This is the 2nd part of Greek journalist Pavlos Papadopoulos’ article on the run-up to the current Greek economic crisis, published by “To Vima” newspaper (16/10/2011). To read the first part of the article, click here.
“George knew everything” admits to “Sunday’s Vima” newspaper a top government official. “Since February 2009, eight months before the elections, we knew that Greece was technically bankrupt. The actual bankruptcy was a matter of time”. In February 2009, there was a sudden increase in the difference of the interest rate (spread) between the Greek and the German state 10-year bond. That development, which panicked the Karamanlis administration, didn’t go unnoticed by the PASOK leader and his close associates.
After talking with Greek and mostly foreign experts (Economics Nobel Prize recipient Joseph Stiglitz and investor George Soros, to name but a few) Mr. Papandreou is said to have concluded that the dynamics of the public debt was so powerful that a catastrophic bankruptcy was certain. According to the same source, the PASOK chairman then thought the obvious thing: the states which are on the verge of bankruptcy address to the International Monetary Fund (IMF). However he realized that the capital which was necessary for Greece to avoid bankruptcy was five times more than what the IMF could offer. So he concluded that Greece needs an “international solution” and he started examining the initiatives that he could take.
“Our mistake was that we didn’t prepare the people” says the same party member, “and the Party either”. Mr. Papandreou underestimated the “domestic front” even though he knew that Greece was heading towards bankruptcy. He didn’t abandon his vision of “Green Development”, neither did he direct his Financial advisors to more “careful” declarations. In the summer of 2009, the total cost for benefits was 30 bn euros. A lot of the MPs have called 2009 as the “new ‘81”.
Mr Papandreou stubbornly insisted in a vague rhetoric. He reckoned that a combination of green development, institutional reforms and a (completely unspecified) international initiative would solve the debt problem without targeting the people. This is why the warning by George Provopoulos, Governor of the Bank of Greece, that the 2009 deficit would be a double digit figure didn’t mean much for the wannabe Prime Minister. What he actually believed was that Greece would go from over-borrowing to prosperity without walking the distance in between. And some accused him that, had he taken tough measures back then, he could have avoided the worse that followed.
There was no “socialist allergy” at the Finance Ministry when it came to austerity measures. The Minister often called confidential meetings. “Think of shock measures” was his request to his associates . He believed that the austerity measures were necessary to restore the international markets’ trust. One of his most radical and risky ideas that was heard in those meetings was the “10% haircut of the savings” for all the bank accounts which had more than 100.000 euros. They would implement it at the same time with the (French inspired) freezing of any account which would be instructed to send more than 100.000 euros abroad, in order to proceed to a tax details check.
These proposals, as many others, were triumphantly rejected. Mr. Papaconstantinou did not possess the political prowess to enforce a different policy, while he never recovered the control over the tax-collecting mechanisms. He was good enough abroad. Domestically he achieved the minimum while he didn’t avoid deficiencies and the equivocations which increased the insecurity and the uncertainty. The measures that were announced were like aspirins and even them were causing reactions. Like the reaction by Christos Papoutsis when they announced the freezing of salaries in the public sector for those whose paycheck was more than 2.000 euros (which was rejected by the Prime Minister too).
During the early period of his administration Mr. Papandreou visited Moscow and Paris in order to “surround” Berlin, since Angela Merkel didn’t want to accept, especially after her alliance with the Liberals, a “European solution” in co-operation with the IMF. Mr. Papandreou reckoned that, if he could convince Moscow and Paris, he could then take Berlin. Having his mind in an “international solution” he kindly avoided Vladimir Putin’s proposal of geopolitical significance for an interstate loan to Greece.
While waiting for the international solution to mature, it was preferred to flirt with Goldman Sachs and Deutsche Bank. According to banking sector sources, the Greek government appointed these two banks at the same time with the order to investigate the possibility of a 25 bn euros loan (private placement) from the markets. However the international practice necessitates that such orders are given only to financial institutions. At the end of 2009 Gary Cohn, CEO of Goldman Sachs, met Papandreou at the Pentelikon hotel in Kifissia suburb. At the beginning of 2010 the head of Deutsche Bank, Josef Ackermann, visited the Greek Prime Minister’s office. The players who were involved in these initiatives were having preferential access to the core of power. The initiatives failed. The two banks (and their middlemen) lost important commissions. And the markets’ lack of trust against the Greek government increased.
End of Part 2 – To read Part 3 click here.