Tag Archives: European Central Bank

Kim Jong-un ‘has ordered North Korean hackers to rob World Bank, Bank of America’

North Korea has reportedly told its army of hackers to target major world banks and rob them.

This is according to the New York Times, which lists the Bank of America and the European Central Bank as targets for the country’s cyber-criminals.

Continue reading Kim Jong-un ‘has ordered North Korean hackers to rob World Bank, Bank of America’


The Dirty Dozen: 12 people who ruined Greece

As negotiations inch along between the Syriza government and Greece’s international creditors, the blame for the nation’s looming financial collapse would seem to rest entirely on the shoulders of Prime Minister Alex Tsipras and Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis. But not really: History provides ample evidence that a long line of leaders, from Winston Churchill to Constantine II, helped make Greece the economic basket case it is today.

Here are some of the guiltiest culprits:
Konstantis and Georgios Mavromichalis (died 1831)

Konstantinos_Mavromichalis copy

When Greek-born Ioannis Kapodistrias was appointed independent Greece’s first governor in 1827, little did he realize that the job would be tougher than his former post as Russia’s foreign minister. Accustomed to working on the diplomatic stage, Kapodistrias soon found that his vision of a modern Greek state was not shared by everyone, especially the provincial elites.In 1831, he was stabbed in the stomach and shot in the head as he made his way to church by Konstantis and Georgios Mavromichalis. The killing was revenge for Kapodistrias’s jailing of their respective father and brother, the warlord Petrobey Mavromichalis. His assassination plunged Greece into chaos, leading the European powers to impose a foreign king, the young Bavarian prince Otto, on the young country, giving it a first taste of German rule.

Winston Churchill (1874–1965)


In 1944, Greece’s leftist partisan movement managed to see the backs of the German army after three and a half years of brutal wartime occupation. Unbeknownst of them, British prime minister Winston Churchill and Soviet leader Joseph Stalin had secretly divvied up eastern Europe and the Balkans on a piece of paper, placing Greece within Britain’s sphere of influence. While communist leaders also bear responsibility, Churchill’s determination to restore the unpopular Greek monarchy, as well as his determination to exclude former communist partisans from the new Greek army, pushed Greece further down its calamitous path to civil war.

Constantine II (1940–)

Previews - Winter Olympics Day -3

Since Greece became a parliamentary republic in 1974, its former king has had no role in political or public life, to almost universal relief. Assuming the throne at the age of 23, Constantine caused enough damage from 1964 to 1967. Soon, he found himself at loggerheads with the centrist government, led by George Papandreou, who eventually resigned. Constantine then sought to create amenable governments using centrist party defectors, which fuelled a constitutional crisis and political instability that ultimately led to the 1967 military coup.

Georgios Papadopoulos (1919–1999)

George Papadopoulos

The weak state of Greek democracy was dealt a major blow in 1967 when a group of mid-level army officers, led by Colonel Georgios Papadopoulos, staged a successful coup d’état. Seven years of dictatorship followed, during which Papadopoulos himself was deposed in a coup by hardliners. While Papadopoulos would later die in prison, his asinine medical metaphors—he often likened himself to a doctor trying to cure a sick patient (Greece)—were redeployed by advocates of taking a tough line on Greece when crisis struck in 2009.

Andreas Papandreou (1919–1996)

Andreas Papandreou

Greece’s longest serving prime minister since the restoration of democracy in 1974, Andreas Papandreou left an indelible mark on Greek politics and its economy. Over the course of his decade in office (1981–89, 1993–96), the Harvard-trained economist introduced long overdue social and progressive reforms and stacked the civil service with his socialist Pasok party supporters. While he elevated many Greeks to the middle class, that success came at the heavy cost of drastically increasing the budget deficit and public debt levels. As corruption scandals mounted in the late 1980s, Papandreou created a sideshow by ditching his wife in favor of his airhostess mistress.

Kostas Karamanlis (1956–)

Supporters Rally For Greek New Democracy Party

Like many Greek prime ministers, Kostas Karamanlis became leader of the county largely on the strength of his surname – his uncle was prime minister and president at various stages from 1955 to 1995 – and because he promised to  “re-establish” the state. But in his five year tenure (2004–2009), few reforms were enacted, and the government lost control of Greece’s public finances. Had Karamanlis spent less time in front of his Playstation, as is widely rumored, maybe things could have been better. The rocketing budget deficit and debt-to-GDP ratio, which were continuously revised upward during and after his rule, paved the way for the next government to ask for a bailout.

George Papandreou (1952–)

Merkel Holds Talks With Papandreou

Prime minister like his father and grandfather before him, George Papandreou was elected in October 2009 using the vote-catching slogan “there is money,” despite being aware of the county’s dire economic situation. Unable to manage the ensuing fiscal crisis, Papandreou requested a €110 billion bailout deal from European Union and International Monetary Fund six months later. To the disbelief of most Greeks, the oblivious former leader attempted a political comeback in the 2015 election, in which he campaigned on an anti-austerity programme.

Akis Tsoschatzopoulos (1939–)


Greece would be in a far worse place today had former interior minister Akis Tsochatzopoulos been successful in his bid to become prime minister in 1996. Luckily, he only came within six votes of replacing Andreas Papandreou as leader of the socialist Pasok party. In 2013, a court sentenced Tsochatzopoulos, now 75, to life imprisonment for pocketing €55 million in kickbacks from military procurements from 1996 to 2001, when he was defense minister. His wife, ex-wife, daughter, cousin, and business associates were all implicated in the scandal, most of whom were also jailed.

Greek oligarchs

Luxury expediton motor yatch "Luna" in Bodrum

With legacies extending back decades in cases, Greece’s oligarchs have emerged relatively unscathed from the Greek crisis and continue to control vast wealth, which is largely inherited but also derives from continued interests in shipping, communications, banking, construction and public works. This coterie of powerful Greek businessmen used political connections with former conservative and socialist governments to win contracts and restrict the Greek market. They also own and exert editorial control over most, if not all, of the privately-held media companies, in a country where public broadcasting remains largely under state control. The new Syriza-led government has promised to rein in the oligarchs, but some things are easier said than done.

Petros Kostopoulos (1954–)

Petros Kostopoulos

Businessman and flamboyant publisher Petros Kostopoulos gained fame during the media boom years in the 1990s. He introduced a series of highly popular lifestyle magazines to Athens that sought to break taboos and emulate urban fashions from more affluent western countries. The underlying message in his publications and editorials was one of unbridled consumerism. Cue the multiple credit cards, Cayenne Porsches, skiing holidays, extravagant home loans, and private swimming pools. All these status symbols became more attainable after Greece, one of the poorest countries in the European Union, adopted the euro in 2001, which gave its banks easier access to cheap money.

Nikos Michaloliakos (1957–)

Four MPs From The Far-Right Golden Dawn Party In Court

Relatively unknown until a few years ago, Nikos Michaloliakos and his neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party have capitalized on the Greek crisis to propel them to seats in the Greek and European parliaments. Appearing immune from the police or the justice system, Golden Dawn gangs patrolled inner-city streets, intimidating and sometimes beating migrants and political opponents. Only after a Golden Dawn supporter fatally stabbed the anti-fascist singer Pavlos Fyssas in 2013 did the state react by jailing Michaloliakos and several other Golden Dawn leaders, who will soon go on trial on charges of forming and running a criminal organization.


A protester shouts slogans during a rally against the government's decision to ask for an economic aid package in Athens

The troika – made up of the European Commission, European Central Bank, and International Monetary Fund – bears a fair share of the blame for Greece’s current state. The troika’s programs are based on over-optimistic growth projections, which have led to a number of revisions to Greece’s debt sustainability. Fiscal austerity has imposed a huge social cost upon the Greek people, pushing people out of work and into poverty, and leaving hundreds of thousands without access to public healthcare.

Europe’s Debt Problem Has Deeper Roots Than Greece

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, center, talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande at the start of eurozone leaders' summit on the Greek crisis in Brussels on Sunday.
Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, center, talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande at the start of eurozone leaders’ summit on the Greek crisis in Brussels on Sunday

Currency bloc still searching for lasting solution to high debts. Greece has a deal—or rather, it has a chance to have negotiations on a deal. But Europe still hasn’t found a lasting solution for Greece’s debt burden—a missing piece in the eurozone’s crisis armory.

Greece’s third bailout might run to as much as €86 billion. But to even start talks on that financing, the Greek parliament must pass reams of legislation by Wednesday, including mechanisms for semiautomatic spending cuts if the country fails to hit fiscal targets.

Only emergency bridge financing will prevent a default on the European Central Bank. Greece’s debt, however, remains a problem that hasn’t been fully addressed.

The real issue isn’t the amount of debt, even though Greece’s total debt stood at 177% of gross domestic product in 2014 and it already owes other governments, the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank €246 billion, according to Deutsche Bank. It is the constraints the euro places on managing debt.

Europe has ruled out face-value reductions, and even a softening of terms—longer maturities or grace periods—will have to wait until a new program is in place, under way and has undergone a positive first review.

Such measures can be significant, and Greece has already benefited from them, reducing its financing costs. But the sheer scale of Greece’s debt remains a political flash point.

There are usually several ways of attempting to fix a government debt problem, including growth, inflation, austerity, and restructuring. The most palatable is growth: ideally, a country could grow into its debt burden, making it sustainable.

Over time, economic reforms could boost Greece’s growth, and are desperately needed. But this is no quick fix; it involves unpopular political choices.

Inflation is no way out: the European Central Bank’s mandate sees to that. True, inflation dynamics vary from country to country. But for now, it may well be Germany, where government debt is already falling, that sees higher inflation.

That leaves austerity and restructuring. Austerity in small doses is bearable, but has clearly tested political limits in Europe. And restructuring is a costly option for an advanced-economy bloc.

The lesson from Greece is that while eurozone members can force losses on private-sector bondholders, they cannot do the same when it comes to loans from other governments. Indeed, the only way to do so appears to be to leave the euro and default.

An outright reduction in debt would otherwise put the eurozone on the road to a fiscal union that no government or voter has agreed to.

The euro effectively attempts to enforce ascetic virtue on debtors: they cannot devalue or inflate away the value of their debt, so instead they are forced to reform their economies.

The worry is that Greece isn’t the only highly-indebted member of the eurozone; a renewed economic downturn could prove challenging for others.

That might expose further the limitations imposed by the euro. But for now it puts the onus squarely on Greece to reform its economy, and fast.

Greek debt crisis: Deal is almost done, says finance minister Varoufakis

Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis speaks to media earlier in the year.

A bailout deal between Greece and its creditors is almost finalized, Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis said Friday, hinting that the two sides have been holding private discussions this week.

No matter what the result of Sunday’s referendum, an agreement is “in the offing”, Varoufakis said, speaking on RTE’s “Morning Ireland” radio show on Friday. If Greeks vote “yes”, the government will accept the proposal put forward by its lenders last week, he said, RTE News reported.

“If it is a ‘no’, I can assure you that on this week of impasse, we’ve had some very interesting proposals coming from official Europe confidentially, and a deal is more or less done,” Varoufakis added, the report said.

Greeks go to the polls Sunday to vote in a referendum on whether to accept reform measures put forward by Greece’s international creditors — the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank and other eurozone countries — in a bailout proposal last week.

Officials across Europe have characterized the referendum as a vote on whether Greece should stay with the euro, and a “no” result would present the European Union with the biggest challenge in its history. Read: Know this about Sunday’s Greek referendum

Negotiations over Greece’s debt broke down last weekend after the country’s prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, announced the ballot. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other eurozone leaders have said talks would not resume until after the vote was held.

But in the RTE interview, Varoufakis indicated private discussions had been going on this week.

Varoufakis’s comments contrast with earlier statements from European creditors, who have warned that a “no” outcome would all but scupper a new deal for Greece and would step up the chances of the country leaving the eurozone.

Both sides are waging a war of words to sway Greek voters with less than 48 hours to go until polls open, at 7 a.m. local time, or 12 a.m. Eastern Time.

In an interview late Thursday, Tsipras stepped up his push for a “no” vote, saying that would result in a new bailout agreement within 48 hours.

The tally in the referendum is expected to come in at around 9 p.m. to 11 p.m. local time, or 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Eastern Time on Sunday.

Greece debt crisis: Eurozone refuses bailout extension

People line up to withdraw cash from a National Bank ATM in Thessaloniki, Greece June 27, 2015. Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras called a referendum on austerity demands from foreign creditors on Saturday, rejecting an “ultimatum” from lenders and putting a deal that could determine Greece’s future in Europe to a risky popular vote. ALEXANDROS AVRAMIDIS/REUTERS

Eurozone finance ministers have rejected a Greek request to extend a bailout programme beyond 30 June.

A Eurogroup statement said Greece had broken off negotiations over a new bailout deal “unilaterally”.

The EU and Greek flag fly in front of the Parthenon

Late on Friday, Greek PM Alexis Tsipras called a surprise referendum for 5 July over the terms of any new deal.

Greece has to pay €1.6bn (£1.1bn) to the IMF on Tuesday. Without new funds, there are fears Greece may leave the euro and its economy may collapse.

Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis said Greece would still try to secure a bailout deal that could then be put to a referendum.

“In these crucial moments, the Greek government is fighting for there to be a last minute deal by Tuesday,” he said.

The Greek parliament is due to vote later on whether to ratify the referendum.

Eurogroup head Jeroen Dijsselbloem said it would be up to the European Central Bank (ECB) to decide whether to continue providing emergency liquidity funding to the Greek banking system.

The ECB said it was “closely monitoring developments” and would hold a meeting in due course to discuss the situation.

“The process hasn’t ended – it will never end probably”, said Mr Dijsselbloem. “We will continue to work with Greece. Many things could happen – many scenarios are conceivable.”

But he placed the blame squarely with Greece for walking out of negotiations on Friday.

“They broke off their talks while they were still going on, while there was still time,” he said.

Dutch finance minister and president of Eurogroup Jeroen Dijsselbloem

“The only positive caveat I see is that the Greek parliament still has to take a wise position on that, and I hope that may lead to a different political situation.”

It’s never over till it’s over. But it feels like the end is perilously close. The breakdown in talks between Greece and its creditors has to be seen as a failure.

It wasn’t supposed to happen like this. It is also a massive gamble on all sides, and a possible turning point in the history of the eurozone. There will still be those working feverishly behind the scenes for compromise, but in effect neither side has blinked yet.

When the Greek government thought it had made substantial concessions at the beginning of the week, the creditors said it simply wasn’t enough. And while no-one can say for certain that Greece will leave the eurozone, this is already uncharted territory.

Much will depend on the outcome of the referendum called by PM Alexis Tsipras, if it takes place on schedule. And much will also depend on the European Central Bank – and whether it believes it can still allow funds to flow, to prevent banks in Greece from collapsing.

The Greek flag is framed by the arch of Hadrian atop the Acropolis hill in Athens, Greece June 26, 2015. The leaders of Germany and France offered to release billions in frozen aid on Friday in a last-minute push to talk Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras into contentious pension reforms in exchange for filling Athens' empty coffers until November. REUTERS/Yannis Behrakis

French Finance Minister Michel Sapin stressed after the Eurogroup talks that all of its members wanted Greece to remain in the eurozone.

“This is not a Greek exit from the eurozone,” he told reporters. “The 18 countries, apart from Greece, all said clearly that Greece was in the euro and should remain in the euro whatever the difficulties of the moment.”

Mr Varoufakis told reporters that the Eurogroup’s refusal to extend the bailout could permanently damage the credibility of the group.

He said that what had been proposed to Greece “did not contain any plan for giving, instilling hope in investors, both Greek and non-Greek, in consumers, in depositors”.

Greece's Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis (C) speaks with his Spanish counterpart Luis De Guindos (L) and French counterpart Michel Sapinon prior to a Eurogroup meeting held at the Lex building in Brussels, on June 25, 2015. Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and his country's creditors failed to reach a bailout deal at emergency talks, raising fresh fears that Athens will default on an IMF loan next week.
 The differences remain so great despite two days of marathon negotiations that the EU-IMF lenders and Greece will present rival reform proposals to eurozone finance ministers later in Brussels, sources told AFP.
 AFP PHOTO/Thierry CharlierTHIERRY CHARLIER/AFP/Getty Images

Throughout the ups and downs of the recent negotiations, Greeks have by and large resisted the urge to withdraw money from their accounts, pinning their hopes on a last minute deal with the country’s creditors.

But as the deadline for Greece’s €1.6bn payment to the IMF looms, and with Mr Tsipras calling for a referendum next week, lines have begun to form outside ATMs and bank branches in Athens.


One bank has imposed withdrawal limits of €3,000 per account, and some ATMs have handwritten “empty” signs on them – although I managed to withdraw cash at two separate locations.

Some customers were given a ticket number and told to come back in a few hours. One man told me he was 170th in line.

“The game is over,” said Peter, one of those queuing. “Greece is going into uncharted waters, and the banks will be closed on Monday, I suspect.”

Anxiety is mounting in Athens. “Everybody’s really scared,” Elena, a woman in her 20s, tells me as she waits to withdraw cash. “We need to have enough money to last the week.”


Mr Varoufakis said his government had asked for an extension of “a few days, a couple of weeks”, whereas Mr Dijsselbloem said an extension of one month had been requested.

In Greece, queues have formed outside banks amid concerns that the Greek central bank might start restricting withdrawals.

Greece owes roughly €340bn, mostly to its eurozone partners. Because it can no longer borrow from the international money markets, it is dependent on the eurozone and IMF to keep its banks functioning.


Greece timeline: Key dates ahead
  • 27 June: Eurogroup refuses Greek request to extend existing bailout
  • 30 June: Troika bailout programme ends as Greek €1.6bn payment to IMF due
  • 1 July: No bailout programme could mean no emergency liquidity from the ECB
  • 5 July: Proposed Greek referendum
  • 10 July: Treasury bills worth €2bn to be repaid
  • 20 July: Bonds worth €3.5bn to be repaid to eurozone partners
  • 20 August: Bonds worth €3.2bn to be repaid

Greece is probably going to default on Tuesday

Alexis Tsipras Greece prime minister
Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras looks on during a parliamentary session in Athens, Greece June 27, 2015. Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras called a referendum on austerity demands from foreign creditors on Saturday, rejecting an “ultimatum” from lenders and putting a deal that could determine Greece’s future in Europe to a risky popular vote.

It looks like Greece is going to default.

On Saturday, Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis left a meeting of euro zone finance ministers after failing to get an agreement to extend the current bailout deal until after a referendum next week.

Late Friday, Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras made a surprise announcement of a referendum to be held in Greece next Sunday, July 5, to vote on the reforms proposed to Greece by its creditors as part of a possible bailout extension.

The most imminent money owed by Greece to creditors is €1.6 billion owed to the International Monetary Fund on Tuesday, a payment it looks like Greece will now miss. The question now, it appears, is what happens next and whether this missed payment sets the table for a “Grexit” which would see Greece leave the EU.

According to Reuters, Varoufakis told journalists as he left the meeting that, “It’s a sad day for Europe.”

Eurogroup ministers said they would meet without Greece later on Saturday evening to discuss how to handle the fallout from an expected Greek debt default on Tuesday, according to Reuters.

A report from Reuters said, “With most Greek banks closed for the weekend, there was no sign of panic on the streets of Athens. Government officials said there was no plan to impose capital controls that would limit withdrawals.”

Greek bank line
REUTERS/Alexandros AvramidisPeople line up to withdraw cash from a National Bank ATM in Thessaloniki, Greece June 27, 2015.

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras called a referendum on austerity demands from foreign creditors on Saturday, rejecting an “ultimatum” from lenders and putting a deal that could determine Greece’s future in Europe to a risky popular vote.

The Financial Times, however, reported that a phone conference was scheduled for Sunday morning between the European Central Bank and the Bank of Greece to discuss implementing capital controls — or limiting the ability for money in Greek banks to be withdrawn.

According to the FT, one option would be for Greece to declare a bank holiday between now and the July 5 referendum. Varoufakis, however, has told Reuters that banks should remain open between now and then.

Since Tsipras was voted into power in late January it’s been a long road of headline after headline on whether or not Greece would make its payments or find some middle ground with its creditors.

And while we’ve certainly heard that negotiations between Greece and its European creditors have broken down before, this time looks different.

Italy in Greece’s economic shadow

As Greece moves ever closer toward capital controls and default, one hopes that European policymakers are mindful of the long-run potential fallout of such an event on Europe’s overall economy.

A Greek move in the direction of exiting from the euro could have an important bearing on the much larger and still very troubled Italian economy. While the euro can very well survive without Greece, it is difficult to imagine how the euro could survive if Italy were to eventually follow Greece out of the euro.

The Italian economy, which is the eurozone’s third largest economy, dwarfs that of Greece in relative importance. Whereas Greece accounts for less than 2 percent of the eurozone economy, the Italian economy accounts for as much as one-sixth.

Similarly, whereas Greece’s public debt is less than 350 billion euros, Italy’s exceeds 2 trillion euros, which makes Italy the world’s third-largest sovereign bond market.

A principal reason why European policymakers should be concerned about contagion from an eventual Greek euro exit to the Italian economy is that Italy’s public debt dynamics are on an unsustainable path.

At the start of the European sovereign debt crisis in 2010, Italy’s public debt to gross domestic product (GDP) ratio was already very high at around 115 percent. Since then, the country’s debt ratio has risen to its present level of 135 percent and it shows no sign of coming down anytime soon.

While this very high debt level has proved to be relatively easy to manage in today’s world of abundant global liquidity, one has to wonder whether the same will be true when global liquidity conditions normalize.

What makes Italy’s high debt level all the more troubling is Italy’s very poor economic growth record. Some six years after the 2008-2009 global economic crisis, Italy’s economy is still some 7 percent below its pre-crisis peak.

Even more disturbing is the fact that the Italian economy today is practically at the same level as it was in 1999. This has to raise the most serious of questions as to whether the Italian economy is capable of growing itself out from under its debt mountain.

If Italy is unable to generate rapid economic growth, the only way that it can reduce its debt pile is by exercising considerable budget discipline over the longer haul.

However, maintaining an austere fiscal policy stance in a euro straitjacket, which precludes exchange rate depreciation as an offset to budget tightening, can prove to be counterproductive in that it makes economic growth all the more difficult to achieve.

It is also far from clear whether Italy has the political will to endure many years of budget discipline. Indeed, a striking feature of today’s Italian political landscape is the growing evidence of budget austerity fatigue and the rising tide of euro skepticism.

This is underlined by the fact that today, all of the major Italian political parties — other than the ruling Democratic Party — openly question the advantages of Italy’s continued euro membership.

A Greek exit from the euro would deliver a body blow to Italy’s long-term economic prospects. It would send the clearest of messages to the markets that euro membership was no longer irrevocable.

It would also send the message that the European Central Bank was not always there to backstop a troubled European economy. In time of crisis, this would only make the Italian economy vulnerable to speculative attack, especially considering the country’s over-indebtedness.

One hopes that in weighing whether or not to help prevent Greece from leaving the euro, European policymakers carefully think through the long-run consequences of their actions for the Italian economy.

That might give them pause before being overly cavalier about the long-run fallout from a Greek exit for the rest of the European economy.