What if SYRIZA took the EU at its word and audited Greek debt?

14 January 2015 by Eric Toussaint

Alexis Tsipras and Eric Toussaint

Since the announcement that elections will be held in Greece on 25 January 2015, the prospect that they be won by SYRIZA has been presented as a menace to international public opinion and in particular, as a threat to the Eurozone. Yet those who are sounding the alarm are fully aware that SYRIZA has announced that it has no intention of suspending debt repayments once elected, and wishes to remain in the Eurozone. On the other hand SYRIZA is committed to putting an end to the unjust and antisocial measures implemented by previous governments and the Troika.

This campaign against the supposed dangers of SYRIZA is aimed at intimidating Greek voters into renouncing their right to change. It is also intended, in the event of a SYRIZA victory, to cause part of European public opinion to reject the Greek Coalition of the Radical Left in order to avoid Podemos winning the autumn 2015 Spanish elections in its wake. Other surprises could be in store from countries such as Cyprus, Portugal and Slovenia if their citizens considered that it would be worth trying to replace disastrous ultraconservative policies by left-wing measures. European leaders and the large private corporations that support them are aware that the majority of the Eurozone population has a negative opinion of the policies that have been implemented in recent years, and would be ready to vote for change. A SYRIZA victory would represent a major threat to the mainstream parties, whether conservative or “socialist”, fearing that the contamination could spread to Spain.

The debt that Greece is expected to pay is equivalent to 175% of annual national wealth, and is an intolerable burden for the Greek people.

What would happen if a SYRIZA government decided to apply, to the letter, Article 7 of a regulation adopted by the European Union in May 2013 “on the strengthening of economic and budgetary surveillance of Member States in the euro area experiencing or threatened with serious difficulties with respect to their financial stability”, concerning countries subject to a 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).

IMF : http://www.worldbank.org/
plan, including in particular Greece, Portugal and Cyprus.

Paragraph 9 of Article 7 maintains that States subject to structural adjustment 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]

The Greek government, under Antonis Samaras refrained from applying this regulation so as to hide from the Greek population, the real reasons for the increase in debt, and the irregularities linked to it. In November 2012, the Greek parliament, dominated by a right wing majority, rejected a SYRIZA motion for the creation of a parliamentary commission to investigate the debt, by 167 to 119 with zero abstentions.

It is clear that should SYRIZA win the elections, the government that would then be set up could well decide to apply the letter of European law and create a parliamentary debt audit commission (with citizen participation) to analyse the process that led Greece into excessive indebtedness, to track probable irregularities, and to identify the illegitimate, illegal, odious … parts of the debt.

Citizen participation is fundamental to a rigorous and independent audit process. Article 8 of the above-mentioned regulation recommends that: “A Member State shall seek the views of social partners as well as relevant civil society organisations when preparing its draft macroeconomic adjustment programmes, with a view to contributing to building consensus over its content.” One more reason for active citizen collaboration in the audit process.

Here are some key points that could be revealed by carrying out an audit.

Greek debt, which 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 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.

IMF : https://www.ecb.europa.eu/home/html/index.en.html
, which now holds 4/5 of total debt, reached 175% of GDP in 2014. We therefore see that the Troika intervention was followed by a very considerable increase in Greek debt.

Between 2010 and 2012, the loans that the Troika granted to Greece were very largely used to repay its most important creditors at that time, mainly the private banks of the principal European economies, starting with the French and German banks. [2] In 2009, some 80% of Greek public debt was held by the private banks of seven EU countries. Fifty percent was held by French and German banks alone.

An audit of Greek debt will show that European private banks greatly increased their loans to Greece between the end of 2005 and 2009 (rising by more than €60 billion, from €80 billion to €140 billion) without taking into account Greece’s real repayment capacities. The banks acted recklessly, reassured in their conviction that the European authorities would come to their aid if there was a problem.

As previously mentioned, an audit will show that the so-called bail-out of Greece set up by the European institutions with assistance from 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.

, has in fact enabled the banks of some European countries with a decisive influence on European institutions to continue collecting debt repayments while at the same time transferring the risk to the Member States through the Troika. It is not Greece that has been saved, but a handful of big private banks mainly based in the strongest countries of the EU.

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

The audit will analyse the legality and legitimacy of the bail-out process. Is it in conformity with European treaties (especially Article 125, 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 principal of the free will of the borrower, Greece, or did they profit Profit The positive gain yielded from a company’s activity. Net profit is profit after tax. Distributable profit is the part of the net profit which can be distributed to the shareholders. from Greece’s distress in the face of aggressive speculation to impose agreements that were against its own interests? 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? [3] Did the 14 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 several members of the IMF Executive Board (the Brazilian, the Swiss, the Argentine, the Indian, the Iranian, the Chinese, and the Egyptian member) 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 [4]. Did the Greek government, in collusion with the Managing Director of the IMF at the time, request that its statistics department falsify the exact data in order to issue such a negative report on the country’s financial health that the IMF would be justified in launching a bail-out plan? Several highly-place Greek civil servants say so.

Did the ECB seriously overstep its prerogatives in requiring the Greek Parliament to pass legislation concerning the right to strike, health care, the right of association, education, and the regulation of wage levels?

In March 2012, the Troika organized a restructuring of the Greek debt that was presented at the time as a success. We should recall that George Papandreou, the Prime Minister, had announced in early November 2011, just before a meeting of the G20 G20 The Group of Twenty (G20 or G-20) is a group made up of nineteen countries and the European Union whose ministers, central-bank directors and heads of state meet regularly. It was created in 1999 after the series of financial crises in the 1990s. Its aim is to encourage international consultation on the principle of broadening dialogue in keeping with the growing economic importance of a certain number of countries. Its members are Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, Italy, India, Indonesia, Japan, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, Turkey, USA, UK and the European Union (represented by the presidents of the Council and of the European Central Bank). , that in February 2012 he would call a referendum on the restructuring of Greece’s debt prepared by the Troika. Under pressure from the Troika, that referendum never took place and the Greek people were denied their right to express their opinion of the new debts. The mainstream media relayed the narrative which said that the restructuring would reduce Greece’s debt by 50%. In reality, Greece’s debt is greater in 2015 than in 2011, the year before the so-called 50% cancellation. The audit will show that this restructuring operation, which was in fact a huge confidence trick, was linked to an extension of policies that run counter to the interests of Greece and its population.

The audit must also evaluate whether the strict conditions imposed on Greece by the Troika in exchange for the loans it received are a fundamental violation of a series of treaties and conventions with which the public authorities on the side of both the creditors and the borrower, Greece, are required to comply. The professor of law Andreas Fischer-Lescano, commissioned by the Vienna Chamber of Labour, [5] has irrefutably demonstrated that the Troika’s programs are illegal under European and international law. The measures defined in the adjustment programs that have been imposed on Greece and the concrete policies that are their direct consequence violate a series of fundamental rights - such as the right to health care, to education, housing, social security, to a fair wage, and also freedom of association and collective bargaining. All these rights are protected by many laws 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 Charter of the UN, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and also the conventions of the International Labour Organisation (ILO), which have the status of basic legal principles. The list of articles violated by the Memoranda imposed on Greece, meticulously drawn up by professor Fischer-Lescano, is impressive and the entities who make up the Troika or were put in place by it (the European Stability Mechanism ESM
European Stability Mechanism
The European Stability Mechanism is a European entity for managing the financial crisis in the Eurozone. In 2012, it replaced the European Financial Stability Facility and the European Financial Stabilisation Mechanism, which had been implemented in response to the public-debt crisis in the Eurozone. It concerns only EU member States that are part of the Eurozone. If there is a threat to the stability of the Eurozone, this European financial institution is supposed to grant financial ‘assistance’ (loans) to a country or countries in difficulty. There are strict conditions to this assistance.

, for example) are legally liable for those violations.

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.” The above provisions need to be taken into consideration in the light of the assessment report published in April 2014 by the EU on the implementation of the second structural adjustment program, in which the authors express satisfaction at the elimination of 20% of all jobs in Greece’s public sector [6]. In an inset entitled “Success stories of the Economic Adjustment Programme,” we learn that labour-market reforms have served as the pretext for a reduction in the legal minimum wage and that 150,000 jobs have been eliminated in the public administration (“Decrease in general government employment by 150,000”, p. 10).

The audit should show clearly that the measures dictated by the creditors are in fact manifestly regressive in terms of fundamental human rights and a clear violation of a series of treaties. Considerable irregularities can be identified. Consequently, the commission in charge of the audit will be able to give a reasoned opinion as to the illegality, the illegitimacy, and even the nullity of the debt contracted by Greece with the Troika.

Translated by Snake Arbusto, Adam Clark-Gimmig and Mike Krolikowski

Eric Toussaint is a historian and political scientist who holds a Ph.D. from the universities of Paris VIII and Liège. He is the Spokesman for CADTM International (www.cadtm.org), and sits on the Scientific Council of ATTAC France. He is the author of Bankocracy, Merlin Press, London, March 2015; he is coauthor with Damien Millet of Debt, the IMF, and the World Bank: Sixty Questions, Sixty Answers, New York: Monthly Review Books, 2010. Alongwith Pierre Gottiniaux, Daniel Munevar and Antonio Sanabria he has co-authored Les Chiffres de la dette 2015. See http://cadtm.org/Les-Chiffres-de-la-dette-2015



[2C. Lapavitsas, A. Kaltenbrunner, G. Lambrinidis, D. Lindo, J. Meadway, J. Michell, J.P. Painceira, E. Pires, J. Powell, A. Stenfors, N. Teles : “The eurozone between austerity and default”, September 2010. http://www.researchonmoneyandfinance.org/index.php/publication/eurozone-reports/33-second-rmf-report-on-the-eurozone-crisis-eurozone-between-austerity-and-default
See also Eric Toussaint, “Greece-Germany: who owes who? (Part 2) Creditors are protected, the people of Greece sacrificed”, published 6 November 2012, http://cadtm.org/Greece-Germany-who-owes-who-Part-2

[3The 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), reined in to 1 %. Lowering the rate was tacit acknowledgement, by the 14 States, that the interest rates were too high.

[5See his report “Human Rights in Times of Austerity Policy”, published 17 February, 2014, available at http://www.etui.org/content/download/13817/113830/file/Legal+Opinion+Human+Rights+in+Times+of+Austerity+Policy+(final).pdf.

[6European Commission, Directorate-General for Economic and Financial Affairs, The Second Economic Adjustment Programme for Greece, Fourth Review – April 2014, p. 3, See http://ec.europa.eu/economy_finance/publications/occasional_paper/2014/pdf/ocp192_en.pdf. The report contains 304 pages.

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: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C3%89ric_Toussaint
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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