الإثنين , مايو 17 2021

Greek PM defiant amid cash squeeze

Greece’s Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has made a defiant speech as cash withdrawal limits begin to bite for Greek bank customers.

Mr Tsipras promised Greeks their pensions and wages would be safe.

Before his speech he put new proposals in a letter to eurozone partners, accepting most of what was on the table before talks collapsed, but with conditions.

But the Eurogroup later rebuffed it.

Germany had already said talks with Greece will not be possible until after a referendum called by Mr Tsipras for Sunday.

Eurogroup President Jeroen Dijsselbloem said finance ministers had a conference call on Wednesday evening and they saw “no grounds for further talks at this point”.

In Sunday’s vote, Greeks will be asked to accept or reject proposals made by creditors last week.

Mr Tsipras’s latest offer to creditors is tied explicitly to agreement on a request for a third bailout from the eurozone’s bailout fund lasting two years and amounting to €29.1bn.

In his address on Wednesday Mr Tsipras thanked Greeks for their “calm” in the face of bank closures and said their salaries and pensions would “not be lost”.

He angrily denied he had a secret plan to take Greece out of the euro, calling those who accused him of this “liars”.

Follow latest developments as they happen

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Greek banks did not open this week after the ECB froze their liquidity lifeline.

Withdrawals from cash machines are capped at just €60 a day and long queues have been forming outside banks.

However, up to 1,000 branches re-opened on Wednesday to allow pensioners – many of whom do not use bank cards – a one-off weekly withdrawal of up to €120.

Many pensioners had waited outside banks from before dawn, only to be told to return on Thursday or Friday, AP reports. Some pensioners were told their pensions had not yet been deposited.

“It’s very bad,” said Popi Stavrakaki, 68. “I’m afraid it will be worse soon. I have no idea why this is happening.”

Close to 300 pensioners marched on the Bank of Greece in Athens after being given only a small sum from banks in the morning instead of the entire €120.

Employees at the finance ministry in Athens unfurled this banner -the finance minister said this was done without his permission

After Mr Tsipras’ latest letter was published, European markets surged on the news Greece might be willing to accept a deal.

But German Chancellor Angela Merkel said during a special parliamentary session in Berlin that no new bailout talks would be possible before Greece holds Sunday’s referendum.

Mr Dijsselbloem said eurozone finance ministers agreed that “given the political situation, the rejection of the previous proposals, the referendum which will take place on Sunday, and the recommendation by the Greek government to vote No, we see no grounds for further talks at this point.”

BBC Europe correspondent Chris Morris says that as well as seeking further amendments to the creditors’ proposals, Mr Tsipras’s latest offer is tied explicitly to agreement on a request for a third bailout.

In other words, Mr Tsipras is attaching new conditions to any agreement on economic and structural reforms, our correspondent says.

And his application for a third bailout was accompanied by a request for debt restructuring that other eurozone countries would, at this stage, be unwilling to consider, he adds.

Lenders’ proposals – key sticking points

  • VAT (sales tax): Alexis Tsipras accepts a new three-tier system, but wants to keep 30% discount on the Greek islands’ VAT rates. Lenders want the islands’ discounts scrapped
  • Pensions: Ekas top-up grant for some 200,000 poorer pensioners will be phased out by 2020 – as demanded by lenders. But Mr Tsipras says no to immediate Ekas cut for the wealthiest 20% of Ekas recipients
  • Defence: Mr Tsipras says reduce ceiling for military spending by €200m in 2016 and €400m in 2017. Lenders call for €400m reduction – no mention of €200m

Source: European Commission document, 26 Jun 15 (pdf)

Greek debt jargon explained

Tsipras and his Greek gamble

Also on Wednesday, officials with the European Central Bank (ECB) were due to decide on whether to demand more collateral from Greek banks on emergency loans it has given them.

With the previous eurozone bailout expired, Greece no longer has access to billions of euros in funds.

Athens missed the deadline for a €1.5bn (£1.1bn, $1.7bn) payment to the IMF on Tuesday.

Only three other countries are still in arrears to the IMF – Sudan, Somalia and Zimbabwe. Between them, they owe €1.6bn, only marginally more than Greece.

The European Commission – one of the “troika” of creditors along with the IMF and the ECB – wants Athens to raise taxes and cut welfare spending to meet its debt obligations.

Greece’s left-wing Syriza government, elected on an anti-austerity platform, has been in deadlock with its creditors for months over the terms of a third bailout.

Last weekend, the Greek government took the unilateral decision to hold a vote, angering eurozone ministers.

EU leaders have warned that a “No” vote would see Greece leave the eurozone – though Mr Tsipras says he does not want this to happen.

Human rights body the Council of Europe has said the referendum would “fall short of international standards” if held as planned on Sunday.

The body’s Secretary General Thorbjorn Jagland told AP that the fact the vote “has been called on such a short notice… is a major problem”, and criticised the lack of clarity in the question to be put to voters.

A poll by the Greek newspaper Efimerida ton Syntakton published on Wednesday suggested that 54% of Greeks would vote against the creditors’ terms for a bailout – but that the number of “No” voters had fallen since the introduction of capital controls.

Greece’s cash trap – Dimitris Katsikas, Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy

The economy is frozen and we’re in a liquidity trap, where everyone wants to hold euros.

Investment is non-existent and consumption has collapsed.

People have stopped submitting tax income statements and with the banks closed the government cannot receive anything. Supermarkets don’t know what to do with the cash they receive.

We are not in the eurozone bailout programme so the European Central Bank cannot increase funding to the banking system.

Credit agencies have reduced the ratings on Greek banks so they’re almost junk and even if they have collateral to give they may not be able to get new funding. Plus, we are essentially in default of the IMF.

Even if there is a deal, capital controls will be here for some time because there would be a rush on the banks if they re-opened.

An interim solution would only calm the symptoms of the crisis. Under a more permanent deal difficulties would remain for some weeks.

What happens next?

5 July – Referendum on creditors’ proposals takes place, which many say is effectively a vote on Greek membership of the eurozone

20 July – Greece must redeem €3.46bn of bonds held by the European Central Bank. If it fails to do so, the ECB can cut off Greece’s access to emergency loans

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