Thursday, July 09, 2015

the eu's historically perplexing miscalculations about greece


stratfor |  In a result that should surprise no one, the Greeks voted to reject European demands for additional austerity measures as the price for providing funds to allow Greek banks to operate. There are three reasons this should have been no surprise. First, the ruling Coalition of the Radical Left, or Syriza party, is ruling because it has an understanding of the Greek mood. Second, the constant scorn and contempt that the European leadership heaped on the prime minister and finance minister convinced the Greeks not only that the scorn was meant for them as well but also that anyone so despised by the European leadership wasn't all bad. Finally, and most important, the European leadership put the Greek voters in a position in which they had nothing to lose. The Greeks were left to choose between two forms of devastation — one that was immediate but possible to recover from, and one that was a longer-term strangulation with no exit.

The Europeans' Mistaken Reasoning

As the International Monetary Fund noted (while maintaining a very hard line on Greece), the Greeks cannot repay their loans or escape from their economic nightmare without a substantial restructuring of the Greek debt, including significant debt forgiveness and a willingness to create a multidecade solution. The IMF also made clear that increased austerity, apart from posing an impossible burden for the Greeks, will actually retard either a Greek recovery or debt repayment.

The Greeks knew this as well. What was obvious is that austerity without radical restructuring would inevitably lead to default, if not now, then somewhere not too far down the line. Focusing on pensions made the Europeans appear tough but was actually quite foolish. All of the austerity measures demanded would not have provided nearly enough money to repay debts without restructuring. In due course, Greece would default, or the debt would be restructured.

Since Europe's leaders are not stupid, it is important to understand the game they were playing. They knew perfectly well the austerity measures were between irrelevant and damaging to debt repayment. They insisted on this battle at this time because they thought they would win it, and it was important for them to get Greece to capitulate for broader reasons.