A Case-Study: The Greek Crisis.

Much has been written about the Greek crisis.

Below, some thoughts on this story seen through the glasses of democratic standards and  -specifically-  through the two lenses of the legitimacy and accountability (3D democracy vision)

The financial crisis, in Greece more than elsewhere, has highlighted the erosion of state sovereignty in key areas of typical citizen-state relationships such as the welfare system and the labor market, in which the need for choices perceived as legitimate – but also accountable – is crucial. Some fundamental rights have been touched, some less fundamental ones have been significantly reduced.

Decisions had been taken by top political bodies (Eurogroup, European Council)  and technocratic institutions (European Commissions, ECB, IMF). Let’s put aside for a moment the good intentions as  restoring sound public finances: the simple truth is that parliaments have been ignored. The Greek Parliament – of course- but also the European Parliament.

The issue regards also the method and not just the matter. The solution to the issue itself -austerity or not austerity- is strongly influenced by the method used as some institutions are more easily driven to deliver rigor than growth. Moreover, they lack the necessary legitimacy and accountability to deal with individuals’ rights.

Conditions were attached to the Greek loan facility – a package of bilateral loans by Euro area member States complemented by an IMF loan. Two intergovernmental agreements were signed and entrusted the Commission to manage the package under strict conditionality. A loan facility agreement was then signed by the Commission on behalf of the Euro area member States and by Greece. Next, the economic conditions were agreed on in a series of Memoranda.

Their respect of the rule of law as well as their compliance to the EU Treaty and the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights couldn’t be assessed by the European Court of justice because of the widespread use of atypical legal acts as well as of their intergovernmental nature.

Why? Why the Eurogroup and the German Government had such a strong voice and the Court of Justice had not? Why the Parliaments were not in the debate? Why, even now, with a clear Greek vote legitimizing a different majority in the Parliament and a different vision we still see the old movie going on again and again?

Just follow the money…

Money is not from the EU, money comes from some European governments and from the International Monetary Fund . With some help from the ECB.

The EU budget is too tiny to cope with the crises: less than 1% of EU GDP. Moreover, the 28 EU countries were not all willing to contribute, so the Eurozone States had to manage the crisis on their own. They did it through intergovernmental agreements (as creating the ESM) and according bilateral loans. The IMF – traditionally leaded by an European-  was very sensitive to the problem (even too much, according to the BRICS).

And here comes the Troika…..

The Troika is nothing more than a committee of creditors, entrusted with the management of the loans. Of course it hasn’t any accountability. Its doubtful legitimacy and lack in transparency have been clearly pointed out by the European Parliament.

If we want to assess its accountability, we have to split it into its three components:

The European Commission is an accountable institution, it has to report to the EP, answer to MEPs’ written questions and could even be dismissed by the Parliament with a majority vote. The ECB too is subject to a monetary dialogue with the EP, even if less incisive than the dialogue the Commission has with the EP. Unfortunately, having them acting together confuses responsibilities and makes harder to assess the role of each institution for the decisions taken.

And then we have the IMF.

There is a story I want to tell you about the IMF in the Greek crisis:

In a IMF Country Report about Greece (June 2013) we can read that due to the process of fiscal consolidation  the country paid a too high a price in terms of social and economic losses: “Market confidence was not restored, the banking system lost 30 percent of its deposits, and the economy encountered a much deeper- than-expected recession with exceptionally high unemployment. Public debt remained too high and eventually had to be restructured, with collateral damage for bank balance sheets that were also weakened by the recession”.  The reports makes clear there were successes as well as “[N]otable failures” in the program.

This is somehow a progress in the culture of the institution: analyzing critically the consequences of their choices. For sure the establishment of an Independent Evaluation Office in 2001 contributed to such improvement. Nonetheless, who is politically responsible if a choice is reported wrong? are there any consequences? The answers are: 1) Nobody, 2) No.
A gap in accountability is more than evident.

There is much to say about the tangle of many potential conflicts of interests inside the Executive Board of the Fund and in the IMF itself that we cannot unravel all of them here (but we’ve done it elsewhere!).

What makes the Greek crisis an interesting case study -unfortunately for the Greek people- is that it makes clear that democracy matters. Beyond matters of principle.

What is also really sad (at least for me) is that Europe is losing its credibility over the Greek crisis.

3 comments

  1. Dave S Perkins · March 2, 2015

    Thank you for sharing your blog-I did weave in and out of studying law and financial institutions of these higher institutions at one point within some of my studies-though found it somewhat difficult to maintain an interest in having to many fingers in differing pies-so having a dedicated professional within that realm whose writings I can reference and question as to validity and so on is in-and-of itself exceptionally useful. Thank you David 😉

  2. Mathias · March 10, 2015

    “What makes the Greek crisis an interesting case study -unfortunately for the Greek people- is that it makes clear that democracy matters. Beyond matters of principle.” Sorry, I can’t get your side just as I can’t bear with all you european “professors”… the current Greek issue is just a sign of the second incoming of the Holy Roman Empire.That’s all. (My two pennies opinion, btw…)

    • Susanna Cafaro · March 10, 2015

      Hello Mathias. I don’t like too much how economic governance works in the EU (that is quite clear, I suppose), but I really think that European integration provided a number of advantages for all the countries that decided freely to join over the years. Unfortunately they are easily forgotten. The way a public sphere works (or doesn’t work) isn’t usually a reason to abolish it, rather to provide some change or improvement.

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