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Greek debt talks: sticking point

Euro zone finance ministers step into the picture stalling a deal on Greek debt
Greek debt snagEnlarge
French Finance minister Francois Baroin (L) speaks with Greek Finance Minister Evangélos Vénizélos on January 23, 2012 before the euro zone finance ministers' meeting at EU headquarters in Brussels (GEORGES GOBET/AFP/Getty Images)

Talks between Greece and its creditors have been stalled because the euro zone's finance ministers object to the interest rate Greek bondholders are demanding on a new issue of bonds to replace those Greece cannot repay, reports Greek newspaper, eKathimerini.

It's a little tricky to understand but the solution to Greece's crisis lies in this detail.

Greek bondholders have agreed to take a minimum 50 percent haircut on their current holdings. In return, Greece will issue new bonds that mature in 30 years and be subject to British law - meaning default liability will be more strictly enforced.

That much is reported to have been agreed.

But how much interest these new bonds will pay is the sticking point. The bondholders want it to be 4 percent. The finance ministers yesterday said that is too high. Why do the finance ministers get a say? Because the EU is bailing out Greece and he who pays the piper etc.

This is an example of what happens when you lose control of your sovereign destiny, as Greece effectively has since the summer. Professor Costas Lapavitsas of the University of London makes the point eloquently in this Guardian piece today.

"The original plan was to bring debt down to 120% of GDP by 2020, but the "rescue" programs of the past two years have forced the country into a real depression. The IMF now thinks that Greek debt will be on a much higher level by 2020 – clearly unsustainable."

What to do? Lapavitsas writes Greece "should take charge of its own predicament, abandoning the charade of voluntary haircuts. For that, it needs to default in a sovereign and democratic way by immediately declaring a cessation of payments."

That would mean leaving the euro, of course, and returning to the drachma and a violent round of inflation for Greeks who import everything (abetted by a boom in tourism because the country would be as cheap as it used to be for sun-starved European vacationers).

But it worked for Argentina ten years ago, so, who knows, maybe it can work in Hellas.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatches/globalpost-blogs/europa/greece-debt-talks-sticking-point-0