Eric Toussaint: The audit will reveal what really happened in Greece the past years

29 April 2015 by Eric Toussaint , Kostas Papagiannis

Eric Toussaint interviewed by Kostas Papagiannis of Syriza’s daily, Avgi

Eric Toussaint, a world renowned specialist on the subject of illegitimate and odious debt write-off, will be in charge of the scientific coordination of the international team of specialists participating in the Audit Committee of the Public Debt. The Committee was appointed by the president of Parliament, Z. Konstantopoulou.

As a representative of the Committee for the Abolition of Third World Debt, Eric Toussaint has participated, in 2007, in the Audit Committee of the Public Debt of Ecuador, and has also been counseling on the subject of public debt with the governments of Paraguay, East Timor, Brazil, Argentina, and the African Union [1].

Eric Toussaint was in Athens for the press conference officially announcing the creation of the Audit Committee of the Public Debt and was interviewed by «Avgi» [2].
He explains the Committee’s twofold intention: firstly, to arm the Greek government with legal arguments on the matter of partial debt abolition during the negotiations in relation to this matter; secondly, the Committee’s conclusions could be of further use to the Court of Justice, which is investigating the abusive conditions of the treaties signed by the previous governments.

He reckons there is a distortion campaign on the matter of the Greek debt : he marks the fact that the results of the Committee’s survey will reveal to the Greek and European public opinions what really happened in Greece, as it will reveal what happened with the other countries that have signed Memorandums.

Avgi: What results can we expect from the investigation of the Audit Committee of the Greek Public Debt?

We will be working with a group of Greek specialists and specialists from numerous other countries. These are specialists in International Law, in economics, in finance and in matters of public debt audit. We will determine which part of the debt can be qualified as illegitimate, illegal, odious, or unsustainable. We will investigate and we will establish that, for example, this part of the debt is illegitimate for this reason. Our conclusions will then be made available for the parliament and for all the Greek authorities.
They will then make the necessary decisions which will be based on our conclusions. Our Committee has no decision making authority. We can only draw conclusions, and help the citizens and the authorities of Greece to sustain their positions on the subject of the debt with legal arguments. A very important element – clearly posited by the president of parliament, Z. Konstantopoulou – is that the Greek public opinion, the citizens of Greece, will assist us in our investigation. We welcome any depositions and opinions in order to conduct our investigation with the best possible outcome. 
Avgi: Greece owes to the «institutions» (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.

) approximately 80% of its debt. Doesn’t this complicate the process of debt restructuring and of the erasement of its odious part?

Honestly, I think it’s simpler, clearer, this way. It’s a bit like a Greek tragedy. You have a body of actors (the members of the Troika) and a body of time –five years– ; there are very clear conditions imposed for the Greek debt. You do not have multiple creditors, you have 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.
, you have 14 countries that made loans to Greece, the Eropean Financial Stability Facility (EFSF), 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.

Avgi: And the European taxpayers…
No, not exactly. Do you really think the European taxpayers decided to loan this money, and in these terms to Greece? No.
Nobody asked their opinion. The countries that loaned Greece this money didn’t take it directly from the pockets of their citizens. They loaned it to the banks. The money that was granted to Greece in the form of loans, already appears in the public debt of these countries. The French public debt, for example, rose, because France lent this money to the banks, before they lent it to Greece, at the prohibitive rate of 5,5%, for the period between 2010-2011. This abuse was so obvious that the rate was subsequently diminished.
Then Greece used this money to reimburse private banks : the French private banks, the German private banks, the Italian private banks, etc. The citizens of these countries made no such decision. There is a campaign distorting the facts. It’s done by generalising lies. If you repeat the same thing 100 times, you will end by believing it is right, that it is in fact the truth. We shall show that the reality is different. The Committee will show to the Greek public opinion, but also to the French public opinion, the German public opinion and so on, what really happened. We should be optimistic regarding the capacity of the public opinion to understand what really happened in Greece these past five years. And not only in Greece, but also in Cyprus, in Portugal, and in Ireland.
Avgi: Part of your work consists in verifying the conditions in which the previous governmental treaties were concluded. Supposing that you find out that certain treaties comprised abusive conditions, what will happen to these treaties and to the people who contracted them?

We will draw clear conclusions, clear responsibilities, concerning these abuses.
There is a separation of powers, and the Court of Justice will be deciding whether to take action against the responsible. Moreover, the Court of Justice has already pressed charges in different affairs of corruption, such as the Siemens affair, the OTE affair, the digitalisation affair, etc.
It is quite clear that with our investigation we shall find other similar affairs and these findings will be useful to the Court of Justice later on, when it will have to intervene and take in charge its own responsibilities.

Avgi: What do you think of the first actions undertaken by the government of A. Tsipras? Are you optimistic regarding the results of the negotiations with the European institutions concerning the debt?

I think that the first measures adopted by the government are positive, like the decision to rehire the people who were fired, or the decision to provide free electricity to 300.000 families, or moreover, the increase of the minimum salary until October 2016. These measures are positive, and I hope that they will be speeded up, because the humanitarian crisis in Greece is severe and there is a great number of people that cannot wait during long months for some things to be done.

In any case, it seems clear that the citizens support the government of A. Tsipras. I think that in the last polls 60% to 70% of the citizens approved of the new government and had a positive opinion of its actions. Now, concerning the negotiations with the E.U and I.M.F. partners, it is obvious that they do not want to accept the proposition of the Greek government; they appear to be inflexible. For example, in the decision signed on the 25 of February, they do not recognise the existence of the humanitarian crisis. I think that this position of the creditors is unacceptable.

The Greek government will have to decide whether it will pursue the negotiations on the same tone, or if it will choose a firmer position in which to face the hard and rigid position of the European Commission and certain European governments.

Translated from greek by Daphne Kioussis


[1The African Union gathers 54 African States with a total population of near one million inhabitants. Its headquarters are in Addis-Abeba.

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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