFSF, which has spent 192 billion euros of its €440 billion on loans to Ireland, Portugal and Greece. The two funds will run in parallel until the EFSF is phased out in mid- 2013.
‘Moody’s rating decision is difficult to understand,’ Klaus Regling, managing director of the ESM and chief executive officer of the EFSF, said in a statement. "We disagree with the rating agency’s approach, which does not sufficiently acknowledge ESM’s exceptionally strong institutional framework, political commitment and capital structure." [..]
Moody’s downgraded France on Nov. 19, citing deteriorating growth prospects and declining competitiveness. The rating company then said it would assess the implications of the move for the ratings of the EFSF and ESM.
Alors, the European emergency funds depend to a substantial extent on the financial state of its richest member states. So how is France holding up? Well, …
France’s industrial woes deepened last month as car sales crashed 19% and French brands lost market share at an dramatic pace, raising fears of a serious economic crisis next year once austerity hits.
Markit’s purchasing managers’ index (PMI) for French manufacturing remained stuck in slump in November at 44.5 and is now the weakest in the eurozone after Greece.
"The figures are shocking," said sovereign debt strategist Nicholas Spiro. "France has been sailing dangerously close to the wind for some time but is now tipping into outright contraction."
The Committee of French Automobile Producers (CCFA) said this has been the worst year for the French car industry since 1997 – and for almost half a century in total volume – with little chance of recovery next year as Paris pushes through scorched-earth fiscal tightening of 2% of GDP to meet EU deficit targets.
Sales of French cars fell 28% in November from a year earlier, with Citroen down 26% and state-owned Renault down 33%. Foreign brands fell just 7.9%. "The middle class, which tends to buy standard French cars of between €10,000 and €20,000, has been particularly badly hit by the crisis," said the CFFA’s François Roudier.
The severity of the decline stunned analysts and suggests that France has at last been engulfed by the festering crisis across the Mediterranean region.
The country has been bouncing along at near zero growth for a year and half but has managed to keep out of technical recession, partly because it has been cocooned by a Leviathan state and has put off hard decisions.
The economy seems to have buckled abruptly over the autumn, shedding more than 40,000 jobs a month. Unemployment has risen to a euro-era high of 10.7%.
The French car industry is still a pillar of the economy, employing 400,000 workers, but has been losing market share at an accelerating pace over the last decade. Output has fallen from 3.5m vehicles in 2005 to near 2m this year. The country became a net importer of cars for the first time in living memory four years ago.
You might think that this would teach the French something about humility, but be honest, what are the odds of that happening? The French are in no mind to give up the illusion of grandeur, and they have the politicians willing to maintain it for them. And when all else fails, they can always blame it on somebody else.
London should be stripped of its status as Europe's main financial hub and sidelined to allow the eurozone to "control" transactions within the 17-nation bloc, the governor of the Bank of France has said.
Christian Noyer told the Financial Times that there was "no rationale" for allowing the eurozone's financial centre to be "offshore". "Most of the euro business should be done inside the euro area. It's linked to the capacity of the central bank to provide liquidity and ensure oversight of its own currency," he said.
"We're not against some business being done in London, but the bulk of the business should be under our control. That's the consequence of the choice by the UK to remain outside the euro area." Mr Noyer's broadside is one of several outspoken public attacks that have been launched by French leaders on Britain.
Shortly before Standard and Poor's stripped France of its AAA credit rating in January, Mr Noyer said that Britain's rating should be cut before that of France as the UK had "as much debt, more inflation, less growth than us". Jean–Pierre Jouyet, the head of the French financial regulator, has also described the right–wing of British politics as "the world's stupidest". [..]
Since the creation of the single currency, The City of London has served as Europe's main financial centre. More than 40% of euro foreign-exchange transactions are conducted in the British capital, a bigger share than the rest of the eurozone combined.
Nice message from a country that's in deep trouble: take power away from an old foe. The British, meanwhile, have their own reservations about the ECBs hunger for power. Don't be fooled, there are many politicians in EU member states who are well – and delightedly -aware that they can get things done far more easily through the non-elected central bank than through their parliaments. Also, for Britain there's of course the issue that it's a member of the EU, but not the Eurozone, and the entire "ECB as sole banking regulator" discussion is only on the table because of the latter. It would in itself be convenient to kick this can down the route du soleil along with a million other cans, but we can expect a strong drive in favor of it, so strong that the Brits may cave in exchange for other favors. Even if the language for now is forceful.
Britain has threatened to veto the creation of a new eurozone banking supervisor unless the European Union also agrees to protect the City of London from protectionist financial regulation.
During a meeting of EU finance ministers, Greg Clark, the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, warned that without guarantees Britain would not give its support to a plan for the European Central Bank to become the eurozone’s financial regulator.
“The UK supports a eurozone banking union led by the ECB. We would like it to be strong and effective but it can’t be to the detriment of the single market,” he told the Ecofin meeting.
“With much of the EU’s banking sector outside the eurozone, clearly this does raise issues of compatibility between the banking union and the single market. But we do hope that these issues can be resolved.”
Concern over the impact on the City of a future eurozone banking union has been fuelled this week by calls from the French central bank for London to lose the right to carry out exchange transactions in the EU single currency.
Britain has a strong hand in the negotiations because giving the ECB powers to become a “single supervisory mechanism” for eurozone banks requires the unanimous agreement of all 27 EU countries.
Germany isn't any happier with the present plan than Britain is, though not for the same reasons. They're all of them in favor of central control provided that they can control it. But it's futile to even try when the interests of the countries involved grow further apart every single day.
Plans to create a eurozone banking union hit a brick wall on Tuesday after Germany’s influential finance minister cautioned over moving too quickly, casting doubts over whether the EU would seal a deal by the end of the year.
The objections from Wolfgang Schäuble come just a week before a summit of EU leaders and raise the prospect of a significant delay to establishing a single eurozone banking supervisor, a reform billed as critical to rebuilding confidence in the bloc’s shaky financial sector.
Some of Mr Schäuble’s counterparts at a gathering in Brussels warned that markets could be spooked by any sign that the EU was backing away from consolidating banking oversight, just five months after agreeing to pursue it. Vítor Constâncio, the vice-president of the European Central Bank, said the promise to deliver banking supervision reforms "quickly" was an "important element for credibility for the euro area". [..]
Mr Schäuble voiced longstanding concerns but in stronger terms. He is refusing to allow the ECB to take over supervisory responsibility of all 6,000 eurozone banks – including small banks such as Germany’s plethora of regional savings banks – and wants a clean separation between the ECB’s monetary policy and bank supervision.
"It would be very difficult to get an approval from German parliament if you would leave the supervision for all the German banks," Mr Schäuble told his fellow ministers. "Nobody believes that any European institution would be capable of supervising 6,000 banks in Europe – maybe not in this decade, to be very frank."
Nobody wants it, but it's needed for credibility reasons. The credibility of the institution of a central bank in an increasingly divided union of very different countries, and of people like Mario Draghi, who through the central bank control trillions of euros taken from the European through austerity measures, tax increases etc. Draghi and his ilk, the untouchables of today, use this money to maintain the illusion that the union is strong and getting stronger. And this is the result:
Greek hospitals are in such dire straits that staff are failing to keep up basic disease controls such as using gloves and gowns, threatening a rise in multidrug-resistant infections, according to Europe's top health official.
Greece already has one of the worst problems in Europe with hospital-acquired infections, and disease experts fear this is being made worse by an economic crisis that has cut health care staffing levels and hurt standards of care.
With fewer doctors and nurses to look after more patients, and hospitals running low on cash for supplies, risks are being taken even with basic hygiene, said Marc Sprenger, director of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC).
"I have seen places…where the financial situation did not allow even for basic requirements like gloves, gowns and alcohol wipes," Sprenger said after a two-day trip to Athens, where he visited hospitals and other healthcare facilities.
"We already knew Greece is in a very bad situation regarding antibiotic resistant infections, and after visiting hospitals there I'm now really convinced we have reached one minute to midnight in this battle," he told Reuters in an interview.
Sprenger said the situation means patients with highly infectious diseases such as tuberculosis (TB) may not get the treatment they need, raising the risk that dangerous drug-resistant forms will tighten their grip on Europe. [..]
Panos Papanicolaou, a member of a doctors' union and a neurosurgeon at Athens' Nikea General Hospital, said staff cuts mean as many as 90 to 100 patients a day wait in corridors with many unable to get treatment. In the chaos, some go untreated or come back again when they are far more seriously ill.
He said overworked nurses often treat twice as many patients as before and confirmed that the shortage of basic items such as disposable gloves meant corners were having to be cut. "If a nurse has to see 10 patients instead of five without disposable gloves it's certain that the transmission of infections will rise rapidly," he said.
Politicians of course will say anything as long as it gets them elected. So maybe we should see the following, quite subtle, Angela Merkel accouncement as a touch of genius. Alternatively, we could see it as plain insiduous.
Chancellor Angela Merkel opened the possibility that Germany may ultimately accept a write-off of Greek debt, as policy makers this week attempt to engineer a buyback that’s crucial for Greece to receive more funding.
With Greece preparing to open bids today to repurchase bonds issued earlier this year, Merkel told Bild newspaper yesterday that euro leaders might consider writing off debt once the country has a budget surplus. Germany has until now ruled out such a scenario as violating European Union treaties.
"If Greece one day can rely once again on its own revenue, without having to borrow, then we’ll have to look at this situation and make an evaluation," Merkel told Bild am Sonntag in an interview when asked about the prospect of debt forgiveness. It wouldn’t happen before 2014 or 2015, "if everything goes according to plan," the chancellor said.
The shift on Greece’s mounting indebtedness, which triggered Europe’s debt crisis three years ago, signals a growing consensus that a Greek exit could doom the 17-member single currency. German lawmakers approved the latest package to alleviate Greece’s burden after Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said a default could foreshadow the euro’s collapse. [..]
The buyback, financed from an earmarked 10 billion euros ($13 billion) from the current rescue package, lies at the center of new measures aimed at helping scale back Greece’s debt load to a level policy makers consider sustainable: 124% of gross domestic product by 2020, down from a projected 144% if policy makers hadn’t acted.
Merkel faces elections in 2013. A debt write-off would seriously hurt her chances. So she simply pushes it beyond the elections. Knowing that this will mean more hardship for Greece, and the need for more money. The latter would be unpopular, but the spin doctors who rule Europe today may again have found ways to get things done without hurting Merkel. And who cares that it hurts the Greeks?
Greece said it would spend €10 billion to buy back bonds in a bid to reduce its ballooning debt and unfreeze long-delayed aid, setting a price range above market expectations to ensure sufficient investor interest.
The bond buyback is central to the efforts of Greece's foreign lenders to put the near-bankrupt country's debt back on a sustainable footing, and its success is essential to unlocking funding Athens needs to avoid running out of cash.
There have been questions about whether it will tempt enough bondholders to cut Greek debt by a net €20 billion, the target set by euro zone finance ministers and the International Monetary Fund. The buyback plan announced on Monday appeared designed to quell those concerns.
"It indicates they really want the swap to succeed," said Ricardo Barbieri, strategist at Mizuho, on the pricing.
"Some investors might be tempted to participate in the swap because of the ability to simplify their position, should they wish to maintain exposure to Greece, otherwise an opportunity to exit totally, completely their positions at a level that is better than Friday's close." [..]
Euro zone officials said the bloc hoped Greece would be able to repurchase at least €40 billion of its own bonds.
More on the same (try not to laugh):
Greece's economy may start recovering faster than currently expected if the debt-laden nation quickly implements reforms it has agreed to under its bailout deal, the country's central bank said on Monday.
"A new start is now possible," the Bank of Greece said adding that the deal, which will shave about 40 billion euros off debt, "creates plausible expectations of a recovery of the Greek economy, perhaps even earlier than projected at present".
The Bank of Greece expects gross domestic product to shrink by slightly more than 6% this year and by up to 4.5% in 2013, bringing total economic contraction in 2008-2013 to 24%, it said in a monetary policy report.
"Positive growth will be witnessed in the course of 2014," the central bank said in the report.
But the debt cut deal agreed by the country's international lenders last week is creating hopes for a quicker recovery, providing that structural reforms to make the economy more competitive will be fully and quickly implemented, it said.
Helped by wage cuts, Greece is expected to recoup next year all the cost competitiveness it has lost in 2001-2009, the Bank of Greece said.
This one's good too:
Greek pension funds will not take part in a debt buy-back that is a key part of the country's international bailout, Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras said in a newspaper interview.
Greece must conduct the deal by December 13, before it receives more than 30 billion euros ($39 billion) in bailout payments from the euro zone and the International Monetary Fund.
Athens has said it is vital the buy-back is successful, but it must attract enough interest from bondholders, who need to decide whether to participate in the process, to ensure the country's debt is deemed viable in the coming decade. [..]
On the secondary market, Greek bonds eligible under the buy-back ranged from 25.15 to 34.41 cents in the euro at the close of trading on that date, according to Reuters data. [..]
Samaras said that Greek banks would benefit from the voluntary debt buy-back deal, since they held Greek bonds at lower prices on their books. "The banks won't lose out because (the bonds) on their books are down at a lower price," he said. "They won't lose any of their capital but will end up with more liquidity."
A senior Greek banker told Reuters last week that some of the country's banks held Greek bonds at 22-23 euro cents on their books. However, the banks together were likely to forego about 3-4 billion euros in interest payments over the next 10 years if they participated.
The deal is seen as a golden opportunity for hedge funds which have bought the bonds at rock-bottom prices.
In an interview with Sunday's Ethnos newspaper, Greek Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras said many bondholders would profit from the deal and reiterated that Athens would make every effort to attract wide participation.
"This program must succeed," he said. "There is a big part of bondholders who bought them recently, at very low prices, and will possibly estimate that their participation in the buy-back program will be profitable," he said.
The Greeks issue sovereign bonds. These bonds turn out to be money losers, like 80 cents on the dollar losers. So Greece borrows money from the rest of Europe and buys back its own bonds, but it does so at 5-10% above present market value. And the way this is sold to the public is that it makes Greece a better place to buy bonds from. And countries like Germany and Holland keep telling their voters, time and again, they won't give one penny more to Greece. Even though they just did. Time and again.
Merkel sits pretty because she can fool her voters into believing Greece is merely buying back its own debt. As long as nobody asks what money Greece uses to do that with. And even if the question pops up, they'll just say it's part of an already-agreed-upon plan. And that Greece will show positive growth in 2014. With 58% youth unemployment, and 26% overall joblessness. Yeah…
On October 4, Mario Draghi said that the ECB "is already a very transparent institution". It is not. It's disturbingly not. Remember the derivatives deal Greece closed back in 2001/02 with Goldman Sachs in order to make Europe believe its finances were good enough to enter the Eurozone? Here's a reminder:
Greece's debt managers agreed a huge deal with the savvy bankers of US investment bank Goldman Sachs at the start of 2002. The deal involved so-called cross-currency swaps in which government debt issued in dollars and yen was swapped for euro debt for a certain period — to be exchanged back into the original currencies at a later date.
Such transactions are part of normal government refinancing. Europe's governments obtain funds from investors around the world by issuing bonds in yen, dollar or Swiss francs. But they need euros to pay their daily bills. Years later the bonds are repaid in the original foreign denominations.
But in the Greek case the US bankers devised a special kind of swap with fictional exchange rates. That enabled Greece to receive a far higher sum than the actual euro market value of 10 billion dollars or yen. In that way Goldman Sachs secretly arranged additional credit of up to $1 billion for the Greeks.
This credit disguised as a swap didn't show up in the Greek debt statistics. Eurostat's reporting rules don't comprehensively record transactions involving financial derivatives. "The Maastricht rules can be circumvented quite legally through swaps," says a German derivatives dealer.
Greece’s secret loan from Goldman Sachs was a costly mistake from the start. On the day the 2001 deal was struck, the government owed the bank about 600 million euros ($793 million) more than the 2.8 billion euros it borrowed, said Spyros Papanicolaou, who took over the country’s debt-management agency in 2005. By then, the price of the transaction, a derivative that disguised the loan and that Goldman Sachs persuaded Greece not to test with competitors, had almost doubled to 5.1 billion euros, he said.
The European power games have entered a very disturbing area. And they have done so against a backdrop of almost total silence and indifference. This next issue probably shows that more obviously than any other.
In 2010, Bloomberg sued the ECB over the release of documents pertaining to these and other derivatives, and the central bank's knowledge of them. Last week, over 2 years later, European Union’s General Court decided against Bloomberg, citing, among other things, possible "damage to public interest". Evidently, it's not in the public's interest to know what their money is spent on.
The European Central Bank’s court victory allowing it to withhold files showing how Greece used derivatives to hide its debt leaves one of the region’s most powerful institutions free from public scrutiny as it assumes even more regulatory power.
The European Union’s General Court in Luxembourg ruled yesterday that the central bank was right to keep secret documents that would reveal how much the ECB knew about the true state of Greece’s accounts before the country needed a €240 billion ($311 billion) taxpayer-funded rescue.
The case brought by Bloomberg News, the first legal challenge to a refusal by the ECB to make public details of its decision-making process, comes a month before the central bank is due to take responsibility for supervising all of the euro- area’s banks. The central bank already sets narrower limits on its disclosures than its U.S. equivalent, the Federal Reserve. The court’s decision shows the ECB has too broad a discretion to reject requests for disclosure, academics and lawyers said.
"It’s a very disturbing ruling," said Olivier Hoedeman of Corporate Europe Observatory, a Brussels-based research group that challenges lobbying powers in the EU and campaigns for the accountability of EU bodies. "It is such a sweeping, blanket statement that it undermines the right to know."
Bloomberg sought access to two internal papers drafted for the central bank’s six-member Executive Board. The first document is entitled "The impact on government deficit and debt from off-market swaps: the Greek case." The second reviews Titlos Plc, a structure that allowed National Bank of Greece SA, the country’s biggest lender, to borrow from the ECB by creating collateral from a securitization of swaps on Greek sovereign debt.
ECB President Mario Draghi said on Oct. 4 that the ECB "is already a very transparent institution," citing the fact that he holds a monthly press conference after its rate decision, testifies to lawmakers, gives interviews and makes speeches.
In yesterday’s decision, the court upheld the ECB’s opinion that the documents sought by Bloomberg could damage the public interest and aggravate Europe’s financial crisis.
"The ECB must be recognized as enjoying a wide discretion for the purpose of determining whether the disclosure of the documents relating to the fields covered by that exception could undermine the public interest," the three judges said in their ruling. Exceptions "must be interpreted and applied strictly," they said. An ECB spokeswoman said the central bank welcomed the court’s decision.
Since Bloomberg made its request in August 2010, the ECB granted itself additional scope to withhold information if the stability of the financial system or a member state could be undermined. The power was added after the ECB was chosen by the European Parliament to chair the European Systemic Risk Board, a pan-EU supervisor that monitors markets and financial risk.
"This is a dummy standard which means whatever it wants it to mean and the courts grant it a margin of interpretative discretion," said Gunnar Beck, a barrister and a reader in EU law at the University of London.
Bloomberg may appeal, and go all the way to the EU equivalent of the supreme court. But so what? It took 28 months for this decision to come down. At that rate, the next court level will deliver a verdict in the spring of 2015. Anyone care to predict where Greece will be by then? Or France? The ECB can't be ruled to have the right to conceal its own possible implication in deceptive dealmaking at the cost of European citizens, and still be considered a functioning participant in what were once democratic nations, and a union of democracies.
And so, yes, maybe it has to come to this, maybe we need something like for instance a large epidemic in Athens caused by austerity-induced medicine shortages, before it all starts to – golden – dawn.
Europe is well on its way towards dismemberment. Because a few handfuls of power hungry nutcases seek personal satisfaction. Turning the entire continent into a Greek tragedy waiting to happen.
The way things are going, Europe can be safely written off until the 2020s. And it will drag everybody else a long way down with it, from Tokyo to Toledo, from Wellington to Washington, and from Sydney to Seattle. We just all of us seem to have run out of functioning political and economical systems. And we're not nearly alert enough to that; we're just looking out for number 1. Or whatever we think that is, or should be. It's one big ancient Greek tragedy. And most of us still think we're just spectators.