Monthly Archives: February 2012

Protest signs on a wall in central Athens

Over the last 24 hours, a flurry of activity has taken place surrounding Greece’s €200bn debt restructuring, most of it expected but some of it potentially destabilising. Because the moves involve highly technical – but still significant – judgements by occasionally obscure groups, Brussels Blog thought it was time for another guide to what to watch for in the ensuing days.

The most eye-catching announcement was the one made last night by Standard & Poor’s declaring Greece to be in “selective default”. Luxembourg prime minister Jean-Claude Juncker, chair of the group of eurozone finance ministers, put out a statement saying the move was “duly anticipated” – and he’s right. S&P signalled this way back in June when the first talk of a Greek restructuring began.

Even though it was expected, it’s still worth reflecting on: It is the first time an advanced economy has been in default since West Germany in 1948. Practically, however, the most important knock-on effect to watch will be on Greece’s banks. Read more

Ad appeared in the FT, International Herald Tribune, and Wall Street Journal's European edition

[UPDATE] The German version of the ad can be seen here via Twitter (thanks to blogger @TeraEuro for the link). It was in the mass-market daily Bild. And here’s the French version via Le Figaro (h/t @hbeaudouin).

With just days to go ahead of an expected Thursday meeting of eurozone finance ministers where they will finally give the green light to Greece’s €130bn second bail-out, a group of Greek businessmen has taken out advertisements in a wide range of international newspapers to plead their country’s case.

According to a spokesman for the group, which calls itself “Greece is Changing”, the ads were rushed into print by a group of like-minded business leaders and designed by Peter Economides, the acclaimed marketing strategist who, among other things, helped develop the “Think Different” campaign for Apple in 1997.

Economides, born in South Africa of Greek émigrés, has been on a campaign to get Greece to “rebrand” itself for months, and the ads ran in three English-language newspapers – the FT, International Herald Tribune and the Wall Street Journal’s European edition – as well as German, French and Dutch papers. (Dutch blogger Michiel van Hulten posted the version that ran in NRC Handelsblad here.) Read more

Timo Soini, the True Finns leader, is in a face-off with his fellow Finn, the EU's Olli Rehn.

It’s been a rough few weeks for Olli Rehn, the European commissioner in charge of economic affairs.

Last month, a Belgian minister lashed out at him for demanding the new government cut up to €2bn from its 2012 budget. Then he was forced to spend all of Monday night and Tuesday morning locked in a 14-hour session with eurozone finance ministers negotiating Greece’s bail-out. And today he had the unenviable task of announcing the eurozone would likely return to recession this year.

But if you really want to make the mild-mannered Finn angry, it appears you have to go another route: compare him Nicolay Bobrikov, the Russian general who ruled Finland in the early 20th century, before it gained independence. Read more

Welcome back to our continuing coverage of the eurozone crisis.

After more than 13 hours of talks, a second bail-out for Greece was agreed early on Tuesday morning. We’ll be bringing you reaction to the deal throughout the day. All times are GMT. By John Aglionby and Tom Burgis on the news desk in London.

15.45: Stanley Pignal, of our Brussels bureau, on how Jean-Claude Juncker  tries to keep the mood jolly with a rolled up FT.

Jean-Claude Juncker, chair of Eurogroup, used a lethal weapon to slap Swedish fin min Anders Borg: a rolled up #FT. http://t.co/lqu1jea5 #EU 

@spignal 

Stanley Pignal

15.30: FT video with Martin Wolf and John Authers looks at whether the package can possibly work, while Lex writers ask anyone would invest in Greece.

15.17: Markets update – they’re still in negative territory, reports Stephen Smith, of the FT’s markets team.

 Read more

Greece's Lucas Papademos, flanked by Greek and French finance ministers, at Monday's meeting.

The 10-page Greek debt sustainability report that we obtained Monday night is filled with very sobering conclusions that we highlighted in our news story that’s now up on the web.

But the document – prepared by analysts in the so-called “troika” of international lenders, the European Central Bank, European Commission, and International Monetary Fund – is filled with so much interesting data, that we thought we’d give it further airing here at the Brussels Blog.

The report, marked “strictly confidential” and dated February 15, starts with a page-long summary that includes arguably the most revealing paragraph in the entire document: Read more

The long-running campaign to scrap the European parliament’s once-a-month commute to Strasbourg bagged a sizeable ally this week: none other than the chamber’s new president, Martin Schulz.

While much of the attention in recent days has been on Greece, the parliament has been on the road again, leaving its usual Brussels residence for its second home near the French-German border.

The two-seat arrangement is estimated by critics to cost €200m a year, a public-relations disaster for the legislative arm of an institution which is imposing austerity across much of the continent.

Schulz has always been rumoured to be an anti-Strasbourger. But he has thus far remained closeted, presumably to avoid ruffling French feathers ahead his ascension to the presidency last month. Paris is very eager to keep the parliament on its home turf, if only once a month. Read more

Lead negotiators for Greek bondholders, Charles Dallara and Jean Lemierre, outside the Greek prime minister's office last month.

This morning, the dead tree edition of the FT has a story based on some leaked documents we got our hands on regarding the massive Greek debt restructuring that needs to begin in a matter of days.

The documents make clear the schedule is slipping dangerously; the meeting of eurozone finance ministers tonight that has been cancelled was supposed to approve the launch of the restructuring so the process can begin Friday. The whole thing needs to be done before a €14.5bn Greek bond comes due for repayment March 20. Time is running out.

But perhaps more interestingly is the fact that eurozone finance ministries asked for financial advice from New York financial advisors Lazard and legal advice from the New York firm of Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton about what the consequences would be if they launched the debt restructuring – but were forced to scrap it after it had started.

As is our tradition, we thought we’d give Brussels Blog readers a bit more on what the documents had to say. Read more

Dutch EU Commissioner Neelie Kroes: "No ‘man overboard’ if we lose someone from eurozone."

[UPDATE 2] Dutch finance minister Jan Kees de Jager was asked about Kroes’ comments during the government’s regular parliamentary question time Tuesday. De Jager said that while the contagion risk in the eurozone has decreased over the last year because of measures taken in Brussels, a Greek exit would still be very costly.

[UPDATE] In response to Kroes’ comments, Olivier Bailly, an EU Commission spokesman, today insisted its policy towards keeping Greece in the euro has not changed.

José Manuel Barroso, the European Commission president, may have promoted his economic chief Olli Rehn to vice president last year with new responsibilities for managing the eurozone crisis, but in recent days a growing number of other commissioners seem to be elbowing in, opining on whether Greece will leave the single currency.

On Monday came an interview with Greece’s own commissioner, Maria Damanaki, where she told the newspaper To Vima tis Kyriakis that contingency plans for Greece leaving the euro were being “openly studied”. “Now they’re not simply scenarios,” said Damanaki, whose portfolio is fisheries. “They are alternative plans that are being openly studied.” Rehn’s spokesman insisted that no such plans were afoot within the commission, although he acknowledged some in the private sector were making such calculations.

This morning, however, comes another broadside, this time from Neelie Kroes, the European commissioner from the Netherlands – one of the eurozone’s remaining triple A-rated countries where support for more aid to Greece is dwindling. Read more

Angela Merkel and José Manuel Barroso talk on the sidelines of Monday's EU summit.

The Deutsche Börse and NYSE Euronext exchange mega-merger is dead, the objections of competition officials prevailed, but it followed a tremendous political tussle in Brussels, full of intrigue and skulduggery. Here are some of the snippets from the final days:

The Merkel change of heart: A great mystery in this merger case was the deafening silence from Berlin. Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, was always said to be on the verge of intervening on behalf of the German exchange. But opportunities to say something came and went. Her reluctance was put down to coalition divisions and a complicated political picture in Hessen, the home state of DB.

But in the final days, Merkel did have her say, at least in private. Read more

Greek government employees protest against austerity measures in Athens on Friday.

As the week comes to an end, we seem no closer to a deal to sort out Greece’s troubles than we were when it started. With rumours of a deal a daily (hourly?) occurrence, and questions over whether eurozone finance ministers will meet Monday to sign off on a new €130bn bail-out, Brussels Blog thought we’d revive our popular “viewer’s guide to the Greek crisis” to lay out the state of play for those not following the negotiations on an hourly basis.

The best way to think of what is currently happening in Greece is to look at it as the proverbial row of dominoes that must fall before a deal is complete. Unless they all fall in order, Athens is at risk of missing payment on a €14.5bn bond due March 20, which could lead to a messy default and renewed chaos across the eurozone.

The first domino has basically been complete since last weekend: a deal with private holders of Greek bonds to wipe off €100bn from Athens’ €350bn debt load.

As we reported on Monday, a consortium of private Greek debt holders has agreed to accept new bonds that are be worth half the face value of their current bonds (including a one-time cash payment). The new bonds would have low interest rates that would reduce their value even more. According to our sources, the “haircut” in the long-term value will be just over 70 per cent.

But there are two more dominoes that must still fall: Greece must (yet again) agree to new austerity measures being urged by the “troika” of international lenders –European Commission, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund – and then Brussels must decide on how to fund any shortfall. Read more