Rupture with the EU: Α return to the “cave age” or a new “golden age”? (Prin newspaper, 30/5/2015)

flagWhen the mild arguments about the “people’s house” and the EU’s ability to transform fall apart, the neoliberal/Memoranda bloc resorts to the only argument left: breaking with the EU equals to returning to the “cave age”.

by Leonidas Vatikiotis

It is worthwhile to attempt an outline of the day after the rupture, in other words, the loan payment default, the unilateral sovereign debt write-off, and the exit from the Eurozone and the European Union. At this point, it is important to note the huge methodological issue arising from trying to solve a future’s equation using parameters of the present, knowing that they will dramatically change after such a rupture. But it is also important to note that the effect of such a change will be mainly positive. Thus, although the conflict with the capital will deprive society of valuable resources (e.g. the net inflow of €6 billion due to Greece’s dealings with the EU in 2015), it will put a halt to the inconceivable destruction of production forces that is currently underway and tends to become endemic (as shown, among others, by the fact that unemployment is stable at 26% and the idle production capacity has reached 34% in the industry).

There are seven sectors that will be affected already the next day after the rupture and are very significant for the people’s incomes but also for the economy: the currency, the funding of the imports and deficits of the state budget, the banks, the alimentation, the energy, and the medicines.

The exchange rate of the new currency in the first period after the rupture will be based on a fixed one-to-one exchange rate to the euro, despite the fact that the exchange rate corresponding to the structure of the Greek economy is lower even than the existing exchange rate of the euro, which is ideally “soft” enough -thanks to the presence of the south European countries in the Eurozone- to allow Germany to export but far too “hard” for the periphery.

The pegging to the euro will be a political decision aiming at preventing the launch of punitive speculative attacks on the new drachma and the repeated chocks to the daily trading practices. Similar practices of pegging to another currency are not followed only by “closed economies”, but also by highly internationalized ones such as Hong Kong. The effect of devaluation on people’s incomes can be counterbalanced by proportional salary increases. The effect on prices can be kept under control, as Greek economists have shown. In other words, there will not be uncontrollable inflation. Besides, such a danger can only be taken as a joke in an economy that suffers from deflation. To tackle deflation within the Eurozone, 60 billion euros are spent each month through the Quantitative Easing Program. Moreover, loans that have been taken in euro will be converted by law into the new currency.

Debt write-off and exit from the euro-EU

will improve and not lower the standard of living

In 2014, the trade deficit (excluding shipping and fuel) amounted to €8.13 billion (compared to €16,04bn in 2010). This deficit can be closed by the travel services balance surplus that in 2014 rose to €11.32 billion (€13,39bn of revenues minus €2,07bn of payments). The small presence of vertically integrated tourist activities controlled by multinationals -although their penetration in the tourist sector has been increasing in the last years- allows a government to provide appropriate motivation in order to collect this money. In addition, clearing (non-monetary forms of exchange trade) can make up for the need for foreign currency, while “smart” measures to promote imports like those successfully applied by Argentina (ensuring that every importer will export a specific percentage of the value of their imports) can reduce the need for foreign currency and boost exports.

For the lovers of the Memoranda who claim that they created surpluses, there are no budget deficits to be covered. But for those who believe that giving new life to the dilapidated social structures should be a priority, there is the possibility of printing new money, which should of course be limited. In addition, there is the option of domestic borrowing, which can be used as a means of income redistribution and reinforcing low incomes, showing that not all of forms of debt are reproachable. To some extent, this was also the case when the Greek state was covering its financing needs by publishing treasury bills addressed to savers, even during the ’90s. It is remarkable that in 1998, 80% of state borrowing was internal and 70% of this borrowing was short-term and thus low-risk. The Maastricht Treaty eliminated this possibility in favor of the banks (which, in this way, got rid of competition) and especially the financial giants that took over state lending. The safety net provided by domestic borrowing is made clear in the case of Japan, where although the sovereign debt is extremely high (246,1% of GDP in 2015), its creditworthiness has not been downgraded by the credit rating agencies exactly because borrowing is domestic and can thus be subjected to many silent restructurings. The threat that domestic borrowing poses to the international speculators was also made clear when PSI took place in February 2012, when nothing was done to protect bondholders. The IMF and credit rating agencies wanted to abolish this possibility once and for all. On the contrary, a government that would want to reinstate the market of domestic borrowing should fully compensate the bondholders who suffered losses in 2012 and perhaps also set a ceiling of, let’s say 100.000 euros, in order to hinder very high incomes.

Nationalizing banks will relieve society from the burden of their prolonged death. Despite the 211 billion they have received since 2008 in the form of subsidies and guarantees, banks today are in a much worse state, as reflected in the loans to deposits ratio: from an admirable balance in 2000  (€108,23bn of loans to €109,23bn of deposits or 99%) to an enormous asymmetry in 2009 (€300,32bn of loans to €237,53bn of deposits or 126%), which has become even worse in January 2015 (€214bn of loans to €147bn of deposits or 146%, with the non-performing loans to have climbed up to €78bn) and is further deteriorating due to the bank run caused by the policy of suffocation of the ECB.

As far as food products are concerned, according to a research by the Panhellenic Confederation of Unions of Agricultural Cooperatives (published in 2012) that examines 41 basic rural food products – both plant- and animal-based – for the year 2011, there is sufficiency (production in relation to consumption, with consumption being defined as the amount of production plus imports minus exports) at the hopeful level of 95%. Taking a better look at the figures, however, one can see that the highest sufficiency is observed in not-basic products (edible olives 996%, raisins 275%, sea products 221%, oranges 191% and kiwis 180%) whereas the lowest sufficiency is observed in almost basic products (sugar 14%, beef 29%, lentils 33%, soft grain 33% and pork 36%). It is important to note that the production of sugar is indicative of the damage caused in the rural production by the Common Agricultural Policy and the EU directives, which led to the closure of the factories of the Greek Sugar Industry in favour of German exporters. In this way, Greece moved from being a net exporter to a net importer of sugar. There are similar examples in livestock production as well. The ability of a country to fill this gap if a shift of policy is decided was proved in 2010 when Russia massively bought young milk cows from Western Europe, succeeding in gaining sufficiency within two years.

As far as solid fuels are concerned, the market is characterised by oversupply, with a total installed power of 17.500 MW and a highest demand of 7.000 MW. Same as the food production, if it was not for the EU directives within the framework of the so-called “liberalisation”, much cheaper electricity power could be generated, for example by putting the brakes on the scandalous funding of the private sector of the Renewable Energy Resources, by allowing the expansion of the Public Power Corporation S.A., etc. As far as liquid fuels are concerned, the strategic cooperation of Greece with Russia and the choice of Iran as supplier -instead of the American protectorates- can secure the provision of much cheaper liquid fuels.

Finally, although the country’s 27 pharmaceutical industries are exporting to 80 countries, they only cover 18% of the domestic medicine demand, with the rest of it being covered by multinationals. Domestic medicine producers have repeatedly denounced the scandalous advantage given to the multinationals in the years of austerity and have claimed that they are able to provide for the 70% of the primary health care and the 50% of the hospital care with quality and low cost medicines as long as prescriptions are written differently…

In conclusion, with regard to food products, energy and medicines, but also other sectors, a revolutionary rupture will release unimaginable progressive social forces, which are now being amputated simply because no bourgeois government can implement the aforementioned measures, and will allow society to enter a new ‘golden age’.

Την μετάφραση έκανε η ReINFORM (πολιτική ομάδα Ελλήνων που ζουν στην Ολλανδία), http://www.reinform.nl

Greek sovereign debt crisis and Ecuador (Speech in Quito, 15/2/2012)

Firstly, I would like to thank you very much for the invitation to this very interesting congress. Your ambitious effort for the formation of a financial architecture different to the IMF’s shows that there are real alternatives to the nightmare without end that the peoples in the peripheral countries of Europeare currently living in. I’m speaking about Greece, Portugal and Ireland and as of late, Italy and Spain.

The common element in all these cases is a very big public debt and an equally big budget deficit which, in the aftermath of crisis of 2008, was characterized as unbearable and unviable. Under the threat of imminent derailment of public finance (something that actually was never proved to happen) during the last two years, Europe lives under the iron heel of the most severe, the most inhuman austerity measures that have been imposed in our region since the post war period.

I’m describing their common characteristics:

  • Cuts in social spendings and especially to health, education, social security and transportation
  • Cuts in wages, salaries and pensions
  • Privatizations of public utilities (water, energy, etc.) and a massive sell-off of public property, and
  • Increases in every kind taxes that are paid by the people.

These measures are deeply unjust because the roots of this current crisis aren’t in the generous welfare state of these countries which never had high wages or well-equipped hospitals.

The root of the current sovereign debt crisis must be trailed to the following causes. I’m speaking specifically forGreece, in the sense that these causes aren’t the same with other eurozone countries that suffer from bail-out mechanisms. In any case there are serious similarities between all these countries.

  • Tax cuts for the rich and the private sector, in the context of a neo-liberal agenda that has been imposed since 80’s throughout the world. But especially in continentalEuropeits implementation started in the 90’s under the Maastricht Treaty which laid the fundamentals for the eurozone.
  • Current payments for the servicing of the debt. For example Greece (with a GDP of 212 bn of euro, according the state budget) during 2012, which is the fifth consecutive year of recession, will pay 87 bn of euros for servicing of debt when tax revenues will be 53 bn and will give for education 5,7 bn and for public health 4,8 bn. Looking at the previous years, Greece during the last two decades has paid for the servicing of the debt twice the amount of the debt in its today level of 360 bn euros.
  • Increasing military spending through all the EU countries which serve the imperialistic plans ofGermany. EspeciallyGreeceas a result of the turkish enemity and demands of NATO gives a scandalous, totally disproportionate percentage of its budget for military spending.

It is obvious that if someone wanted to confront the sovereign debt crisis one should confront the previous reasons: i.e. increasing the taxes of rich and corporates, to stop servicing the debt and reduce the military spending.

In spite of these possible solutions, the European ruling classes imposed the most brutal austerity packages and, at the same time, gave huge amounts to the banks, leading to the explosion of the fiscal problems. For example in Greece the first bail-out loan was 110 bn of euros, but at the same time the Greek finance minister has made available for Greek banks 155 bn of euros, either in the form of cash or in the form of guarantees. As a result Greek debt which was 115% when government decided to call on the IMF is now 165%!!!

Just the same happened inIrelandwhen the government announced the bail-out of the private banks. In this way, nationalizing the private losses, the Irish government led a public debt of 30% of GDP to the sky: 130%. The hypocrisy of the European (centre-left and right-wing too) governments could be seen inSpainwhere the public debt (61% of GDP) is significantly lower, even to that ofGermany(83%) in the 2010.

And after of all this, the European Commission contests that the rescue programmes failed because they have not been implemented with the adequate strictness. So they ordered increased instalments of the same poisonous medicine. It is striking that this doesn’t happen only inGreece, which is characterised as a bad pupil due to the combating heritage of the labour movement and the Left. In Greece failure was observed before anyone else because Greece was the first to face the test of IMF and EU conditionality in May of 2010, in the northern hemisphere and specifically in Eurozone. But now the exact same failure can be seen inPortugalwhich entered the bail-out mechanism in May of 2011, where the interest rates have reached the record level of 14% and the government discusses withBerlina new bail out loan!

After of all this, there is a question: Can we speak about failure even inGreecewhere the last memorandum of understanding which accompanies the new loan of 130 bn of euros is the seventh from May of 2010 when the first one was signed?

By my opinion, no! The bail-out plans had no intention to save the Greek or Irish economy and even less to secure or improve the living standard of Portuguese or Spanish people. The aim was to close the parenthesis that opened in the first post war period, whenEuropecovered in the shame of colonialism, bought out the labour movement with the welfare state. In this struggle, (which embodies the response of capital to the current structural crisis) the ruling classes – governments and financial organisations, like IMF and ECB  – use debt as a very good opportunity for paralysing peoples’ reactions.

The response of the big majority, of the 99% to use a current political terminology, must be the following slogan that is said in every square of Greece: we don’t owe, we don’t pay we don’t sell.

In this struggle, the audit of public debt offers a huge help as it contributes to the de-ligimitation of the public-debt. By asking to open up the books of debt, as primarily a struggle from within the social movement, and not coming from the technocrats, we have cancelled the methods of shock and awe that are based on the ignorance of the people. In this struggle there is something else that is also very significant: The living example of countries like Ecuador which refused to accept the orders of the creditors. Respecting the very big political, economical and historical differences, we want to do just the same thing in Greece and all the other eurozone counties that are on the brink of collapse because of their indebtedness.

Nowadays Ecuador’s example is much more of a teaching than a year ago, when we were making the film Debtocracy and showed to Greeks and other people that TINA (there is not alternative) had died in the Andean heights. Now, the Greek drama has shown that every solution that is based in the compromise and the negotiations with the creditors and the international financial organisations leads to unemployment, poverty, neocolonial loan agreements, police brutality, constitutional coup d’etats and finally at default. At the other side cessation of payments and debtor-led defaults may be the first scene, our first success in this, long duration play to overthrow the attack of capital.