4 April 2015: a landmark in the search for the truth about the Greek debt

6 April 2015 by Eric Toussaint

For the first time in Europe a committee for an audit of the debt (with citizens’ participation) was set up under the auspices of a parliament. On Saturday 4 April the president of the Hellenic parliament Zoe Konstantopoulou opened the first official session creating a debt audit committee , also called committee for the truth about the debt.

Zoe Konstantopoulou read the decree establishing the said committee consisting of Greek and foreign members and defined its essential mission, namely identifying what part of the Greek debt is illegal, illegitimate, odious or unsustainable, in other words establishing the truth about the Greek debt, providing their findings to the Hellenic parliament, the European parliament, to the national parliaments of the EU member States as well as to the Greek and international public opinion. Zoe K. recalled the suffering imposed on the Greek people by the creditors’ demands.

Zoe Konstantopoulou

Next the President of the Republic, Prokopis Pavlopoulos, made a substantial speech supporting this major initiative. Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and some ten other ministers were also present.

Sofia Sakorafa

The President of the Hellenic parliament invited MEP Sofia Sakorafa to take the floor. She recounted the five year trial of all those who demand an audit of the debt so as to radically reduce it have been involved in.
Éric Toussaint, Scientific Coordinator of the international team within the committee summed up some of the questions for which the auditing committee will seek answers as it investigates the Greek debt.

Eric Toussaint

The following ministers spoke up in turn: the Defence Minister Panos Kammenos (who is also President of the party of Independent Greeks); the Minister for Administrative Reforms George Katrougalos; the Minister of state for the struggle against corruption Panayotis Nikoloudis; the Minister of justice Nikos Paraskevopoulos; the Minister for European affairs Nikos Chountis; deputy defence Minister Costas Isychos; Finance Minister Yannis Varoufakis; the deputy Minister for culture Nikos Xydakis; the Minister of Infrastructure, Transport and Networks Christos Spirtzis.

The head of the Parliamentary Budget Office Panagiotis Liargkovas and the head of the Parliamentary Scientific Service Professor Pliakos also spoke.
All mentioned essential elements for a successful auditing of the Greek debt, and all committed their ministries or departments to actively supporting the project.

Afterwards three members of the auditing committee took the floor, namely Cephas Lumina, former United Nations Independent Expert on the effects of foreign debt on the full enjoyment of all human rights; Margot Salomon, Director of the Centre for the Study of Human Rights at the London School of Economics, and Maria Lucia Fattorelli, former member of the committee auditing the debt of Ecuador and Coordinator of the Citizen Debt Audit-Brazil.

The whole session, that lasted from 2 p.m. to 7.45 p.m., was broadcast live on the Hellenic parliament television channel, which is steadily winning more viewers in the country.
The audit committee will continue its investigation on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday.
The Sunday session started with jurist Georges Kasamatis’ intervention. It was broadcast by the Hellenic parliament television channel:

Eric Toussaint’s speech 4th April 2015 – Hellenic parliament

The Committee will audit the Greek debt in the coming months, aimed at finding out whether part of the Greek public debt is illegitimate, illegal, odious or unsustainable.

Without claiming to be exhaustive, one can propose the following definitions:

  1. Illegitimate public debt : debt that was contracted by a government without considering the public interest Interest An amount paid in remuneration of an investment or received by a lender. Interest is calculated on the amount of the capital invested or borrowed, the duration of the operation and the rate that has been set. , a debt contracted in favour of a privileged minority.
  2. Illegal debt : debt contracted in violation of the current legal or constitutional system.
  3. Odious public debt : granted on conditions that violate fondamental human rights (the social, economic, cultural, civic, and political rights of the people).
  4. Unsustainable public debt : debt that can only be paid back with dire consequences for the people such as a dramatic degradation of their living conditions, of access to health care or education, an increase in unemployment.

In short, debt that undermines basic human rights.

In other words, an unsustainable debt is a debt whose repayment makes it impossible for governments to guarantee to the population fundamental human rights (good public health system, good public educational system, good social protection system, decent wages and pensions, etc.)

Paragraph 9 of Article 7 of Regulation No 472/2013 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 21 May 2013 (which strongly undermines the sovereignty of the member States that have to implement adjustment policies) maintains that States subject to structural adjustment Structural Adjustment Economic policies imposed by the IMF in exchange of new loans or the rescheduling of old loans.

Structural Adjustments policies were enforced in the early 1980 to qualify countries for new loans or for debt rescheduling by the IMF and the World Bank. The requested kind of adjustment aims at ensuring that the country can again service its external debt. Structural adjustment usually combines the following elements : devaluation of the national currency (in order to bring down the prices of exported goods and attract strong currencies), rise in interest rates (in order to attract international capital), reduction of public expenditure (’streamlining’ of public services staff, reduction of budgets devoted to education and the health sector, etc.), massive privatisations, reduction of public subsidies to some companies or products, freezing of salaries (to avoid inflation as a consequence of deflation). These SAPs have not only substantially contributed to higher and higher levels of indebtedness in the affected countries ; they have simultaneously led to higher prices (because of a high VAT rate and of the free market prices) and to a dramatic fall in the income of local populations (as a consequence of rising unemployment and of the dismantling of public services, among other factors).

should carry out a complete audit of public debt in order to explain why indebtedness increased so sharply and to identify any irregularities. Here is the text in full: “A Member State subject to a macroeconomic adjustment programme shall carry out a comprehensive audit of its public finances in order, inter alia, to assess the reasons that led to the building up of excessive levels of debt as well as to track any possible irregularity”. [1]

Citizen participation is fundamental to a rigorous and independent audit process.

Here are some key questions that could be tackled by auditing the Greek debt.

Greek debt was at 113% of GDP GDP
Gross Domestic Product
Gross Domestic Product is an aggregate measure of total production within a given territory equal to the sum of the gross values added. The measure is notoriously incomplete; for example it does not take into account any activity that does not enter into a commercial exchange. The GDP takes into account both the production of goods and the production of services. Economic growth is defined as the variation of the GDP from one period to another.
in 2009 before the onset of the Greek crisis and the intervention by the IMF IMF
International Monetary Fund
Along with the World Bank, the IMF was founded on the day the Bretton Woods Agreements were signed. Its first mission was to support the new system of standard exchange rates.

When the Bretton Wood fixed rates system came to an end in 1971, the main function of the IMF became that of being both policeman and fireman for global capital: it acts as policeman when it enforces its Structural Adjustment Policies and as fireman when it steps in to help out governments in risk of defaulting on debt repayments.

As for the World Bank, a weighted voting system operates: depending on the amount paid as contribution by each member state. 85% of the votes is required to modify the IMF Charter (which means that the USA with 17,68% % of the votes has a de facto veto on any change).

The institution is dominated by five countries: the United States (16,74%), Japan (6,23%), Germany (5,81%), France (4,29%) and the UK (4,29%).
The other 183 member countries are divided into groups led by one country. The most important one (6,57% of the votes) is led by Belgium. The least important group of countries (1,55% of the votes) is led by Gabon and brings together African countries.
and the European institutions involved in the Memorandum reached 175% of GDP in 2014. How could we explain that? Are there irregularities in the huge increase of the debt?

The audit will analyse the legality and legitimacy of the so-called bail-out process.

Is it in conformity with European treaties (especially Article 125 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU, which prohibits EU countries from taking on the financial engagements of another EU country)?

Did it comply with normal EU decision making procedure?

Did the public lenders in 2010 (the 14 EU countries that granted Greece €53 billion of loans, the IMF, the ECB ECB
European Central Bank
The European Central Bank is a European institution based in Frankfurt, founded in 1998, to which the countries of the Eurozone have transferred their monetary powers. Its official role is to ensure price stability by combating inflation within that Zone. Its three decision-making organs (the Executive Board, the Governing Council and the General Council) are composed of governors of the central banks of the member states and/or recognized specialists. According to its statutes, it is politically ‘independent’ but it is directly influenced by the world of finance.
, the European Commission etc.) respect the full consent of the borrower, Greece, or was Greece acting under coercion?

Did these creditors impose one-sided conditions such as excessive interest rates Interest rates When A lends money to B, B repays the amount lent by A (the capital) as well as a supplementary sum known as interest, so that A has an interest in agreeing to this financial operation. The interest is determined by the interest rate, which may be high or low. To take a very simple example: if A borrows 100 million dollars for 10 years at a fixed interest rate of 5%, the first year he will repay a tenth of the capital initially borrowed (10 million dollars) plus 5% of the capital owed, i.e. 5 million dollars, that is a total of 15 million dollars. In the second year, he will again repay 10% of the capital borrowed, but the 5% now only applies to the remaining 90 million dollars still due, i.e. 4.5 million dollars, or a total of 14.5 million dollars. And so on, until the tenth year when he will repay the last 10 million dollars, plus 5% of that remaining 10 million dollars, i.e. 0.5 million dollars, giving a total of 10.5 million dollars. Over 10 years, the total amount repaid will come to 127.5 million dollars. The repayment of the capital is not usually made in equal instalments. In the initial years, the repayment concerns mainly the interest, and the proportion of capital repaid increases over the years. In this case, if repayments are stopped, the capital still due is higher…

The nominal interest rate is the rate at which the loan is contracted. The real interest rate is the nominal rate reduced by the rate of inflation.
on the loans? [2]
Did the 14 EU member States that each granted Greece a bilateral loan respect their own laws and constitutions, as well as those of Greece?

Another purpose is to audit the actions of the IMF. We know that at the IMF Executive Board meeting of 9 May 2010 several members of the IMF Executive Board (the Brazilian, the Swiss, the Argentine, the Indian, the Chinese members) had expressed considerable reservations regarding the loan granted by the IMF, pointing out, among other things, that Greece would not be able to repay it due to the policies that were being imposed on the country [3] . See the revelations made by The Wall Street Journal: See also:

Recently, Paulo Nogueira Batista, one of the IMF’s executive directors, claims that all IMF board members knew that the loan was actually intended to save the French and German banks not Greece. [4] the revelations made by The Wall Street Journal: See also:

Philippe Legrain, advisor to the President of the European Commission José Manuel Barroso in 2010 when the Troika Troika Troika: IMF, European Commission and European Central Bank, which together impose austerity measures through the conditions tied to loans to countries in difficulty.

granted its loan, specifies that ‘IMF decision makers were overruled by the IMF Managing Director of the time, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who was then running for the French presidency and consequently wanted to prevent French banks from facing losses. Similarly German banks had persuaded Angela Merkel that it would be terrible if ever they should lose money. So the Eurozone governments decided to pretend that Greece was only facing temporary problems.’ They had to bypass ‘an essential principle in the Maastricht Treaty, namely the no-bail out clause. The loans to Athens were not intended to save Greece but the French and German banks that had been foolish enough to grant loans to an insolvent State.’

Private European banks were thus replaced by the Troika as Greece’s main creditor as from late 2010.

Did the ECB has respected its mandate?

The audit must also evaluate whether the strict conditions imposed on Greece by the Troika in exchange for the loans it received has respected their international human rights obligations - such as the right to health care, to education, housing, social security, to a fair wage, and also freedom of association and collective bargaining.

These rights are protected by a range of conventions or other instruments at international and European level, such as the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, the European Convention on Human Rights, the European Social Charter, the two UN Human Rights Covenants, the UN Charter, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and also the basic conventions of the International Labour Organisation (ILO).

The audit will need to verify whether, as provided for in Regulation (EU) No. 472/2013 of the European Parliament and the Council of 21 May, 2013, mentioned above, “The draft macroeconomic adjustment programme… fully observe[s] Article 152 TFEU and Article 28 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union.” The audit must also verify whether the following passage of the Regulation is adhered to: “The budgetary consolidation efforts set out in the macroeconomic adjustment programme shall take into account the need to ensure sufficient means for fundamental policies, such as education and health care.” It must also be determined whether the following fundamental principle of the Regulation has been applied: “Article 9 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) provides that, in defining and implementing its policies and activities, the Union is to take into account requirements linked to the promotion of a high level of employment, the guarantee of adequate social protection, the fight against social exclusion, and a high level of education, training and protection of human health.”

There are also 3 conditions proposed to define an odious debt Odious Debt According to the doctrine, for a debt to be odious it must meet two conditions:
1) It must have been contracted against the interests of the Nation, or against the interests of the People, or against the interests of the State.
2) Creditors cannot prove they they were unaware of how the borrowed money would be used.

We must underline that according to the doctrine of odious debt, the nature of the borrowing regime or government does not signify, since what matters is what the debt is used for. If a democratic government gets into debt against the interests of its population, the contracted debt can be called odious if it also meets the second condition. Consequently, contrary to a misleading version of the doctrine, odious debt is not only about dictatorial regimes.

(See Éric Toussaint, The Doctrine of Odious Debt : from Alexander Sack to the CADTM).

The father of the odious debt doctrine, Alexander Nahum Sack, clearly says that odious debts can be contracted by any regular government. Sack considers that a debt that is regularly incurred by a regular government can be branded as odious if the two above-mentioned conditions are met.
He adds, “once these two points are established, the burden of proof that the funds were used for the general or special needs of the State and were not of an odious character, would be upon the creditors.”

Sack defines a regular government as follows: “By a regular government is to be understood the supreme power that effectively exists within the limits of a given territory. Whether that government be monarchical (absolute or limited) or republican; whether it functions by “the grace of God” or “the will of the people”; whether it express “the will of the people” or not, of all the people or only of some; whether it be legally established or not, etc., none of that is relevant to the problem we are concerned with.”

So clearly for Sack, all regular governments, whether despotic or democratic, in one guise or another, can incur odious debts.

  • lack of consent;
  • lack of benefit to the population;
  • awareness of the lenders.

Conclusions: The Committee will audit the Greek debt in the coming months, aimed at finding out whether part of the Greek public debt is illegitimate, illegal, odious or unsustainable.


[2The interest rates imposed in 2010-201 were between 4% and 5.5%. In 2012 they were, after protests (including from the Irish government who was also asked to pay high interest in 2010), reduced to 1%. Lowering the rate was a tacit acknowledgement by the 14 States that the interest rates were too high.

Eric Toussaint

is a historian and political scientist who completed his Ph.D. at the universities of Paris VIII and Liège, is the spokesperson of the CADTM International, and sits on the Scientific Council of ATTAC France.
He is the author of Greece 2015: there was an alternative. London: Resistance Books / IIRE / CADTM, 2020 , Debt System (Haymarket books, Chicago, 2019), Bankocracy (2015); The Life and Crimes of an Exemplary Man (2014); Glance in the Rear View Mirror. Neoliberal Ideology From its Origins to the Present, Haymarket books, Chicago, 2012, etc.
See his bibliography:
He co-authored World debt figures 2015 with Pierre Gottiniaux, Daniel Munevar and Antonio Sanabria (2015); and with Damien Millet Debt, the IMF, and the World Bank: Sixty Questions, Sixty Answers, Monthly Review Books, New York, 2010. He was the scientific coordinator of the Greek Truth Commission on Public Debt from April 2015 to November 2015.

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