ECB risks crippling political damage if Greece forced to default

If Greece is forced out of the euro in acrimonious circumstances – a 50/50 risk given the continued refusal of the creditor core to acknowledge their own guilt and strategic errors – the country will not only default on its EMU rescue packages, but also on its “Target2” liabilities to the European Central Bank.

In normal times, Target2 adjustments are routine and self-correcting. They occur automatically as money is shifted around the currency bloc. The US Federal Reserve has a similar internal system to square books across regions. They turn nuclear if monetary union breaks up.

A Greek default – unavoidable in a Grexit scenario – would crystallize these losses. The German people would discover instantly that a large sum of money committed without their knowledge and without a vote in the Bundestag had vanished.

Events would confirm what citizens already suspect, that they have been lied to by their political class about the true implications of ECB support for southern Europe, and they would strongly suspect that Greece is not the end of it. This would happen at a time when the anti-euro party, Alternative fur Deutschland (AfD), is bursting on to the political scene, breaking into four regional assemblies, a sort of German UKIP nipping at the heels of Angela Merkel.

Hans-Werner Sinn, from Munich’s IFO Institute, has become a cult figure in the German press with Gothic warnings that Target2 is a “secret bailout” for the debtor countries, leaving the Bundesbank and German taxpayers on the hook for staggering sums. Great efforts have made to discredit him. His vindication would be doubly powerful.

Grexit would detonate the system. “The risks would suddenly become a reality and create a political storm in Germany,” said Eric Dor, from the IESEG business school in Lille. “That is the moment when the Bundestag would start to question the whole project of the euro. The risks are huge,” he said.

“I do not believe that the Germans would allow the Bundesbank or the ECB to carry on with negative capital. They would demand recapitalisation and consider it a direct loss to the German state,” said Mr Dor.

If so, Chancellor Merkel would face an ugly moment – avoided until now – of having to go to the Bundestag to request actual money to cover the damage. Other forms of spending would have to be cut to meet budget targets.

Syriza’s leader, Alexis Tsipras, holds a stronger hand than supposed, and he is not shy in playing it. His speech to the Greek parliament on Tuesday night was flaming defiance. “We are not taking even one step back from our promises to the Greek people. We will not compromise, and we won’t accept an ultimatum,” he said.

“There is a custom that newly-elected governments abandon their election promises. We intend to implement ours, for a change,” he said, basking in approval from 82pc of Greek voters.

Anybody who thinks the loan package forced on Greece in 2010 (with the collusion of the Greek elites) was fair treatment should read the protests by every member of the IMF Board from the emerging market nations. With slight variations, all said Greece needed debt relief from the outset, not fresh loans that stored greater problems. All said the bail-out was intended to save foreign banks and the euro itself at a time when there were no EMU defences against contagion, not to save Greece.

“The scale of the fiscal reduction without any monetary policy offset is unprecedented,” said Arvind Virmani, India’s former representative to the International Monetary Fund, according to leaked minutes. “It is a mammoth burden that the economy could hardly bear. Even if, arguably, the programme is successfully implemented, it could trigger a deflationary spiral of falling prices, falling employment and falling fiscal revenues that could eventually undermine the programme itself.” This is exactly what happened.

Jean-Claude Juncker, the European Commission chief, implicitly recognises that Greece has a legitimate moral claim on Europe. He is quietly helping Syriza, just as France is quietly helping to shift the balance in the Eurogroup. The united front against Greece is a negotiating posture. It will fray under pressure.

On balance, and with little conviction, my view is that Chancellor Merkel will ultimately overrule the debt collectors and will yield in order to save Germany’s 60-year investment in the diplomatic order of post-war Europe. It is a view shared by German eurosceptics such as Gunnar Beck, a legal theorist at London University.

“Germany’s leaders can’t let Greece leave the euro, and the Greeks know it. They will die in a ditch to defend the euro. This is our Eastern Front, our Battle of Kursk, and I’m afraid to say that it will end in unconditional surrender by Germany,” he said.

Full article: ECB risks crippling political damage if Greece forced to default (The Telegraph)

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