Amidst mass protests and an historic 48-hour strike, one ‘no’ vote by a Greek MP could tip Greece into bankruptcy and the world into global financial meltdown.
The eyes of the world are on Greece. Or, to be more specific, on Syntagma Square, where 300 MPs prepare for a crucial vote on the EU-IMF imposed austerity package — and where hundreds of thousands of Greeks will converge to stop the vote from being passed in the country’s first 48-hour strike since the fall of the dictatorship.
There is an uneasy tension in the air in Athens. Just yesterday, Communist protesters stormed the Acropolis and unfurled a giant banner calling for a massive organized counterattack. Today, over 5,000 policemen have mobilized in central Athens to prepare for an epic stand-off with hundreds of thousands of striking workers and indignants.
What is going on in Athens right now is truly historic. Indeed, superlatives aside, it is nearly impossible to describe the gravity of the situation at hand. What happens in the next 48 hours in Athens will determine the fate of the entire eurozone, the EU and — indeed — the world economy as a whole. This is the very climax of the eurocrisis.
Here’s the short synopsis: today, Greek members of parliament will start debating a new round of austerity measures, which are a condition for Greece to receive both the fifth tranche of last year’s bailout, worth €12bn, and a second bailout, worth €80-120bn from the EU and IMF. They will vote on the measures on Wednesday.
Now, if Parliament votes against, Greece will be denied both the fifth tranche of last year’s bailout and the second bailout by the EU and IMF. As a result, Greece will be forced to formally default by mid-July, when several billions of euros worth in three and six-month bonds mature.
In the midst all of this, hundreds of thousands of Greeks are expected to converge upon Syntagma Square, right in front of Parliament, for the largest mass demonstration so far — coinciding with the country’s first 48-hour strike since the fall of the dictatorship and the establishment of democracy in 1974. Unions have threatened to storm Parliament and physically prevent the vote from taking place.
As a result of the strike, the entire country will grind to a halt right as the austerity memorandum goes to vote on Wednesday. Indignant protesters will mount popular pressure on Parliament to possibly unsustainable levels, right when four Socialist MPs announced that they consider voting against the memorandum.
This leaves Prime Minister Papandreou’s Parliamentary majority hanging in the balance: if all four abovementioned Socialist MPs vote against, Papandreou will only have a majority of one. That means that if one more MP unexpectedly votes against the austerity package (or simply fails to show up for the vote), the measures won’t pass.
This, in turn, will almost certainly trigger a sovereign default, as the EU and IMF will withhold the disbursement of additional bailout funds. Rating agencies will call a ‘credit event’, causing the Greek banking sector to collapse. To understand how this could trigger an EU-wide financial meltdown, read the article here.
While the world holds its breath, some smart people are finally starting to realize that this is not just a Greek crisis. Even the Wall Street Journal now seems to recognize what we have been repeating endlessly on ROAR, namely that this is not a fiscal crisis in Greece, but a financial crisis in the European banking sector:
What we have come to call the Greek crisis is, first, an international banking crisis. Like Lehman Brothers, Greece is definitely not too big to fail. It is too interconnected to fail, too interconnected to the international banking system … What we are calling the Greek crisis is also a crisis of structural economic dysfunction.
Similarly, in an editorial yesterday, The Guardian wrote that:
Discussions of the Greek debacle commonly assume that it’s a disaster made in Greece that now requires the rest of Europe to step in and sort it out. Wrong: this is a crisis of the eurozone, in which Athens is not a leading actor but merely a stage set.
Only dimly aware of the structural problems in the eurozone and the looming insolvency of some of Europe’s largest banks, EU leaders met up with some of the continent’s richest and most powerful bankers last night. In the luxurious comfort of a Roman palace, they debated how the private sector could contribute to a ‘real’ solution for the crisis.
One of the options put on the table by the French was to roll over some debt, buying Greece more time to get out of this mess. But while the idea sounds appealing in theory, even the Financial Times has recognized that “you’d have to be dropping acid to think that [this approach] is even going to do its job of buying time for the next few years.”
As the German Green Joshka Fischer pointed out in an op-ed yesterday, this leaves us with only one realistic policy option: to prepare for a controlled default. But since Europe’s leaders seem unwilling and/or incapable of even considering this as a legitimate policy option, the people are going to have to drive this option home themselves.
Unfortunately for Greece and for Europe, the only way to demand a sane solution to this overwhelming crisis right now is through a full-blown revolt against the Greek political establishment and the foreign powers to which it has been so beholden. From Syntagma Square, we are hearing nothing less than a cry for revolution.
As Costas Douzinas just put it in The Guardian:
Syntagma has become Tahrir Square in slow motion. It is a peaceful, democratic revolt that was easier to start because the fear of brutal repression is smaller, but will be harder to complete as it faces the enormous might of the European Union and global finance capital.
Whatever the outcome, in the next 48 hours, the future of Greece, Europe and the world hangs in the balance. I will be on an airplane flying back to Europe for most of it, but hope to continue updating you as soon as I get back. Until then, strength and solidarity to our brothers and sisters in Athens!