Greece

Germany's Angela Merkel, left, with Greece's Antonis Samaras during her Athens visit.

With Athens and the so-called “troika” of international lenders close to a deal on an overhauled bailout that would extend the programme by two years, the focus today shifts to Brussels, where talks begin on round two of the revised Greek rescue: how to pay for it.

As we reported in today’s dead-tree edition of the FT, those talks will focus on how to fill a new financing gap of between €16bn-€18bn through 2016.

Although officials have toyed with a bond buyback programme – which would have reduced Greek financing needs by purchasing debt at current distressed prices and retiring the bonds – it now looks like they’re going to focus instead on what they’ve done in the past: lowering rates on bailout loans even further to scrape together extra money. Currently, Greece borrows at 1.5 per cent more than the cost of the cash to lenders. So there’s room to cut. 

IMF managing director Christine Lagarde, during this morning's news conference in Tokyo.

IMF chief Christine Lagarde’s declaration this morning that Greece should be given two more years to hit tough budget targets embedded in its €174bn bailout programme – coming fast on the heels of German chancellor Angela Merkel’s highly symbolic trip to Athens – are the clearest public signs yet of what EU officials have been acknowledging privately for weeks: Greece is going to get the extra time it wants.

But what is equally clear after this week’s pre-Tokyo meeting of EU finance ministers in Luxembourg is there is no agreement on how to pay for those two additional years, and eurozone leaders are beginning to worry that the politics of the Greek bailout are once again about to get very ugly.

The mantra from eurozone ministers has been that Greece will get more time but not more money. Privately, officials acknowledge this is impossible. Extending the bailout programme two years, when added to the policy stasis in Athens during two rounds of elections and a stomach-churning drop in economic growth, means eurozone lenders are going to have to find more money for Athens from somewhere. 

With the European Commission holding its final summer meeting on Wednesday, Brussels goes on holiday in earnest starting next week, with nothing on the formal EU calendar until a meeting of European affairs ministers in Cyprus on August 29.

But if whispers in the hallways are any indication, veterans of the eurozone crisis remain traumatised by last August, when some inopportune comments by then-Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi shook Europe from its summer slumber. Indeed, Maria Fekter, Austria’s gabby finance minister, has already speculated on the need for an emergency August summit.

Herewith, the Brussels Blog posts its completely unscientific odds on which of the eurozone’s smouldering crisis embers could reignite into an out-of-control summer wildfire, forcing cancelled hotel bookings and return trips to Zaventem

Antonis Samaras. Getty Images

Antonis Samaras. Getty Images

Leaders have begun arriving at their party caucuses and one of the first to show up at the centre-right EPP gathering was Antonis Samaras, the New Democracy leader locked in a neck-and-neck fight to become Greece‘s next
prime minister. 

People pass Bank of Greece in Athens last week

Jitters over whether Greece will be forced out of the euro have turned the focus of policymakers in recent days on whether Greece is on the precipice of a bank run.

It’s no mere academic exercise; a full-scale bank run would force the European Central Bank and eurozone lenders to either pump in more money – without a new government in place, and no assurances Athens would live up to the rescue terms – or pull the plug on Greece’s financial sector.

Since a banking sector without a central bank would essentially force Greece back to the barter system, there would be few options left then for Athens to begin printing its own currency again. Essentially, the drachma would return through the back door.

As we reported in today’s dead-tree edition, senior eurozone officials responsible for monitoring the currency area’s banking system said the rate of withdrawals thus far falls short of a panic. But the International Monetary Fund’s recent report on Greece makes it clear that a slow-motion bank run has been under way for more than two years, with close to 30 per cent of deposits being pulled out since the end of 2009. 

Welcome to our rolling coverage of the reaction to elections in France and Greece on a big day for Europe.

By Tom Burgis, John Aglionby and Esther Bintliff in London with contributions from FT correspondents around the world. All times are London time.

This post should update automatically every few minutes, although it might take longer on mobile devices.

12.44 Borzou Daragahi, the FT’s north Africa correspondent, reports on the response to the French election results in the Arab world:

Across a region undergoing tumultous change, many greeted the fall of Nicolas Sarkozy with glee, hopeful it would spell the end of French foreign policies considered too Atlantacist, pro-Israel and anti-immigrant.

Though many Libyans hailed Mr Sarkozy for his role in spearheading Nato’s help in toppling Col Muammer Gaddafi, others remember his administration’s cozy ties with deposed Tunisian leader Zein el Abidine ben Ali and Egypt’s former President Hosni Mubarak.

Ties between Tunisia’s new government, dominated by a coalition of Islamists and leftists, and France have grown particularly strained. In an interview with the FT in January, Islamist party leader Rachid Ghannouchi accused France of arrogantly giving Tunisia ‘lessons’ on economic and social policy despite its own problems.

Mustapha Ben Jaafar speaking on April 27, 2012. AFP PHOTO/ FETHI BELAIDFETHI BELAID/AFP/GettyImages 

Mustapha Ben Jaafar on April 27, 2012. AFP PHOTO/ FETHI BELAIDFETHI BELAID/AFP/GettyImages

After Mr Sarkozy’s defeat, Mustapha ben Jaafar, speaker of the Tunisian parliament and leader of the left-leaning Ettakatol party, hailed François Hollande’s arrival as way to update bilateral relations.

“We are hopeful that the arrival of the Socialists will give impetus to the historically strong relationships between our two countries,” he said in a statement. “With France, the new democratic Tunisia wants to build a true partnership that respects the values of freedom and human rights, based on a strategy of co-development and shared prosperity.”

12.22 The election results in Greece testify to widespread dissatisfaction with the country’s mainstream conservative and socialist parties. Voters have punished the political groups they see as jointly responsible for the economic crisis, with once marginal groups rapidly gaining ground.

 

France's Nicolas Sarkozy has made EU borders an issue in his re-election campaign

The issue of the European Union’s passport-free travel zone has become a political hot potato again, thanks in part to Nicolas Sarkozy, who has warned during his presidential re-election campaign that France would withdraw from the border agreement unless more safeguards are adopted.

With just days before voting in the first round of the French election, Sarkozy’s government is pushing the issue back onto the EU agenda, this time with German assistance.

In a joint letter sent to the Danish presidency, Claude Gueant, the French interior minister, and Hans-Peter Friedrich, his German counterpart, are calling for countries to be granted the right to re-impose border controls unilaterally for 30 days if national authorities believe other countries – particularly on the EU’s southern and eastern frontiers – aren’t securing their borders.

A leaked copy of the letter Brussels Blog got its hands on (in French) can be read here. A look at the proposal (in English) after the jump… 

Poul Thomsen, head of the IMF mission to Greece

On Friday, after much of Europe shut down for the week, the International Monetary Fund issued its 231-page report on Greece’s new €174bn bailout, which seems to struggle to keep an optimistic tone about Athens’s ability to turn itself around over the course of the rescue plan.

But the IMF report is worth scrutinising for reasons beyond its gloomy prose: If there’s anyone who might force eurozone leaders back to the drawing board once again, it’s the IMF, which essentially pulled the plug on the first €110bn Greek bailout early last year when it became clear it wasn’t working.

Signs that the IMF is on a bit of a hair trigger litter the new report. 

Most of officialdom has been referring to the second Greek bailout, formally launched today, as a €130bn rescue. But the first 189-page report by European Union and International Monetary Fund monitors makes clear it’s actually a lot larger, though the actual size depends on how your measure it.

In the latest in our occasional series “We Read Brick-Sized Bailout Reports So You Don’t Have To”, Brussels Blog will attempt to explain why the figures have gotten so confusing and the bailout is probably better described as a €164.5bn rescue. Or maybe it’s €173.6bn.

The key thing to remember is that the first €110bn Greek bailout was originally supposed to run through the middle of next year and its remainnig funding will be folded into the new package and added to the €130bn in new funding. According to the report, €73bn of the first bailout has been disbursed, leaving about €37bn left.

But here’s where it gets slightly complicated. 

IMF's Lagarde, Eurogroup's Juncker and German finance minister Schauble at Thursday's meeting

The Greece crisis is entering a crucial week, with private investors deciding whether to participate in a €206bn debt restructuring and Greek officials scrambling to finalise reform measures to release the last €71.5bn in bail-out money in time for a eurozone finance ministers meeting Friday.

The failure of the ministers to sign off on all the aid during a meeting in Brussels on Thursday caught a few people by surprise. Over the weekend, Brussels Blog got its hands on the report by the troika – the European Union and International Monetary Fund team that monitors Greek compliance – showing where Athens came up short.

As we reported last week, the troika evaluation (a copy of which can be found here) held that Greece had completed most of the 38 “prior actions” ahead of Thursday evening, but had not yet fully implemented all of them, particularly in the area of so-called “growth-enhancing structural measures” – mostly a series of changes in wage and collective bargaining laws aimed at driving down costs.