OXI ! (No)

Note kindly translated by Anne-Marie de Grazia

The victory of the « No » at the referendum is a historical event. It will remain as a milestone. Despite numerous pressures for a « Yes » vote exerted by the Greek media as well as by the leaders of the European Union, in spite of the European Central Bank organizing the conditions of a bank-run, the Greek people let its voice be heard. It made its voice heard against the lies which have been pouring out continuously over the situation in Greece over the past weeks. We shall have a little thought for those editorialists who have, wilfully, made a travesty of reality and suggested that there was a link between Syriza and the far-right of Golden Dawn. These lies no longer surprise us, but we will not forget them. The people let its voice be heard with unusual force as, contrarily to what exit polls had given to expect, the victory of the « No » was obtained with a considerable margin, by almost 60%. This of course reinforces the government of Alexis Tsipras and should give its interlocutors matter of thought. We shall soon know what happens. But we must state upfront that the reactions of Martin Schulz at the European Parliament, of Jean-Claude Juncker in the name of the Commission[1], or of Sigmar Gabriel, the Minister of the Economy and the SPD ally of Mrs Merkel in Germany[2], do not leave much space for optimism on this point.

This victory of the « No » also has, evidently, a particular echo in France. It is happening practically ten years after another victory of the « No », in our own country (as well as in the Netherlands). It concerned then, in 2005, the project of a European Constitutional Treaty. This project was rejected in France by over 54% of suffrages. In this case too, the campaigns waged in the press by the partisans of the « yes » had overstepped all measures, gone beyond all bounds. The partisans of the « no » were buried under insults and threats[3]. But they held tight. From there dates the ever widening divorce between the French and their media cast, a divorce which can be read both in the declining statistics of the « official » press and in the explosion of the audience of blogs, such as this one.

The vote had signalled a clear-cut difference between the thinking of the voters of the popular classes and those of the better-off classes [4]. I had called it at the time the « victory of the prolos over the bobos » or the victory of “blue collards vs bohemian bourgeois” [5]. It appears indeed that we have witnessed a similar phenomenon in Greece, the upscale suburbs of Athens having voted « Yes » over 80%, whereas the « No » vote carried the day in the working class neighborhoods in a reverse proportion. The “No” vote of the Greeks is a direct echo to the one of the French. Yet, after various manoeuvers, an almost identical text, the “Treaty of Lisbon,” was adopted in “congress” a few years later, by way of an unprincipled alliance between the UMP (the party of President Sarkozy) and the Socialist Party. From there dates certainly the break-up which can be verified between the elites of politics and of the media, and the voters. This denial of democracy, this theft of a sovereign vote, remains a deep thorn in the side of many Frenchmen. The broad victory of the Greek “No” could reactivate this injury and drive voters to draw their leaders to account for a past which has not really been passing well.

 

The meaning of a « No »

But we must understand the deeper meaning of this « No ». It is in opposition to the very antidemocratic behaviour of the leaders of the Eurogroup, of the European Commission, as well as of the European Parliament. It discredits personalities such as Jean-Claude Juncker, or M. Dijsselbloem, or M. Martin Schulz, the President of the Parliament, who had decided to exclude de facto Mr Varoufakis, the Greek Minister of Finances, from a meeting. This unheard of move was tantamount to excluding Greece from the Eurozone. We must remark on the extraordinary passivity of the French Minister, M. Michel Sapin. By accepting to stay in the room, he became an accomplice to the abuse of power perpetrated by M. Dijsselbloem. Even if the French government is presently declaring that it wants Greece to stay in the Eurozone, the behaviour of one of its eminent members, moreover one close to the President of the Republic, if not bringing a dementi, is at least casting doubt on the reality of this commitment. The Greek government cannot have failed to notice it and to put it on its record. In fact, we have been excluded from a battle in which Germany has, either directly or indirectly, largely inspired the European positions.

The fact of the ECB having organized, during the week of June 28 to July 5, the financial asphyxiation of the Greek banks, provoking a very understandable emotion in the population, is indeed proof that the European institutions by no means wanted to continue negotiations with Alexis Tsipras, but were seeking to obtain either his voluntary departure or his fall by way of one of this assembly stings which are made possible by parliamentary regimes such as the Greek one. The referendum has also been an attempt to oppose such manoeuvers. The victory of the « no » guarantees, at least for a while, that the Tsipras government will be safe from attempts of this type.

Is a resuming of negotiations possible?

But this by no means signifies that negotiations on the question of the Greek debt, however necessary, however justified, as we are being reminded by a report of the IMF, [6] which was timely published in spite of attempts at an embargo from the Eurogroup, will be able to resume. All the economists who have worked on this dossier, illustrious personalities such as Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz (Nobel Prize winner), international specialists such as James Galbraith or Thomas Piketty, have been explaining for weeks that without a restructuration of its debt accompanied by an annulment of some part of it, Greece could not find back to the road of growth. It would be logical therefore to grant to Greece that which, in 1953, was granted to Germany. But one must act soon, probably in the 48 hours ahead, and nothing indicates that the European institutions, which have attempted to forestall the publication of the report of the IMF, intend to do so. The declaration of Martin Schulz, President of the European Parliament, or of Sigmar Gabriel saying that the bridges have been cut, do not bode well.

The decision by Yannis Varoufakis to resign from his post as Minister of Finances has surprised many. He is indeed one of the big winners of the referendum. His replacement by Euclid Tsakalotos goes farther than a mere tactical concession granted the « creditors. » This is how Varoufakis himself actually presents his resignation[7]. But the new Minister could well signify the arrival of a man more committed to a break-up. Tsakalotos does not hide the fact that he has become a « Eurosceptic ». This was not really fully sized up in Brussels, but Varoufakis was in reality passionately attached to the Euro and to the European idea. Such is not the case with Tsakalotos. This could have important consequences in the coming days.

Indeed, if the ECB does not decide very rapidly to increase the ceiling of the emergency accord on liquidities (ELA), the situation will become rapidly critical in Greece and these negotiations will quickly lose all meaning. This is what Alexis Tsipras said on the evening of the victory of the « No ». An agreement may be possible, if both parties truly want it. But, as it happens, one is entitled to harboring doubts, and more than doubts, about the intentions of the European institutions.

So that, if the ECB did not increase the ceiling of the ELA, the Greek government would have no choice. It would have either to put in circulation « certificates of payment » which would constitute a parallel currency, or take over control of the Central Bank by decree (which is called a requisition) and force it to put into circulation the banknotes which it keeps in reserve, as well as those kept in commercial banks under its authorization. If a control-taking of the Central Bank would be entirely justified given the behaviour of the ECB and of the Eurogroup, who have wilfully violated the foundation as well as the wording of the treaties, it is still more probable that the first solution will be chosen. In any case, this was not the position of Yannis Varoufakis. We do not know at this hour what will be the position of Tsakalotos. Should the Greek government decide to emit payment certificates, this will lead rapidly to a two currencies system in Greece, and in the space of a few weeks, we can expect that one of these currencies will disappear. We would find ourselves confronted with an exit from the Euro, a « Grexit ». It is fair to state that this exit from the Euro would be totally and completely attributable to the European institutions.

Is the exit of Greece from the Euro already in the making?

We must remember that an exit from the Euro does not necessarily (and obligatorily) pass by the way of a clear-cut decision. This point has been particularly well exposed by Frances Coppola in an article published in the magazine Forbes[8]. It can result from the logic of circumstances and the reactions of the Greek government confronted with the double-play of both the Eurogroup and the ECB, which are in the process of strangulating it financially. Here again, it is unheard of that a Central Bank such as the ECB, who is also in charge of the stability of the banking system in the countries of the Eurozone, is in reality organizing the strangulation of the banks and their collapse. It is an unheard of fact, but it is not a fact without a precedent [9]. We must at this point move up somewhat in the tragic history of the XX century.

In 1930, in Germany, the President of the Reichsbank (the Central Bank of Germany), Mr Hjalmar Schacht, opposed an American loan to the government of the Weimar Republic, thus provoking a run on the banks [10]. This panic brought about the fall of the coalition then in power and the resignation of the Minister of Finances, the socialist Rudolph Hilferding. Having reached what the desired, Schacht lifted his obstruction. We can see here that the antidemocratic action of a Central Bank has a precedent, and it is a tragic one. With the arrival of chancellor Brüning, Germany made the choice of an insane austerity, which a few years later would bring the Nazis to power. This established the power of the Reichsbank as a parallel power to the one of the government. Le term of “Nebenregierung” or « parallel government » actually found its way into the technical and historical discourse in Germany.

We are therefore founded to ask ourselves if the exit of Greece from the Eurozone did not start a week ago, at the instigation of the ECB and of Germany weighing in on the organisations of the ECB. But it is clear, then, that this exit is entirely to be blamed on the Eurogroup and the ECB. It is in reality an expulsion, an action which is both scandalous and illegal, which would legitimate Greek authorities having recourse to the most radical measures.

This is where France could put on the brake. A meeting between François Hollande and Angela Merkel is set at the end of the day of Monday, July 6th. But let’s make no qualms about it, in order for this meeting to lead to a change in the position of Germany, France would have to throw its full weight on the scales and threaten to leave the Eurozone herself, if Germany were to pursue its actions and its policies. We can bet that François Hollande will do no such thing. Despite the reassuring declarations made by some second fiddles, our President is much too attached to what he believes to be a « Franco-German couple. » He probably does not have the courage to draw the consequences, all the consequences, of the dangerous and scandalous behavior of Germany. In so doing, and despite himself, he will lead the Euro to its demise, which means little, but maybe also the European Union itself, which means far more.

The great fear of the Euro-priests.

Let’s say it upfront, there is one thing which absolutely terrorizes the European leaders: that Greece could demonstrate that there is life outside the Euro, and that this life might, under some conditions, turn out to be better than life within the Euro. This is their great fear, this is what fills them with dread. For it would show to all, to the Portuguese, to the Spaniards, to the Italians and to the French, the road to be taken. This would uncover the immense fraud which the Euro has represented, for it was not the instrument of growth, nor even an instrument of stability, for the countries which adopted it, as well as the tyrannic nature of the non-elected power of the Eurogroup and of the ECB.

It is therefore possible, even probable, that the leaders of the Eurogroup and of the ECB will do anything in their might in order to provoke chaos in Greece. They have already started the dirty work last week. The need is then for the Greek government, while seeking to negotiate honestly but firmly, as it has been doing since February 2015, to ready itself for measures which will assure stability in the country and the normal functioning of the economy and of the institutions, even if, in order to do so, it should have to take some liberties with the wording of the treaties. This is probably the meaning of the departure of Yannis Varoufakis, who must be living through the actions of Germany and of the Eurogroup like a tragedy, and of his replacement by Euclid Tsakalotos. After all, it was not Greece who first broke the treaties, and one can consider that the actions of the Eurogroup as well as of the ECB for a week now have constituted contrary acts, in contravention with the foundation as well as the wording of said treaties.

This break-up carries within it the end of the Euro zone. Whatever the policies decided upon by Alexis Tsipras, it is clear from now on that such an end is the horizon of the present crisis.

Notes

[1] http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_STATEMENT-15-5310_en.htm

[2] L’Obs, « Grèce, un non qui passe mal en Allemagne », 6 juillet 2015, http://tempsreel.nouvelobs.com/la-crise-grecque/20150706.OBS2132/grece-un-non-qui-passe-mal-en-allemagne.html

[3] One shall refer to the archives of ACRIMED site, http://www.acrimed.org/article1980.html and http://www.acrimed.org/article2014.html as well as to Lordon F., « La procession des fulminants », text installed on the ACRIMED site, http://www.acrimed.org/article2057.htm

[4] B. Brunhes, « La victoire du non relève de la lutte des classes », remarks collected by François-Xavier Bourmaud, Le Figaro, 2 juin 2005.

[5] Sapir J., La Fin de l’Eurolibéralisme, Paris, Le Seuil, 2006.

[6] The Guardian, « IMF says Greece needs extra €60bn in funds and debt relief », 2 juillet 2015, http://www.theguardian.com/business/2015/jul/02/imf-greece-needs-extra-50bn-euros?CMP=share_btn_tw

[7] http://yanisvaroufakis.eu/2015/07/06/minister-no-more/

[8] Coppola F., « The Road To Grexit », Forbes, 3 juillet 2015, http://www.forbes.com/sites/francescoppola/2015/07/03/the-road-to-grexit/print/

[9] I thank one of my correspondents, Christoph Stein, who has drawn my attention on this point.

[10] Müller H., Die Zentralbank – eine Nebenregierung Reichsbankpräsident Hjalmar Schacht als Politiker der Weimarer Republik, Westdeutscher Verlag, Opladen, 1973.

 


Jacques Sapir

Ses travaux de chercheur se sont orientés dans trois dimensions, l’étude de l’économie russe et de la transition, l’analyse des crises financières et des recherches théoriques sur les institutions économiques et les interactions entre les comportements individuels. Il a poursuivi ses recherches à partir de 2000 sur les interactions entre les régimes de change, la structuration des systèmes financiers et les instabilités macroéconomiques. Depuis 2007 il s'est impliqué dans l’analyse de la crise financière actuelle, et en particulier dans la crise de la zone Euro.

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