Global Power Project: Connecting Josef Ackermann, the Institute of International Finance and the Euro Debt Crisis
By: Andrew Gavin Marshall
Originally posted at Occupy.com
In Part 1 of a Global Power Project exposé on the Institute of International Finance (IIF), I examined the founding the institute as a response by leading world banks to organize and manage their interests in relation to the 1980s debt crisis. When the European debt crisis hit headlines in 2010, the IIF was again on the scene and playing a major part. At the center was the CEO of Deutsche Bank, Josef Ackermann.
Josef Ackermann served as CEO of Deutsche Bank from 2002 to 2012, and over the same period served as Chairman of the IIF. Ackermann was also, and still remains, a member of the Steering Committee of the Bilderberg Group and continues to serve on the IIF’s Group of Trustees, a board which includes a number of prominent central bankers including Christian Noyer, the Governor of the Bank of France and Chairman of the Bank for International Settlements (BIS); Jamie Caruana, the General Manager of the BIS; and Jean-Claude Trichet, who was the president of the European Central Bank from 2003 to 2011.
During the early stages of the financial crisis, Ackermann served as an “unofficial adviser” to German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her then-Finance Minister Peer Steinbrueck. In December of 2009, Ackermann was speaking at a summit in Berlin attended by Chancellor Merkel and several other German cabinet ministers, corporate CEOs and others, where he explained that while the financial crisis had largely been “abated,” many “time bombs” remained — in particular, Greece, which he referred to as the “problem child” of Europe. Ackermann blamed the debt crisis on people having “lived beyond their means for years, if not decades,” warning that pensions and health care systems would “compound the problem” in the future.
The Financial Times has referred to Ackermann as a “reluctant power broker” who “has the ear of Angela Merkel, Europe’s most powerful politician.” Ackermann not only became one of the most influential bankers in the world, but a major political figure as well. As he himself explained: “Financial markets now are very political – political considerations have to play an important role.” In 2011, Ackermann warned that in terms of Europe’s crisis, “I don’t see a quick economic recovery, so we will have a longer time of somewhat lower growth – certainly three to five years.”
In October of 2011, Ackermann delivered a speech in which he said that Europe had “now entered a period of deleveraging” which “will inevitably entail a long period of austerity as governments, households and firms raise their savings.” At an economic forum in December of 2011, Josef Ackermann stated that Europe had to get its debt under control, “even at the cost of national sovereignty,” suggesting that neither “the pressure of financial markets” nor austerity measures “threaten democracy.” The real threat to democracy, according to Ackermann, was the “excessive debt” of European states.
In 2011, France and Germany agreed to negotiate directly with the “private sector” in the next planned Greek bailout agreement. The lead negotiator for the banks was the Institute of International Finance, which was brought in to discuss the potential for the banks to take a slight loss on their holdings of Greek debt. Ackermann was to be one of the lead negotiators for the IIF (also representing Deutsche Bank,a major private holder of Greek debt).
The Institute of International Finance under Ackermann’s chairmanship in turn became directly involved in major European summits, providing key input and suggestions that led to the Greek bailout. In July of 2011, the IIF warned the Eurozone countries that they would have to conclude a bailout agreement for Greece in order to avoid financial markets “spinning out of control.” The IIF delivered these warnings in a report delivered directly to European finance ministers, stating: “It is essential that euro area member states and the IMF act in the coming days to avoid market developments spinning out of control and risk contagion accelerating.”
The IIF undertook talks with Greek political leaders as well as EU officials, the European Central Bank and the IMF, with the organization noting that its managing director Charles Dallara and an IFF team “had extensive meetings with very senior European government officials over several weeks.” The three main IFF officials involved in discussions and negotiations were Charles Dallara (managing director from 1993-2013), Ackermann and Baudouin Prot, the Chairman of BNP Paribas.
According to one report, Ackermann even attended a meeting of the European Council during the EU summit to discuss the Greek bailout. Dallara was reported to have engaged in a conference call with top EU officials, including the Eurogroup chair Jean-Claude Juncker and the European Commissioner for Economic and Monetary Affairs, Olli Rehn. Dallara also reportedly met with European Council President Herman van Rompuy, then-French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel.
Discussions continued over the following months with little resolution. In an October meeting, EU officials reportedly hit a wall, at which point they summoned Dallara as the representative of the banks to the meeting in order “to break the deadlock.” Dallara met with Sarkozy and Merkel and other leading EU officials. While a general agreement was reached with the banks, negotiations over the technicalities continued into 2012, taking place between the Greek government, the EU, IMF and the IIF.
Ackermann explained that the banks were being “extremely generous” and then warned that failure to agree on a new program would open“a new Pandora’s box” for the debt crisis. Ackermann spoke at the World Economic Forum where he said that any agreement would have to force Greece to adhere to “harsh new austerity measures,” including cuts to wages and pensions, as well as making “the labor market more flexible.”
The final agreement had the banks holding Greek debt to take a 50% “loss” of their holdings of that debt, which would be done through a “bond swap” where they were to exchange their current junk status Greek debt for long-term Greek government bonds (debt) with a higher rating. In other words, the much-touted “write off,” or “loss,” for banks holding Greek debt amounted to a fancy financial method of kicking the can down the road.
After leaving his position as Chairman and CEO of Deutsche Bank as well as Chairman of the IIF, Ackermann spoke at the Atlantic Council, a U.S. think tank where he stated that elections in Greece were “not necessary” and “a big mistake.” What was necessary, he said, was “to make the funding of the banking system more certain,” and claimed it would require between 1 and 2 trillion euros. The European Stability Mechanism’s (ESM) ability to provide banks with $1 trillion was, according to Ackermann, “sufficient,” but he added, “we have to do more” and “we should maintain the pressure on the countries to do the necessary structural reforms and the necessary financial reforms to reduce the debt burden.” However, he noted, “if it comes to the worst,” in terms of a potential collapse of the Eurozone, “everything will be done to bail the Eurozone out.”
When Ackermann was asked why Germany did not simply come out and say that it would guarantee bank debts in the Eurozone, he explained that “it would be very difficult to get parliamentary approval for such behavior or attitude. People would not support it at all.” Further, if Germany did publicly state that it would guarantee bailouts for banks, many countries in the Eurozone would then ask, “Well, why then go on with our austerity programs? Why go on with our reforms? We have what we need.” Thus, Germany was not saying so publicly, based on what Ackermann called “political tactical consideration,” adding: “I think to keep the pressure up until the last minute is probably… not a bad political solution.”
Ackermann has never lacked as a source for controversy. He has been referred to as “a global banker and political power broker” by one financial analyst, and Simon Johnson, former Chief Economist at the IMF, referred to him as “one of the most dangerous bank managers” in the world whose advice not just to Germany and Greece but also to Belgium and Switzerland “shaped talks to bail out German lenders [banks], reduce Greece’s debt, leverage the euro-area’s rescue fund and influence regulation.” Ackermann himself stated, “Financial markets have become highly political over the past years… Politics and finance will become even more intertwined in the future. Accordingly, bankers have to think and act more politically as well.” One financial analyst stated: “He’s the most influential banker in the euro zone.” A German economics professor noted, “Deutsche Bank and its CEO are the target of all the people who feel our social or economic system is unfair or wrong.”
In 2011, Ackermann was targeted by an Italian anarchist group that claimed responsibility for sending a letter bomb to the Deutsche Bank CEO, though it was intercepted by police. When confronted by Occupy protesters during a speech he gave in November of 2011, Ackermann touted his “environmental” credentials, explaining that the UN Secretary General had referred to him as a “visionary.”
When Ackermann left Deutsche Bank and the IIF, he did not leave the world of financial and political power. He continued holding positions as a member of the Steering Committee of the Bilderberg Group; Vice Chairman of the Foundation Board of the World Economic Forum; and as a member of the Group of Trustees of the Principles for the Institute of International Finance. On top of that, he became a board member of Investor AB, Siemens AG, and Royal Dutch Shell, as well as being appointed Chairman of Zurich Insurance Group. Ackermann also sits on the international advisory boards of the China Banking Regulatory Commission, the National Bank of Kuwait, and Akbank, Turkey’s largest bank, as well as sitting on the boards of a number of other corporate and financial institutions.
When Ackermann left his position as CEO of Deutsche Bank and Chairman of the IIF, he was replaced at the IIF by Douglas Flint, the chairman of HSBC Holdings, who also sits on the board of the IIF. Flint is a member of the Mayor of Beijing’s International Business Leaders’ Advisory Council, a member of the Mayor of Shanghai’s International Business Leaders’ Advisory Council, a member of the International Advisory Board of the China Europe International Business School, a former director of BP (from 2005-2011), a participant in Bilderberg meetings (including for the years 2011-2013), a member of the European Financial Services Round Table (a group of CEOs and chairmen from Europe’s top banks), a member of the Financial Services Forum, a member of the European Banking Group (a group of over ten top European bank leaders formed to directly lobby the EU on “regulation” of the financial industry), and a member of the International Monetary Conference (IMC), an annual conference of private bankers formed to “compliment” the annual IMF meetings.
Whether through the leadership of Josef Ackermann, or now under the chairmanship of Douglas Flint, the IIF has been and will remain a major global player within the debt crisis and future financial crises, representing the organized interests of the financial markets. It’s no surprise, then, that even the Financial Times noted in 2010 that, three years after the financial crisis began, “the markets (and the bankers) still rule.”
Or as former Deputy Treasury Secretary Roger Altman noted, in 2011, that financial markets had become “a global supra-government” that “oust entrenched regimes… force austerity, banking bail-outs and other major policy changes,” whose “influence dwarfs multilateral institutions such as the International Monetary Fund” as “they have become the most powerful force on earth.”
We need look no further than the Institute of International Finance to see just how “the most powerful force on earth” is organized.
Andrew Gavin Marshall is a 26-year old researcher and writer based in Montreal, Canada. He is Project Manager of The People’s Book Project, chair of the Geopolitics Division of The Hampton Institute, research director for Occupy.com’s Global Power Project, and hosts a weekly podcast show with BoilingFrogsPost.