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Who Rules Europe?
By: Andrew Gavin Marshall
22 July 2015
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Blaming the Victim: Greece is a Nation Under Occupation
By: Andrew Gavin Marshall
17 July 2015
In the early hours of Thursday morning, July 16, the Greek Parliament passed a host of austerity measures in order to begin talks on a potential third bailout of 86 billion euros. The austerity measures were pushed onto the Parliament by Greece’s six-month-old leftist government of Syriza, elected in late January with a single mandate to oppose austerity. So what exactly happened over the past six months that the first anti-austerity government elected in Europe has now passed a law implementing further austerity measures?
One cannot properly assess the political gymnastics being exercised within Greece’s ruling Syriza party without placing events in their proper context. It is inaccurate to mistake the actions and decisions of the Greek government with those taken by an independent, sovereign and democratic country. Greece is not a free and sovereign nation. Greece is an occupied nation.
Since its first bailout agreement in May of 2010, Greece has been under the technocratic and economic occupation of its bailout institutions, the European Commission, the European Central Bank (ECB), and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). For the past five years, these three institutions known as ‘the Troika’ (though now referred to as ‘the Institutions’) have managed bailout programs in Greece and other nations of the eurozone. In return for loans, they got to dictate the policies and priorities of governments.
Behind the scenes, Germany rules an economic empire expanding across Europe, enforcing its demands upon debtor nations in need of aid, operating largely through the European Union’s various institutions and forums. Germany has consistently demanded harsh austerity measures, structural reforms, and centralization of authority over euro-member nations at the EU-level.
Greece has served as a brutal example to the rest of Europe for what happens when a country does not follow the orders and rules of Germany and the EU’s unelected institutions. In return for financial loans from the Troika, with Germany providing the largest share, Greece and other debtor nations had to give up their sovereignty to unelected technocrats from foreign institutions based in Brussels (at the European Commission), Frankfurt (at the ECB), Washington, D.C. (at the IMF), and with ultimate authority emanating from foreign political leaders in Berlin (at the German Chancellery and Finance Ministry).
The Troika would send teams of ‘inspectors’ on missions to Athens where they would assess if the sitting government was on track with its promised reforms, thus determining whether they would continue to disburse bailout funds. Troika officials in Athens would function as visiting emissaries from a foreign empire, accompanied by bodyguards and met with protests by the Greek people. The ‘inspectors’ from Brussels, Frankfurt and Washington would enter Greek government ministries, dictating to the Greek government and bureaucracy what their priorities and policies should be, with the ever-present threat to cut off funds if their demands were not followed, holding the fate of successive governments in their hands. Thus, unelected officials from three undemocratic and entirely unaccountable international institutions were dictating government policy to elected governments.
In addition to this immense loss of sovereignty over the past five years, Greece was subjected to further humiliation as the European Commission established a special ‘Task Force for Greece’ consisting of 45 technocrats, with 30 based in Brussels and 15 at an outpost in Athens, headed by Horst Reichenbach, dubbed by the Greek press as the ‘German Premier’. European and German officials had pushed for “a more permanent presence” in Greece than the occasional inspections by Troika officials. Thus, the Task Force was effectively an imperial outpost overseeing an occupied nation.
When a nation’s priorities and policies are determined by foreign officials, it is not a free and sovereign nation, but an occupied country. When unelected technocrats have more authority over a nation than its elected politicians, it is not a democracy, but a technocracy. Germany and Europe’s contempt and disregard for the democratic process within occupied (bailout) countries has been clear for years.
When Greece’s elected Prime Minister George Papandreou called for a referendum on the terms of Greece’s second bailout in late 2011, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, and Europe’s unelected rulers were furious. The economic occupation and restructuring of a nation was too important to be left to the population to decide. Europe’s leaders acted quickly and removed the elected government from power in a technocratic coup, replacing Mr. Papandreou with the former Vice President of the European Central Bank, Lucas Papademos. Thus, a former top official of one of the Troika institutions was put in direct control of Greece.
Papademos, who was not elected but appointed by foreign powers, had two major mandates from his German-Troika overlords: impose further austerity and conclude an agreement for a second bailout. Within a week of the coup, the EU and IMF demanded that the leaders of Greece’s two large political parties, New Democracy and PASOK, “give written guarantees that they will back austerity measures” and follow through with the bailout programs.
Troika officials and European finance ministers wanted to ensure that regardless of what political party wins in future elections, the Troika and Germany would remain the rulers of Greece. Troika officials threatened that unless political party leaders sign written commitments they would continue to withhold further bailout funds from being disbursed to Greece. So the leaders signed their commitments. The leaders of Greece’s two main political parties, Antonis Samaras (New Democracy) and Evangelos Venizelos (PASOK), which had governed the country for the previous several decades, “became reluctant partners, propping up a new prime minister.” In February of 2012, the new Greek government agreed to a second major bailout with the Troika and Germany, thus extending the economic occupation of the country for several more years.
Greece was set to hold elections in April of 2012 to find a suitable ‘democratic’ replacement for the ‘technocratic’ government of Lucas Papademos. But German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schauble was growing impatient with Greece, and publicly called for the elections to be postponed and to keep a technocratic government in power for longer. As the Financial Times noted in February of 2012, the European Union “wants to impose its choice of government on Greece – the eurozone’s first colony,” noting that Europe was “at the point where success is no longer compatible with democracy.”
But the elections ultimately took place in May of 2012, though Greece’s fractured political parties failed to form a coalition government, and thus set the country on course for a second round of elections the following month. The May elections were seen as a major rejection of the bailouts and the two parties that had dominated Greece for so long, marking the rise of the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party on the far-right and Syriza on the left.
But with a second round of elections set for June of 2012, Europe’s leaders repeated their threats to the democratic process in Greece. The Troika threatened to withhold bailout funds until the next government approved the package of reforms demanded by the creditors. Jorg Asmussen, a German member of the Executive Board of the ECB, warned, “Greece must know that there is no alternative to the agreed to restructuring arrangement, if it wants to stay a member of the euro zone.” The German President of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz, said that, “The Greek parties should bear in mind that a stable government that holds to agreements is a basic prerequisite for further support from the euro-zone countries.” As Philip Stephens wrote in the Financial Times, “As often as Greece votes against austerity, it cannot avoid it.”
At a May meeting of the Eurogroup of finance ministers, it became clear that Europe’s rulers were increasing their threats and ultimatums to Greece. “If we now held a secret vote about Greece staying in the euro zone,” noted Eurogroup President Jean-Claude Juncker (who is now president of the European Commission), “there would be an overwhelming majority against it.”
When the second elections were held the following month, the conservative New Democracy party won a narrow victory over Syriza, forming a coalition with two other parties in order to secure a majority to form a new government. Upon the announcement of a new coalition government on June 20, 2012, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany warned that Greece “must stick to its commitments.” Antonis Samaras of New Democracy was the third prime minister of Greece since the bailout programs began in 2010, and led the country as a puppet of its foreign creditors until his government collapsed in late 2014 and he called for elections to be held at the end of January of 2015.
Upon the collapse of the government, Alexis Tsipras, the leader of Syriza, declared that, “austerity will soon be over.” German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schauble warned that new elections in Greece “will not change any of the agreements made with the Greek government,” which “must keep to the contractual agreements of its predecessor.”
Jean-Claude Juncker, who was the newly-appointed (unelected) President of the European Commission, warned that Greeks “know very well what a wrong election result would mean for Greece and the eurozone,” adding that he would prefer “known faces” to rule Greece instead of “extreme forces,” in a reference to Syriza. A couple weeks before the elections, the European Central Bank threatened to cut its funding to Greece’s banking system if a new government rejected the bailout conditions.
Syriza won the elections on January 25, 2015, forming a coalition government with the Independent Greeks, a right-wing anti-austerity party. Alexis Tsipras, who would become Greece’s fourth prime minister in as many years, declared “an end to the vicious circle of austerity,” adding, “The troika has no role to play in this country.” Christine Lagarde, the Managing Director of the IMF, warned, “There are rules that must be met in the eurozone,” while a member of the executive board of the ECB added, “Greece has to pay, those are the rules of the European game.”
Nine days after the election, the ECB cut off its main line of funding to Greek banks, forcing them to access funds through a special lending program which comes with higher interest rates. Mark Weisbrot of the Center for Economic and Policy Research suggested that following Syriza’s election victory, the strategy of European officials was “to do enough damage to the Greek economy during the negotiating process to undermine support for the current government, and ultimately replace it.” The ECB, under its President Mario Draghi, quickly took a hardline approach to dealing with Greece, increasing the pressure on Athens to reach a deal with its creditors.
In early March, the ECB added pressure on Greece by indicating that it would only continue lending to Greek banks once the country complied with the terms of the existing bailout. On 9 March, a meeting of the Eurogroup was held where ECB president Mario Draghi warned the Greeks that they must let Troika officials return to Athens to review the country’s finances if they ever wanted any more aid. The same message was delivered by officials of the European Commission and the IMF. The Greeks were forced to comply. As negotiations continued, it became increasingly clear that the unelected institutions of the IMF and ECB had immense power over the terms and conditions of the talks.
Negotiations were dragged out, and the economy continued its collapse. By mid-June, Prime Minister Tsipras accused the creditors of “trying to subvert Greece’s elected government” and encourage “regime change.” James Putzel, a development studies professor at the London School of Economics (LSE) noted that Greece was being forced to choose between more austerity and reforms under Troika demands, or being booted from the eurozone and losing the common currency (something which the Greek people did not want). “Greece’s creditors,” he wrote, “seem bent on forcing the demise of the Syriza government.” Robert H. Wade, a political economy professor at LSE agreed, referring to the strategy as a “coup d’état by stealth.”
In late June, as Greece was faced with an ultimatum to implement more austerity or be pushed out of the eurozone, Alexis Tsipras threw out the wild card option in a final attempt to gain a better negotiating position by calling for a referendum on the terms demanded by the Troika and creditors. Europe’s leaders reacted as they did the previous time a Greek Prime Minister called for a referendum, and moved to put the squeeze on the economy. The ECB froze the level of its emergency aid to Greek banks, forcing bank closures and capital controls to be imposed on the country, essentially cutting off the flow of money to, from, and within Greece.
Chancellor Merkel, French President Francois Hollande and Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker “coordinated how they would respond” to the Greek government’s call for a referendum. As Mr. Tsipras publicly campaigned for a ‘No’ vote (which would reject the terms of the bailout), Europe’s leaders pushed for a ‘Yes’ vote, attempting to redefined the terms of the referendum as not being about the bailout, but about membership in the eurozone, threatening to kick Greece out if they voted ‘No’.
As Paul Krugman noted in the New York Times, the ultimatum agreement that was delivered to the Greeks by the Troika was “indistinguishable from the policies of the past five years,” and was thus meant to be an offer that Tsipras “can’t accept, because it would destroy his political reason for being.” The purpose, wrote Krugman, “must therefore be to drive him from office.” Mark Weisbrot wrote in the Globe & Mail that, “European authorities continue to take steps to undermine the Greek economy and government, hoping to get rid of the government and get a new one that will do what they want.”
Europe’s leaders increased their threats to Greece in the run-up to the referendum, warning the country that voting ‘No’ would mean voting against Europe, against the euro, and result in isolation and further crisis. But Greece voted ‘No’ in a landslide referendum on July 5, 2015, in a massive rejection of austerity and the bailouts.
Mr. Tsipras made a gamble with the referendum, hoping that a further democratic mandate from the Greek people would give him a stronger hand in negotiations with the creditors. But the opposite happened. Europe’s leaders instead decided to completely ignore and dismiss the wishes of the Greek people and continued to put the squeeze on Greece, whose economy was pushed to the brink so far that Mr. Tsipras announced the country’s intentions to enter into negotiations for a third bailout program. On July 10, the Greek government submitted a formal bailout request to its creditors.
Europe, noted the Wall Street Journal, was “demanding full capitulation as the price of any new bailout.” The Greek government was betting that Europe wanted to keep Greece in the euro more than Greece wanted to get away from austerity, but Germany – and in particular, Finance Minister Wolfgang Schauble – were willing to back a ‘Grexit’ scenario in which Greece would be given a five-year “timeout” from the eurozone. As Paul Krugman noted, “surrender isn’t enough for Germany, which wants regime change and total humiliation.”
As Greek leaders negotiated with their European counterparts over the possibility of a new bailout, it became clear that Greece was in for a reckoning. The demands that were being made of Greece, wrote Krugman, went “beyond harsh into pure vindictiveness, complete destruction of national sovereignty, and no hope of relief.” The lesson from the past few weeks, he added, was that “being a member of the eurozone means that the creditors can destroy your economy if you step out of line.”
Financial journalist Wolfgang Münchau wrote in the Financial Times that Greece’s creditors “have destroyed the eurozone as we know it and demolished the idea of a monetary union as a step towards a democratic political union.” The eurozone was instead “run in the interests of Germany, held together by the threat of absolute destitution for those who challenge the prevailing order.” With Germany threatening to kick Greece out of the euro for failure to capitulate entirely, this amounted to “regime change in the eurozone.” As Münchau wrote: “Any other country that in future might challenge German economic orthodoxy will face similar problems.”
After 22 hours of talks, Greece was forced to agree to the new terms. The Greek government would have to pass into law a set of austerity measures and reforms before Europe’s leaders would even begin talks on a new bailout. “Trust needs to be restored,” said Chancellor Merkel. A new fund would have to be established in Greece, responsible for managing the privatization of 50 billion euros of Greek assets. As the Wall Street Journal noted, the deal “includes external control over Athens’s financial affairs that no eurozone bailout country – even Greece until this point – has had to endure.” The Financial Times called it “the most intrusive economic supervision programme ever mounted in the EU.” Tony Barber wrote that the conditions set for the country were so strict that “they will turn Greece into a sullen protectorate of foreign powers.” One eurozone official who attended the summit at which Greece conceded to the German demands commented, “They crucified Tsipras in there.”
And so after six months of a Syriza-led Greece it is evident that Syriza does not rule Greece, Germany and the Troika do. What Syriza’s “capitulation” tells us is not that the party betrayed its democratic mandate from the Greek people, but that staying in the euro is a guarantee that no matter who is elected, they are little more than local managers of a foreign occupation government.
Blaming Mr. Tsipras and the Greeks for the current predicament is a bit like blaming a rape victim for getting raped. It doesn’t matter how they were ‘dressed’, or if they ‘could’ have fought back, because it’s ultimately the decision of the rapist to commit the crime, and thus, the rapist is responsible.
Syriza could become a party of liberation, of a proud, sovereign and democratic nation. But this is only possible if Greece abandons the euro. Until then, the Greek government has about as much independent power as the Iraqi government under American occupation. Syriza made several gambles in negotiations with the country’s creditors, most of which failed. But Greece was never on an equal footing.
Andrew Gavin Marshall is a freelance researcher and writer based in Montreal, Canada.
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Between Berlin and a Hard Place: Greece and the German Strategy to Dominate Europe
By: Andrew Gavin Marshall
7 July 2015
“They just wanted to take a bat to them,” said former U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, referring to the attitude of European leaders towards debt-laden Greece in February of 2010, three months before the country’s first bailout. Mr. Geithner, Treasury Secretary from 2009 until 2013, was attending a meeting of the finance ministers and central bankers of the Group of Seven (G7) nations: the United States, Japan, Germany, France, Britain, Italy and Canada.
It was the first occasion he had to meet Germany’s new Finance Minister, Wolfgang Schauble, presenting an opportunity to pressure the Europeans to end the crisis. The Europeans, specifically Germany and the European Central Bank (ECB), always had the ability to end the crisis. Putting up enough money in a regional bailout fund or allowing the ECB to fund governments (acting as a ‘lender of last resort’) would provide enough reassurance to the markets that no country would go bankrupt and therefore the crisis would end. It was referred to as the ‘big bazooka’ option, but Mr. Geithner had no such luck in convincing the Europeans to act quickly, largely due to German resistance.
The Europeans arrived at the G7 meeting in the remote Arctic Canadian city of Iqaluit wanting “to teach the Greeks a lesson” and “crush them,” explained Mr. Geithner. The Treasury Secretary warned them, “You can put your foot on the neck of those guys if that’s what you want to do,” but they still had to take action to reassure markets that the crisis would not spread to other countries, or threaten the euro itself. “I thought it was just inconceivable to me they would let it get as bad as they ultimately did,” said Mr. Geithner.
As the United States and the rest of the world would learn, the European strategy for the debt crisis that began in Greece and spread across the eurozone would be dictated by Germany, “the undisputed dominant power in Europe.” More than five years later, the Americans are still pressuring the Europeans to resolve their debt crisis problems, but to little effect. The stakes are now even higher as the U.S. fears the possibility of losing Greece to Russia, a conflict in which Germany is increasingly involved.
The Americans would attempt to influence Europe’s crisis through extensive contact between Mr. Geithner and Mr. Schauble at the German Finance Ministry, Mario Draghi at the ECB, and Christine Lagarde at the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The Americans knew that for anything to get done in Europe, you needed the Germans and the central bankers on board. The U.S. spy agency, the NSA, was even wiretapping the phone calls of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, top officials of the Finance Ministry and the ECB, with a particular interest in economic issues and Greece.
Germany’s political strategy was to allow the debt crisis to spread, creating the pressure required to force eurozone nations to accept German demands of restructuring their economies in return for financial aid from the EU. The German magazine Der Spiegel described Frau Merkel’s overall European strategy: “the aim was to solve the debt crisis in a step-by-step fashion.”
“If the euro fails, then Europe fails,” said the Chancellor in May of 2010, shortly after the first Greek bailout program was agreed. “The euro is in danger. If we do not avert this danger, then the consequences for Europe are incalculable and then the consequences beyond Europe are incalculable.” Merkel worked closely with Mr. Schauble at the Finance Ministry and her Minister of Economics, Rainer Brüderle, to write a draft proposal outlining the changes Germany wanted in the European Union.
The German publication Der Spiegel was leaked a copy of the draft, and concluded: “Berlin is serious about taking the lead as the euro zone struggles with a suddenly weak currency.” Germany wanted a Europe where the European Commission had the power to suspend the voting rights of nations for violating the eurozone’s debt and spending laws, including plans for managing the bankruptcy of a member nation. “Europe,” said Angela Merkel, “needs a new culture of stability.” But that culture would be enforced through the destabilizing power of financial market crises.
The German bet was that the EU could outrun financial markets, using the crisis as an opportunity to advance fiscal and political integration and impose their demands upon the rest of Europe, while simultaneously preventing markets from creating a crisis so severe that it threatened the euro or the economies of the more powerful nations. Without the pressure of financial markets, the EU could not force its member nations to restructure their economies and societies. Chancellor Merkel would frequently describe the European debt crisis to her colleagues as a “poker game” between financial markets and politicians. The first to flinch would lose.
In 2011, Bloomberg noted that Merkel was “turning Europe’s sovereign-debt crisis into an opportunity to reshape the euro region in Germany’s image,” concluding that she had “pulled ahead for now in her battle to restore policy makers’ mastery over the market.” A biographer of Merkel explained, “It’s policy by trial and error.”
Merkel’s powerful Finance Minister, Mr. Schauble, was one of the chief architects of the German strategy for Europe’s crisis. In March of 2010, he wrote in the Financial Times that, “from Germany’s perspective, European integration, monetary union and the euro are the only choice.” But aid comes with strings attached and harsh penalties for violations. “It must, on principle, still be possible for a state to go bankrupt,” wrote Mr. Schauble. “Facing an unpleasant reality could be the better option in certain conditions.”
The German minister believed “the financial crisis in the eurozone is not just a threat, but an opportunity,” as markets would “force the most debt-laden members of the 17-nation currency union to curb their budget deficits and increase their competitiveness.” This would pressure governments to accept further integration into a “fiscal union” defined and shaped by Germany. “We need to take big steps to get that done,” Mr. Schauble said in 2011. “That is why crises are also opportunities. We can get things done that we could not do without the crisis.”
Financial markets were happy to oblige the German-EU strategy, as the crisis would force the reforms long demanded by banks as a solution to the irresponsible spending of governments: austerity and structural reform. From 2002 to 2012, Josef Ackermann led Germany’s largest bank, Deutsche Bank. In 2011, the New York Times described Ackermann as “the most powerful banker in Europe” and “possibly the most dangerous one, too,” standing “at the center of more concentric circles of power than any other banker on the Continent.”
When the financial crisis struck in 2008, Angela Merkel and Josef Ackermann established a close working relationship, though not without its ups and downs. “We have a cordial and professional relationship,” said Mr. Ackermann in 2011. The banker would advise Frau Merkel on her strategy through the financial and debt crises, also working closely with Jean-Claude Trichet, then-president of the ECB. From his “seat at the nexus of money and politics,” Ackermann was “helping to shape Europe’s economic and financial future.”
After he left Deutsche Bank in 2012, Ackermann delivered a speech to the U.S.-based think tank, the Atlantic Council, where he outlined Germany’s overall strategy for Europe’s crisis. When asked why Germany simply didn’t say that it would do whatever it took to protect the euro and eurozone nations from bankruptcy (thus ending the financial crisis), Ackermann explained that it was largely due to a “political tactical consideration.” While such an option would surely end the market panic and save the euro, it would be unacceptable to the German public, let alone the German parliament.
But another major problem, noted Mr. Ackermann, was that if Germany made such an announcement, other eurozone nations “would then say, well, why then go on with our austerity programs? Why go on with our reforms? We have what we need.” Thus, he said, “I think to keep the pressure up until the last minute is probably a – not a bad political solution.” However, “if it comes to the worst,” with the potential of a eurozone collapse, the banker had “no doubt” that Germany would come to the rescue.
If the eurozone collapsed, not only would an economic and financial contagion spread with drastic consequences for all its members and the world economy as a whole, but there was also a strong political element. “A fragmented Europe has no way for self-determination,” said Mr. Ackermann. “We will have to accept what the United States, China, India, Brazil and other countries will finally define for us.” But Germany was to define the future of Europe.
“My vision is political union,” said Chancellor Merkel in January of 2012. “Europe has to follow its own path. We need to get closer step by step, in all policy areas.” In the Chancellor’s Europe, Brussels (home of the European Commission) was to be given immense new powers over member nations. “In the course a long process,” she said, “we will transfer more powers to the Commission, which will then work as a European government.” Outlining the EU’s path to a federation of nations functioning like individual states within the U.S., Merkel said, “This could be the future shape of the European political union.” Further integration among eurozone nations was a major objective, she explained, “we need to give institutions more control rights and give them more teeth.”
As Chancellor Merkel and other German leaders would frequently remind the rest of Europe and the world, with 7% of the world population, 25% of global GDP and 50% of world social spending, Europe’s economic system was unsustainable and uncompetitive in a globalized economy. Germany’s vision for Europe was aimed at introducing “rules to force Europe’s economies to become more competitive.” But competitiveness was defined by Germany, and thus, “the rest of Europe needs to become more like Germany.”
Germany wanted Greece and the rest of Europe to impose ‘budgetary discipline’ through austerity measures: cutting public spending in order to reduce the debt. But these are painful and highly destructive policies that depress the economy, impoverish the population, destabilize the political system, undermine democracy and devastate the wider society. If you live in a country where the government funds healthcare, education, social services, welfare, pensions and anything that benefits the general population, under austerity measures, now you don’t! Not surprisingly, austerity is always unpopular with the people who are forced to live through it.
Only in times of crisis can austerity be pushed through. When financial markets threaten to cut a country off from its sources of funding, it must to turn to larger nations and international organizations for financial aid. “The current strategy of the EU,” wrote Wolfgang Münchau in a November 2009 article for the Financial Times, “is to raise the political pressure – perhaps even provoke a political crisis – with the strategic objective that the Greek government might eventually relent.” And the government would have to relent to the diktats of Germany and “the Troika”: the European Commission, European Central Bank (ECB), and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), who collectively managed Europe’s bailout programs.
In early 2010, European banks held more than 141 billion euros of Greek debt, with the largest share being held by French and German banks. The first bailout largely went to bailout these very banks. Karl Otto Pohl, the former President of the German Bundesbank noted back in 2010 that the Greek bailout was about “rescuing the banks and the rich Greeks,” especially German and French banks. As the Troika bailed out the banks, these institutions took on the Greek debt.
The second bailout organized by the Troika largely went to paying interest on Greek debt owed to the Troika. Thomas Mayer, a senior adviser to Deutsche Bank, said, “the troika is paying themselves.” Between May 2010 and May 2012, Greece had received roughly $177 billion in bailouts from the Troika. A total of two-thirds of that amount went to payoff bondholders (banks and rich Greeks), while the remaining third was left to finance government operations.
In 2015, a study by the Jubilee Debt Campaign noted that of the total 252 billion euros in bailouts for Greece over the previous five years, over 90% ultimately went “to bail out European financial institutions,” leaving less than 10% for anything else. At the time of the first bailout in 2010, Greece had a debt-to-GDP ratio of roughly 130%. As a result of the bailouts and austerity, the debt ratio has risen to 177% of GDP at the beginning of 2015. Thus, after more than five years of supposed efforts to reduce its debt, that debt has grown substantially.
But the banks are no longer the largest holders of Greek debt. Today, the Troika owns 78% of the 317 billion euro Greek debt. Greece now owes the IMF, ECB, and eurozone governments a total of 242.8 billion euros, with the largest single holder being Germany with more than 57 billion euros in Greek debt. And now the Troika wants to be paid back. “In short,” wrote Simon Wren-Lewis in the New Statesman, “it needs money from the Troika to repay the Troika.”
The effects on Greece of more than five years of living under the domination of Germany and the Troika have been palpable. Greece is a ruined economic colony of the European Union. Austerity in Greece led to the creation of “a new class of urban poor” with more than 20,000 people being made homeless over the course of 2011, and dozens of soup kitchens and charities opening up to attempt to address the growing social and human crisis.
As austerity continued to collapse the economy, unemployment and poverty soared. By 2013, more than 27% of Greeks were unemployed and 10% of school-age children were going hungry. Between 2008 and 2013, the Greek government cut 40% of its budget, healthcare costs soared, tens of thousands of doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers were fired, drug costs rose, as did drug use with HIV infections doubling and a malaria outbreak was reported for the first time since the 1970s, while suicide rates increased by 60%.
By early 2014, more than a million Greeks were left without access to healthcare, accompanied by rising infant mortality rates. A charity director in Athens noted that, “Alcoholism, drug abuse and psychiatric problems are on the rise and more and more children are being abandoned on the streets.” By 2015, roughly 40% of children in Greece lived under the poverty line while the richest Greeks, responsible for roughly 80% of the tax debt owed to the government, were hiding tens of billions of euros in offshore accounts.
Unemployment has grown to 26% (and over 50% for youth), wages dropped by 33%, pensions were cut by 45%, and 40% of retired Greeks now live below the poverty line. Just prior to the Greek elections that brought his party to power in January of 2015, Alexis Tsipras wrote in the Financial Times that, “This is a humanitarian crisis.” Joseph Stiglitz, the Nobel Prize-winning former chief economist of the World Bank, wrote in late June of 2015 that, “I can think of no depression, ever, that has been so deliberate and had such catastrophic consequences.”
Thus, the German-Troika strategy of prolonging the debt crisis to reshape Europe has resulted in a human, social and political crisis that threatens the future of democracy in Europe itself. Germany has, in effect, established an economic empire over Europe, largely operating through the Troika institutions, all of which are unaccountable technocratic tyrannies.
The first pillar of the Troika is the International Monetary Fund (IMF), based in Washington, D.C., just a few short blocks down the road from the White House and U.S. Treasury Department. The United States is the largest single shareholder in the IMF, and the only one of its 188 member nations with veto power over major Fund decisions. The Financial Times referred to the IMF as “a tool of US global financial power.”
In 1977, U.S. Treasury Secretary Michael Blumenthal described the IMF as “a kind of whipping boy” in a memo to President Carter. In return for a loan to a country in crisis, the Fund would demand harsh austerity measures and other ‘structural reforms’ designed to restructure the economy along the lines desired by Washington. “If we didn’t have the IMF,” wrote Blumenthal, “we would have to invent another institution to perform this function.”
In the early 1990s, the IMF was managing ‘programs’ in over 50 countries around the world, and was “long been demonized as an all-powerful, behind-the-scenes puppeteer for the third world,” noted the New York Times. In 1992, the Financial Times noted that the fall of the Soviet Union “left the IMF and G7 to rule the world and create a new imperial age.” Operating through the Troika, IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde took a “tough love” approach to Greece, with the Fund being referred to as “the toughest” of the three institutions.
The European Central Bank (ECB) is another pillar of the Troika, run by unelected central bankers responsible for managing the monetary union, with its headquarters in Frankfurt, Germany, home to the German central bank (the Bundesbank) and Germany’s large financial sector. Throughout the crisis, Brussels has pushed to give the ECB more powers, specifically to oversee the formation and management of a single ‘banking union’ for the EU. The ECB has, in turn, advocated for more power to be given to Brussels.
The ECB played a central role in the debt crisis, pushing Greece into a deep crisis in late 2009, making “an example” of the country for the rest of Europe, blackmailing Ireland into accepting a Troika bailout program, then blackmailing Portugal into doing the same, and putting political pressure on Italy and Spain to implement austerity measures.
In late 2014, ECB President Mario Draghi rebooted efforts to advance integration of the economic and monetary union. When the anti-austerity Syriza government came to power in Greece in early 2015, the ECB was placed to be “the ultimate power broker” in negotiations between the country and its creditors. A member of the central bank’s executive board welcomed the democratic victory in Greece by warning, “Greece has to pay, those are the rules of the European game.”
The ECB took a hardline approach to dealing with Greece, increasing the pressure on Athens to reach a deal with its creditors, with The Economist referring to the central bank as “the enforcer.” This unelected and democratically unaccountable institution holds immense, undeniable power in Europe.
The European Commission is the third pillar of the Troika based in Brussels, functioning as the executive branch of the European Union overseeing a vast bureaucracy of unelected officials with responsibility for managing the union. Throughout the crisis, the Commission has been given sweeping new powers over economic and spending policies and priorities of member nations.
Brussels was to be given the centralized power to approve and reject national budgets of eurozone nations, establishing a technocrat-run ‘fiscal union’ to match the ECB’s role in managing the monetary union. EU institutions would have “more powers to serve like a finance ministry” for all the nations of the eurozone, potentially with its own finance minister, “who would have a veto against national budgets and would have to approve levels of new borrowing,” said Mr. Schauble, the German Finance Minister.
In 2007, European Commission President José Manuel Barroso mused aloud during a press conference. “Sometimes I like to compare the E.U. as a creation to the organisation of empires,” he said. “We have the dimension of Empire but there is a great difference. Empires were usually made with force with a centre imposing diktat, a will on the others. Now what we have is the first non-Imperial empire.” Eight years later, it is clear that the EU is officially an imperial empire, using bailouts not bombs, choosing the Troika over tanks, Brussels over bullets, austerity instead of armies, advocating for consolidation instead of colonization.
Philippe Legrain, a British political economist, author, and adviser to President Barroso from 2011 to 2013 wrote that the debt crisis “divided the euro zone into creditor nations and debtor ones,” and the EU’s institutions “have become instruments for creditors to impose their will on debtors, subordinating Europe’s southern ‘periphery’ to the northern ‘core’ in a quasi-colonial relationship. Berlin and Brussels now have a vested interest to entrench this system rather than cede power and admit to mistakes.”
“In general,” wrote Gideon Rachman in the Financial Times in 2007, “the [European] Union has progressed fastest when far-reaching deals have been agreed by technocrats and politicians – and then pushed through without direct reference to the voters. International governance tends to be effective,” he concluded, “only when it is anti-democratic.”
Perhaps the greatest lesson of the past five years of crisis is that in a Europe under the rule of Germany and the Troika, the people and democracy suffer most. For democracy to survive in Europe, the technocratic tyranny of the Troika and debt-based domination of Germany must be challenged. Democracy is too important to be sacrificed at the altar of austerity. It is any wonder why Greeks voted ‘no’ to the status quo?
Andrew Gavin Marshall is a freelance researcher and writer based in Montreal, Canada.
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The Global Mafiocracy and the Empire of Economics
By: Andrew Gavin Marshall
26 March 2015
I am aiming to raise $500 in order to complete and publish for all to view and read a sample introduction chapter to my book about the Global Mafiocracy and the Empire of Economics. The chapter would provide a sampling of the subject matter, style and approach to discussing these complex issues in a way that is understandable and approachable to as wide an audience as possible. The sample chapter would be completed relatively soon (in the next week or two), so long as the funding objective is reached so that I can afford to put in the time to complete the draft.
So what is the subject matter and focus of the book?
– Translating the world of Economics and Finance into basic English, dismantling the ‘technical’ language of ‘experts’ into a more direct and honest dialectic
– An introduction to the Global Mafiocracy: the banks, corporations, asset management firms, sovereign wealth funds, insurance companies and holding companies that collectively own each other and the wider network of global corporate and financial institutions, manifesting as a relatively small cartel of roughly 150 large financial institutions that wield unparalleled financial power in the modern world. How did the cartel evolve? What institutions are dominant within it? Who are the individuals and groups that lead these organizations? How is the cartel’s wealth and power accumulated and exercised? What role does the cartel play in the world of global finance, economic and politics?
– Behind the major corporate and financial institutions are individuals and families, smaller units of concentrated power who own the largest shares and steer the operations of the global cartel. These individual oligarchs and family dynasties – from the Rockefellers in the US, to the Wallenbergs in Sweden, Agnellis in Italy, Desmarais’ in Canada, to the House of Saud in Saudi Arabia, Oppenheimer in South Africa, among others – control and.or influence large percentages of wealth within their respective nations and in the world of globalized financial and corporate networks. How did these dynasties and oligarchs emerge? What do they own and control? How is their wealth and power organized and exercised? What are their ideologies, beliefs, objectives?
– Empire and Economics: When people think of Empire, they often imagine the old European colonial powers venturing off to Africa, Latin America and Asia where they would militarily occupy and colonize foreign lands, regions and peoples for their own imperial benefit. While formal colonialism is largely an historical anachronism, unjustifiable and increasingly untenable in the modern world, Empire itself has never vanished. While the military and overtly political components of empire and imperialism remain relevant in the modern world (think: U.S. military, CIA, State Department, NATO, etc.) the most effective and evolved means of imperialism in the world are exercised through the economic and financial spheres. In these realms, empire is more effective because its ideology, objectives, actions and effects are hidden behind vague and obscure language, the “expertise” of economists, finance ministers, central bankers and other technocrats who claim to be separate of politics and only interested in economics. Empire is more evolved in these spheres because it has become the vanguard of the global Mafiocracy and imperial system, leading the political and often military apparatus of empire, far more institutionalized and advanced on a global scale than any parallel in political and military spheres.
– Global Financial Diplomacy and Governance: What are the institutions that manage and shape the imperial economic order? In the world of financial diplomacy and governance, those institutions which wield incredible (and increasingly expanding) power and authority remain largely unknown or misunderstood to the general public. The book will examine some of the origins, evolution and character of many of these institutions, including: the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank, Bank for International Settlements (BIS), Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), World Trade Organization (WTO), central banks and finance ministries, among others. What are the specific roles, functions and objectives of these institutions? How do they wield power? In whose interest do they operate? Who leads them?
– State Power: The institutions that make up the world of financial diplomacy and governance rely principally upon state power for legitimacy and political might. Whether it’s a central bank, a finance ministry, the IMF or other agencies, the role of powerful nation states such as the United States and other rich nations is central to the system and structures of the global Empire of Economics. The centrality of state power is made all the more apparent through an examination of the origins and evolution of less formal groupings of nations, such as the Group of Seven (G7), the Group of Five (G5), the Group of Ten (G10) and the Group of Twenty (G20), the principal political forums for the system of global governance and empire. Who attends these forums? What institutions are represented? What are the ideologies and competing interests? What effect do they have? What is the role of the ’emerging market’ nations of China, Russia, Brazil, India, Turkey and South Africa within this system?
– The Global Financial Mafia: What is the relationship and interaction between state power, the various Groups of nations, international institutions, finance ministries and central banks with the global cartel of banks and corporations, and the oligarchs and family dynasties that control the cartel? In what forums do the individuals who lead these various institutions interact, cooperate, communicate, socialize and organize? At various global and national think tanks, foundations, forums, conferences and social events, politicians, finance ministers, central bankers and top technocrats meet, often in secret, with the heads of banks and corporations, patriarchs and matriarchs of powerful family dynasties and other oligarchs. Among such events and forums are: the Bilderberg Group, International Monetary Conference (IMC), World Economic Forum (WEF), the Trilateral Commission, the Institute of International Finance (IIF), and the Group of 30, among others. These forums and events provide political leaders and the heads of influential institutions with a private forum where they are able to have off-the-record, often secretive discussions on important issues of global importance to the populations of their respective nations and the planet as a whole. Collectively, this group, and the institutions which dominate it, compose the Global Mafiocracy: a global political, social and economic system dominated by relatively few nations and institutions that operate largely in the interests of a small, criminal cartel of banks and corporations, a global financial Mafia.
– Top-Down: These institutions, individuals and ideologies will be examined and discussed not as a dry, historical account, but in terms of telling a series of stories. I want to try to present this information and analysis in the same way in which it appeals most to me, a fantastic, interesting, often horrifying and shocking tale of intrigue, empire, power politics, petty tyrants, in-fighting, domination, destruction and empire. I want the people who lead and participate in this system to become as familiar to the reader as they are to me, to see an image and read stories about the personalities and complexities of those who rule and wield power. What emerges is a story, or series of stories, worthy of the the intrigue and interest in historical and fictional accounts of imperial families and ancient empires, of mythical worlds, fantasy tales and science fiction societies. Get a view of our world from the top-down.
– Bottom-Up: In parallel to the institutions, individuals and ideologies that dominate and shape our world from the top-down, there are also processes, people, protests and mass movements or revolutions that shape and re-create and re-imagine the world from the bottom up. While Europe’s finance ministers meet in secret, off the record conversations in distant castles located in Luxembourg, deciding the fate of Europe and its citizens, mass protests and demonstrations and riots take place on the streets of Athens, Madrid, Lisbon, Rome and Frankfurt, in which the populations oppose and reject the decisions being made in far-off places by largely unelected technocrats who do not serve their interests. What role do protests and popular movements have in shaping and changing the modern world? How do the dominant institutions and individuals view and respond to such events and processes? Do they fear the potential of the people? What is that potential, or what could it be? What is the bottom-up story of the Global Mafiocracy and Empire of Economics?
– A Series of Stories: History, its chief actors, institutions and evolution is best understood when told as a story, with characters that readers and observers can relate to, understand, find an interest in, to be intrigued and even horrified. It would seem that the best way to explain the overly and unnecessarily complicated world of economics and finance is to explain it not as one would read in a textbook or industry publication, nor reportage in the financial press, nor through the dry and deceptively dull language and rhetoric of economics, academics, finance ministers, central bankers, technocrats and politicians. No, this is a world best understood through the stories, characters, challenges, triumphs, disasters and wars waged by the personalities and people who have shaped and changed this world. A system of human ‘civilization’ is, after all, ultimately a product of humans, and is, therefore, as deeply flawed, complex, conflicted and intriguing as are most human tales of the rise and fall of kings, queens, emperors, dictators, or the triumphs and tribulations of the ‘common person’, those on the streets, in the schools, bustling around the cities, towns and in the urban slums. Human beings understand human struggles and human stories. Thus, this book is not a history of economics and finance, it is a story of human beings, struggle, suffering, success and complexity. In short, it is a story like any other.
I need your help to write these stories and complete this book, what will be the first in a series. For now, my objective is to write a sample chapter, drawing from the many thousands of pages of research I have done in recent months and years. This chapter would be made available online for all to read, to truly gain a better understanding of the focus, approach and objectives of this book. To do this, I need your help. If this is something you would be interested in reading, please consider donating or sharing and promoting this through social media and other avenues.
My objective is to raise $500 in the short-term. If that goal is reached, the sample chapter will be completed (in rough form) and published online for all to read in April of 2015.
Thank you very much for all the support and encouragement.
Andrew Gavin Marshall
Global Power Project: Bilderberg Group and the International Monetary Fund
By: Andrew Gavin Marshall
3 February 2015
Originally posted at Occupy.com
This is the ninth installment in a series examining the activities and individuals behind the Bilderberg Group. Read the first, second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth parts in the series.
In previous installments, this series has examined the historical role played by Bilderberg meetings in influencing major institutions and policies across North America and Western Europe over the past half century; the role of the meetings in supporting the rise of corporate and financial-friendly politicians to high office; the representation of interests from among the global financial elite, and the promotion of technocracy (particularly in Europe) and the representation of key technocratic institutions and individuals from Europe’s finance ministries and central banks, who’ve played important roles in the management of Europe’s financial and debt crises between 2008 and 2014.
This installment continues with an examination of Bilderberg’s role in facilitating the advancement of transnational technocracy in the EU, bringing in some of the top technocrats from leading European and international organizations to meet in secret with finance ministers, central bankers, politicians, corporate executives, bankers and financiers. The role of finance ministers and central banks has been the focus of the previous two installments in this series. Now we look at the IMF, which, together with the European Central Bank (ECB) and the European Commission (EC), functioned as the “Troika” tasked with managing the international response to the debt crisis, organizing the bailouts and imposing harsh austerity measures and structural reforms upon the nations and people of Europe.
The IMF: It’s Mostly Fiscal
In 1992, the Financial Times published a feature article by James Morgan, the chief economic correspondent of the BBC, in which he explained that with the fall of the Soviet Union, the Group of Seven nations (specifically their finance ministries and central banks) and the International Monetary Fund have come “to rule the world and create a new imperial age.” Morgan wrote that the “new global system” ruled by the G7, the IMF, World Bank and other international organizations “worked through a system of indirect rule that has involved the integration of leaders of developing countries into the network of the new ruling class.”
The IMF is designed to come to the “aid” of countries experiencing financial and monetary crises, to provide loans in return for the nations implementing austerity measures and key structural reforms, and to promote easy access for foreign investors (ie. banks and corporations) to buy up large portions of the local economy, enriching both domestic and foreign elites in the process.
Thus, a nation which gets a loan from the IMF must typically dismantle its social services, fire public sector workers, increase taxes, reduce benefits, cut education and health care, privatize state-owned assets and industries, devalue its currency, and dismantle labor protections and regulations, all of which plunges the population into poverty and allows for major global banks and corporations to seize the levers of the domestic economy and exploit the impoverished population as cheap labor.
The IMF was created near the end of World War II, tasked with managing the global “balance-of-payments” between nations: that is, maintaining the stability of global deficits and surpluses (the borrowing, lending and trading) between countries. However, as the post-War international monetary system collapsed in the early 1970s, the IMF needed to find a new focus. In the late 1970s, the New York Times noted that the “new mandate” of the IMF was “nothing less than rescuing the world monetary system – and with it, the world’s commercial banks.”
As the major Western commercial banks lent out vast sums of money to developing nations during the 1970s, they created immense liabilities (ie. risks) for themselves. As interest rates on debt began to rise, thanks to the actions of the Federal Reserve, heavily-indebted countries could no longer pay the interest on their loans to banks. As a result, they were thrust into financial and debt crises, in need of loans to pay down their debts and finance government spending. A key problem emerged, however, in that major commercial banks (who stopped funding developing nations) could not force them to implement the desired policies. What was needed was a united front of major banks, powerful industrial nations and international organizations.
Enter the IMF: controlled by the finance ministries of the majority of the world’s nations, with the U.S. Treasury holding veto power over all major decisions. The IMF was able to represent a globally united front on behalf of the interests of commercial banks. All funding from governments, international organizations and banks would be cut off to developing nations in crisis unless they implemented the policies and “reforms” demanded by the IMF. Once they signed a loan agreement and agreed to its conditions, the IMF would release funds, and other nations, institutions and banks would get the green light to continue funding as well.
The IMF’s loans, policy prescriptions and reforms that it imposes on other nations have the effect of ultimately bailing out Western banks. Countries are forced to impoverish their populations and open up their economies to foreign exploitation so that they can receive a loan from the IMF, which then allows the indebted nation to simply pay the interest on its debt to Western banks. As a result, the IMF loan adds to the overall national debt (which will have to be repaid down the line), and because the nation is in crisis, all of its new loans come with higher interest rates (since the country is deemed a high risk).
This has the effect of expanding a country’s overall debt and ensuring future financial and debt crises, forcing the country to continue in the death-spiral of seeking more loans (and imposing more austerity and reforms) to pay off the interest on larger debts. As a result, entire nations and regions are plunged into poverty and abusive forms of exploitation, with their political and economic systems largely controlled by international technocrats at the IMF and World Bank, mostly for the benefit of Western commercial banks and transnational corporations.
The IMF has amassed great power over the past few decades, and because its conditions and demands on nations primarily revolve around imposing austerity measures and “balancing budgets,” the IMF has earned the nickname “It’s Mostly Fiscal”. However, due to the effects of the fiscal policies demanded and imposed by the IMF, causing widespread poverty, increasing hunger, infant mortality, disease and inequality, many populations and leaders of indebted nations view the IMF as far more than “fiscal.” In fact, former Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak once referred to the IMF as the “International Misery Fund,” a sentiment shared by many protesters in poor nations experiencing the effects of harsh austerity measures.
The IMF and Bilderberg
As one of the world’s most important and influential technocratic institutions, the IMF has a keen interest in the goings-on behind closed doors at annual Bilderberg meetings, just as the group’s participants have a keen interest in the leadership and policies of the IMF. In fact, it is largely an unofficial tradition that the managing director of the IMF is frequently chosen from among Bilderberg participants, or in the very least, attends the meetings following their appointment. In a 2011 article about that year’s Bilderberg meeting, I commented on the race to find a new managing director of the IMF, noting that only Christine Lagarde, the French finance minister, had previously attended a Bilderberg meeting (in 2009), and therefore, she seemed a likely choice.
Lagarde began her career at a corporate law firm in the United States, becoming the first female chair in 1999. In 2004, at the request of the French Prime Minister, Lagarde joined the French government of President Jacques Chirac as a junior trade minister and began to rise through the ranks. When Nicolas Sarkozy became president in 2007, Lagarde took up the post of finance minister, a position that Sarkozy had also previously held. As Foreign Policy magazine explained, both Sarkozy and Lagarde had a similar vision for France: “free markets, less regulation, and globalization.” Together, they imposed various austerity measures and structural reforms in France, and due to Lagarde’s ideological allegiance to the American-brand of “market capitalism,” she was given the nickname, “The American.”
Throughout the financial crisis, and really from 2008 onwards, Lagarde was pivotal in brokering a major bailout deal between the G7 nations, working with her “close personal friend,” Hank Paulson, the U.S. Treasury Secretary (and former CEO of Goldman Sachs). Lagarde became a skilled operator at G7 and G20 meetings, and was a regular figure at World Economic Forum (WEF) meetings. As the [New York Times noted]( in late 2008, Christine Lagarde’s “biggest fans are business leaders and foreign finance officials who have seen her in action.”
In 2008, the Financial Times ranked Lagarde as the 7th best finance minister in Europe. In 2009, she was ranked as number one, with the Financial Times writing that she “has become a star among world financial policy-makers.” That same year, she was invited to the Bilderberg conference. The following year, Lagarde was ranked in third place, having “played an important role in the Eurozone debt crisis, helping overcome Franco-German differences on the bloc’s eventual rescue plans.”
In 2011, Christine Lagarde’s name was put forward as a possible replacement for then-IMF managing director Dominique Strauss-Kahn. The influential economist Kenneth Rogoff said that Lagarde was “enormously impressive, politically astute,” and was treated “like a rock star” at finance meetings all over the world. The New York Times noted that while Nicolas Sarkozy had a challenging relationship with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Lagarde “nurtured a close personal relationship with Mrs. Merkel.”
Shortly after Lagarde officially began to campaign to become the head of the IMF, the German, British and Italian finance ministries endorsed her candidacy, with the main rival for the top spot being the governor of the central bank of Mexico, Agustin Carstens, who secured the backing of the Latin American nations as well as Canada and Australia. Lagarde then received the golden seal of approval when she was endorsed by the U.S. Treasury Department, the only veto power voter at the IMF. Then-Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner commented that Lagarde would “provide invaluable leadership for this indispensible institution at a critical time.” While she was campaigning, Lagarde also managed to secure the backing of China, after she met for lunch with the Chinese central bank governor and deputy prime minister.
German Chancellor Merkel commented that “there are very few other women in the stratosphere of global governance.” As the publication Der Spiegel wrote, “[Lagarde] knows ministers and national leaders throughout the world, and she is on a first-name basis with most of them.” German finance minister Wolfgang Schauble was described as “her most important partner” in the EU and “her anchor in Germany.”
Gillian Tett, writing in the Financial Times in December of 2011, noted that “never before has a woman held such a powerful position in global finance,” and much like Chancellor Merkel, Lagarde now “holds real power.” Throughout the course of the European debt crisis, she used that power. Leading one of the three major institutions of the Troika, Lagarde played a central role in the organization of bailouts and enforcement of austerity across the Eurozone. A former top technocratic official in the IMF wrote an op-ed in the Financial Times in 2013 in which he explained that the IMF, alongside the European Commission and the ECB, are together “the troika running the continent’s rescues,” which “means political meddling had been institutionalized.”
The actions of these institutions were so damaging to the economies and societies – and social stability – of many European countries that a formal investigation into the activities of the Troika was held in the European Parliament in late 2013 and early 2014. The final report, produced by Members of the European Parliament (MEPs), concluded that the Troika’s structure and accountability resulted “in a lack of appropriate scrutiny and democratic accountability as a whole.” After all, the growth and empowerment of technocracy coincides with the undermining and decline of democracy.
Christine Lagarde, who has spent her career as a corporate lawyer and finance minister, has steered the IMF on its consistent path of functioning as a transnational technocratic institution concerned primarily with serving the interests of global financial markets. As such, her participation in Bilderberg meetings – in 2009, 2013 and 2014 – brings her into direct contact with her real constituency: the ruling oligarchy.
Global Power Project: Bilderberg Group and the Power of the Finance Ministry
By: Andrew Gavin Marshall
8 January 2015
Originally posted at Occupy.com
This is the seventh installment in a series looking at the activities and individuals behind the Bilderberg Group. Read the first part, second part, third part, fourth part, fifth part and sixth part in the series.
Throughout the course of the financial and debt crises in Europe, politicians played a supporting role to financial markets and financial technocrats – that is, the economists, academics, central bankers, finance ministers and heads of international organizations who articulate the interests of powerful financial and social groups in the technocratic language of “expertise,” and who enact policies, create and shape major institutions, and whose decisions affect the lives of hundreds of millions, even billions, of people.
A number of the world’s top technocrats between 2008 and 2014 have been members or guests of Bilderberg meetings. Most especially, European technocrats have been highly represented within the membership, and were among the most influential players throughout Europe’s financial and debt crises. This article examines the technocratic institution of the “Finance Ministry,” specifically as it relates to the European debt crisis and the Bilderberg Group.
The Ministry of Finance
Finance ministers and ministries have truly immense power in the modern world. They manage the finances – money and debt – and budgets of states, and are responsible for the allocation of funding to governments, their departments, and their policies. Depending on an individual nation’s power and governance system, finance ministries can often wield influence that dwarfs other top government officials, and occasionally even presidents and prime ministers. They are pivotal determining domestic and foreign policy, and most responsible for designing and implementing financial and economic policy.
The wealthier a nation, the more important its finance ministry, and the more powerful are its officials. In the United States, it’s the Treasury Department and its secretary; in the U.K. it’s the Treasury and the Chancellor of the Exchequer; in most European nations, and in Japan, it’s simply the Finance Minister.
In January of 1979, U.S. President Jimmy Carter met with the leaders of France, Britain and West Germany. The New York Times noted that Carter was the only leader in the group who had not previously served as a finance minister. The paper’s Frank Vogl wrote: “More former finance ministers are now occupying the top political offices in the leading industrial nations than ever,” with the addition of Japan’s new prime minister, Masayoshi Ohira. The leaders knew each other well, having spent years interacting at major conferences and coordinating policies as finance ministers before taking the top political spots. Collectively, they are key officials of “global economic leadership.”
The role of finance ministers in global economic leadership has only expanded in subsequent decades. They meet, discuss and coordinate global policies alongside central bankers at the G7, G8 and G20 meetings. The also hold shares in and are represented on the boards of international organizations like the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which manages the finances and economic policies of dozens of countries around the world.
Europe in Crisis
Europe’s finance ministers were pivotal in the management of the European debt crisis. These technocrats shaped the financial policies of powerful nations and international organizations, coordinated with central banks, created new transnational institutions, and pushed policies that have had profound effects upon the future of the European Union and the 500 million people who live within it. Many of the most influential finance ministers in Europe were also frequent participants in Bilderberg meetings over the period of time from the beginning of the financial crisis in 2008 and throughout the debt crisis until 2014.
Throughout the course of the European debt crisis, Germany was joined by what the Financial Times called “its two closest allies in the Eurozone,” the Netherlands and Finland, who shared the German hardline demands of austerity and structural reforms for countries in crisis. Together, the central banks and finance ministries of these three nations frequently coordinated actions and objectives.
The three countries were among the major creditors to the crisis-hit debtor nations, and thus their united response to the crisis guaranteed that they would be the most influential national bloc within the E.U. This gave them a great deal of leverage in shaping the policies of other major technocratic institutions, like the European Central Bank (ECB) and the European Commission (EC).
In 2008, the Financial Times ranked Finland’s Jyrki Katainen as the top finance minister in Europe, describing him as “part of a new wave of youthful center-right European leaders,” and one who could possibly become the future Finnish prime minister. In 2010, Katainen was again ranked on the top ten list of the best finance ministers in Europe, as determined by a group of judges who were mainly chief economists from major banks.
The Financial Times noted that Katainen, who had served as minister since 2007, led Finland “through its deepest recession since independence from Russia in 1917,” and that he was “a chief ally of Germany in the push for tougher European Union fiscal rules.” Katainen had attended Bilderberg meetings in both 2009 and 2010.
The following year, in 2011, Katainen took the top job as Prime Minister of Finland, forming a coalition government in which he appointed one of the opposition party leaders, Jutta Urpilainen, as the Finance Minister, the first woman to hold the post. The Financial Times noted that Urpilainen was “likely to take a tough stance on Eurozone policy,” committing herself and the government “to helping create a more stable Eurozone.”
In May of 2012, the Financial Times wrote that previously as finance minister and presently as prime minister, Jyrki Katainen had taken Finland on “a hard line over matters such as the Greek bailout and austerity, often exceeding the position even of Germany.” As part of this “hard line” abroad, Finland also employed it at home, with Katainen overseeing the implementation of successive austerity measures. In 2013, while Finland was entering its third recession since the financial crisis began – all under Katainen’s watch – the prime minister announced further budget cuts.
Finland’s hard line from 2011 on was pushed by its finance minister Jutta Urpilainen, “who took a more demanding position on the crisis.” Urpilainen attended Bilderberg meetings in 2012 and 2013. In 2011, the Financial Times ranked Urpilainen on the list of top ten European finance ministers, noting that she “demanded ailing fellow Eurozone economies provide collateral in return for aid… earning herself a reputation in Brussels as stubborn.”
She again earned a top ten spot in 2012, with the Financial Times commenting that she had “taken one of the toughest approaches on bailouts among her European counterparts,” and in doing so had “caused tension with her predecessor, Kyrki Katainen,” then serving as prime minister.
In the midst of the eruption of the Greek debt crisis in 2010, the Greek Finance Minister, George Papaconstantinou, who was responsible for negotiating the E.U. bailout, attended that year’s Bilderberg meeting. That same year, the Financial Times gave him a top ten ranking, noting that he had “stayed cool while negotiating harsh fiscal and structural reforms with the European Union and [IMF],” and that he cut the budget deficit “by a national record.” This, of course, had extremely negative consequences for the population of Greece.
In the midst of Italy’s exploding debt crisis in 2011, its finance minister, Giulio Tremonti, attended that year’s Bilderberg meeting having also earned himself a top ten ranking in 2009. A former Italian finance minister, Tomasso Padoa-Schioppa, had also attended Bilderberg meetings between 2008 and 2010.
In 2013, the Bilderberg meeting was attended by Bjarne Corydon, the Danish finance minister, as well as Anders Borg, the Swedish finance minister. Anders Borg ranked among the top ten finance ministers in all of the Financial Times surveys between 2008 and 2012, including holding the number one and number two ranking for 2011 and 2012, respectively. In 2010, the Financial Times noted that “Borg has had a good crisis,” as he “established himself as one of Europe’s most authoritative economic voices, and his reputation has been enhanced by Sweden’s rapid recovery from recession.”
In 2011, the Financial Times wrote that Borg, a former banker who had served as Swedish finance minister since 2005, “is a master at blending erudition with popular appeal,” noting that his criticism of bank bonuses “won voters’ hearts while his devotion to fiscal discipline [austerity] and sound public finances has endeared him to the markets.” Borg carries heavy weight in Brussels, headquarters of the European Union, earning a reputation as “the wizard behind one of Europe’s best-performing economies.”
Shortly after the democratically-elected governments of Greece and Italy were replaced with bankers and economists in a technocratic coup in November of 2011, the Financial Times reported that “Sweden has, in effect, had an unelected technocrat running its public finances for the past six years.” That technocrat, Anders Borg, previously “worked as a bank economist in the private sector and as an adviser to both Sweden’s central bank and the country’s Moderate party.”
Throughout the European debt crisis, meetings of the Eurogroup, composed of the finance ministers of the 17-member states of the single currency, played a key role doing “the heavy lifting on the bloc’s economic policy, from banking reforms to bailouts.” The “Troika” that was formed to manage the debt crisis – composed of the European Central Bank, the European Commission and the International Monetary Fund – would report directly to the Eurogroup of finance ministers on all important decisions related to the bailouts and austerity packages.
Finance ministers, together with Europe’s central bankers and other technocrats leading major EU and international organizations, were key to shaping the response and policies of the financial and debt crisis. At Bilderberg meetings, all of these officials were able to gather together, alongside captains of industry and top financiers, to discuss Europe’s problems and coordinate responses.
Andrew Gavin Marshall is a freelance writer and researcher based in Montreal, Canada.