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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.
Please consider making a donation to help support my research and writing.
I have recently launched a Kickstarter campaign to try to raise money to support my efforts to finish the first book of what will likely be a series on ‘Power Politics and the Empire of Economics’.
What I am asking of my readers is not only to consider donating to the project, but more importantly, to share and promote it through social media, by sending it to others who you think may be interested, and to help get the word out in any way you can!
Every bit helps, and a great deal of help is needed if this is to be successful!
I have collected below links to the campaign, as well as a video I made to promote it, and links to the sample introduction chapter that I published online so that potential patrons could read the kind of material that they would be supporting.
About the Project:
This book will tell the stories of the rich and powerful oligarchs and family dynasties who collectively rule our world: the global Mafiocracy, operating behind-the-scenes playing their games of power politics, globalization’s Game of Thrones where rich and influential families play their games, balancing collusion and cooperation with fierce competition to rule the world Empire of Economics.
In 1975, Henry Kissinger told President Ford: “The trick in the world now is to use economics to build a world political structure.”
This book is that story.
A small network of banks and other financial institutions dominate the global economy, its wealth and resources. This small network of corporate power functions as a global financial Mafia, complete with excessive criminal behaviour in laundering drug money, funding terrorists, rigging interest rates and manipulating markets.
Name a nation, and there are rich dynasties that rule behind the scenes. The Rockefellers in the United States, the Rothschilds in France and Britain, the Agnelli family in Italy, the Wallenbergs in Sweden, the Tata family of India and Oppenheimers of South Africa, the Koc and Sabanci families of Turkey, the Gulf Arab monarchs and the rich industrial families of Germany with dark Nazi pasts.
Germany once again rules Europe, with the European Union’s institutions of unelected technocrats undertaking a process of internal colonization as they impose their economic empire upon Greece, Spain, Italy, Ireland, Portugal and Cyprus. Finance ministers and central bankers are the agents of empire, cooperating closely with bankers, oligarchs and dynasties to create a world which best serves their interests. The global financial Mafia mingles with political leaders at forums and secret meetings like the Bilderberg group, the Trilateral Commission and the World Economic Forum.
From the streets of Athens, to Egypt, Turkey, Brazil, Spain, China, South Africa, Chile, Canada, and in the streets of Ferguson and Baltimore, people are rising up against exploitation, repression and domination.
This book is not simply a collection of stories of the ruling Mafiocracy; it is designed to encourage strategy among popular and revolutionary movements capable of creating something altogether new. It is time to do away with a world ruled by oligarchs, and save the species from itself. But first, we must know our world better.
Help me to complete the first book in a series on ‘Power Politics and the Empire of Economics’. For four years I have been doing my own research, scouring the archives of the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, government documents, official reports and corporate strategies, studying the world of power and empire, translating the political language of ‘economics’ into plain and simple English.
I have been published in multiple news sources, online and in print, interviewed by radio and television networks, and now I am asking for your help to raise $10,000 so that I can finish the first book in this series, to expose the Empire for all to see, its strengths as well as the weaknesses left exposed for us to exploit. Let us bring true democracy and an end to Mafiocracy. Help me to write this book, and together, let’s help each other to end the Empire.
Donate today. Thank you.
Andrew Gavin Marshall
Global Power Project: Bilderberg Group and Europe’s Technocrat Titans
By: Andrew Gavin Marshall
10 February 2015
Originally posted at Occupy.com
This is the tenth installment in a series examining the activities and individuals behind the Bilderberg Group. Read the first, second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth and ninth parts in the series.
I previously examined the functions of the Bilderberg meetings; the composition and concentration of financial markets and the Mafiocracy that rules them; the nature of technocracy, and the role of finance ministers, central banks and the IMF in managing the European debt crisis. This installment takes a closer look at the top technocrats of the European Council and the European Commission.
The “Troika” of the European Central Bank (ECB), International Monetary Fund (IMF) and European Commission (EC) was largely tasked with managing the response to the debt crisis, organizing bailouts, imposing austerity and saving the banks at the expense of the populations of Europe. The Troika reported to the Eurogroup of 17 finance ministers who represented all of the countries that used the euro as their single common currency.
The European Union project evolved and expanded over decades since the end of World War II, and always with an elite-driven, technocratic structure. As the E.U. moves through the debt crisis, its solutions and actions invariably delegate more authority to both existing and new technocratic institutions that wield immense power over nation-states within the E.U. Sovereignty is increasingly transferred from the nation and its democratically elected leaders to the supra-national technocratic structure of the E.U., and the top bureaucrats and technicians who run it.
The European Council and the European Commission are the major centers of power within the E.U.’s political structure. The European Central Bank is equally if not more powerful, but it doesn’t answer to any political authority since it’s considered to be “independent” (aka exclusively in the service of private interests). The European Council groups together the heads of state (presidents and prime ministers) of all E.U. nations, comprising the supreme governing authority of the E.U. The Council is presided over by a permanent president. Over the course of the European debt crisis, that president was Herman Van Rompuy.
Herman Van Rompuy
Herman Van Rompuy was a prominent Belgian technocrat and politician. Trained as an economist, Van Rompuy worked for Belgium’s central bank from 1972 to 1975, thereafter going into politics where he rose through the ranks to become a budget minister in the 1990s. When Van Rompuy was asked by Belgian King Albert to form a coalition government in December of 2008, Van Rompuy became Belgium’s Prime Minister, described by Reuters at the time as “a budgetary hardliner.”
As European leaders were attempting to negotiate and horse-trade to fill key appointments in the EU apparatus in late 2009, Van Rompuy was considered a “dark horse” to occupy the first-ever permanent president of the European Council. Van Rompuy was relatively unknown outside Belgium and had only been the country’s Prime Minister for 11 months when he got the top job in the E.U.
Roughly a week before European leaders announced him as their selection, Van Rompuy attended a private dinner with members of the Bilderberg steering committee on Nov. 12, 2009. Van Rompuy was invited to the dinner by then-chairman of the Bilderberg meetings, Etienne Davignon, a former top E.U. technocrat, in order “to promote his candidacy” for the top job. At the dinner, which was attended by top industrialists, financiers and even war criminals like Henry Kissinger, Van Rompuy was able to impress the group with a speech and engage in “off-the-record” talks with the unelected oligarchs. At the dinner meeting, Van Rompuy reportedly raised the issue of E.U. financing, suggesting that a continental E.U. tax could even be envisioned.
Seven days later, Van Rompuy was announced as the final choice for president of the European Council. According to The New York Times, Van Rompuy’s selection was seen as the “result of backroom negotiations among [E.U.] leaders jockeying for future and more important economic portfolios that could be more powerful in the enlarged European Union” – in some ways a similar method as how the Chinese choose who sits in the top political positions of authority within the Communist Party and State.
The Financial Times celebrated the appointment of Van Rompuy to the top spot, noting that “the art of Belgian political leadership consists of bringing consensus to a broad and fractious coalition,” which is “exactly what the president of the European Council will have to do.” As the prime minister of Belgium, the paper wrote, Van Rompuy had “demonstrated an ability to bring a laser-sharp focus to a complicated political process.”
Together with the President of the European Commission, the ECB and the Eurogroup of finance ministers, Van Rompuy indeed played an important role in the management of Europe’s debt crisis. After attending the Bilderberg steering committee meeting in 2009, just prior to getting Europe’s top job, he later attended a Bilderberg meeting in 2011 while sitting as president of the European Council.
José Manuel Barroso
José Manuel Barroso finished his second term as President of the European Commission in late 2014, after serving in that post for the previous ten years. Prior to that, he served as prime minister of Portugal from 2002 to 2004. Barroso has attended numerous Bilderberg meetings: in 1994, 2003, 2005 and 2013. On top of that, Barroso has attended meetings of the Trilateral Commission, including the one that took place in Portugal in 2003 while Barroso was prime minister. He also attended the Commission’s annual meeting in 2007 that took place in Brussels while he was the European Commission president.
Barroso courted controversy in 2003 when he became one of only a few European heads of state to support George W. Bush’s “with us or against us” war on Iraq. His position put him in good standing with the U.K. and Italy, yet he also managed to maintain good ties with France and Germany, making him an effective choice to head the EC. Barroso was at the same time, however, “unpopular at home,” noted the BBC, because he implemented “an austerity program to reduce the country’s budget deficit.” But for European leaders, the fact that Barroso was able to hold together a political coalition of opposing parties “while driving through the unpopular reforms” made him an ideal candidate to function as “a consensus politician.”
The Economist reflected on Barroso’s short time as prime minister, noting the austerity program and commenting that he “has done a good job of running Portugal.” Barroso was chosen for one of the top spots in the E.U., overseeing the vast bureaucracy of the European Commission, through a series of “backroom deals, in which various other juicy EU jobs that are up for grabs are shared around.” Those who backed Barroso were doing so under the presumption that he would “hold his liberal economic line.”
A few months into his first term, in early 2005, the Financial Times reported that Barroso had “laid out pro-business plans to revive Europe’s economy,” which Britain’s E.U. Trade Commissioner Peter Madelson described as “proposing a program for Europe that we would describe as ‘New Labour’ in Britain,” and adding that “we are seeing the best chance in a decade to restore authority to the European Commission.” Apart from not giving business interests everything they wanted, the FT conceded that in many areas, “Barroso’s agenda is unashamedly pro-business,” including “a new drive for lighter regulation.”
Barroso’s program “put pressure on countries to make labour markets more flexible and cut back on welfare spending,” noted The New York Times. As people across Europe expressed fear that Barroso was “about to pursue an excessively liberal economic agenda,” Barroso began attempting to please his critics, speaking to trade unionists and declaring his intention to “fight against poverty,” stating that Europe would “maintain and reform our European social model.” That public relations campaign in turn worried business and financial interests, so the Commission president launched “a concerted campaign to attempt to show he remains firmly committed to pro-business economic reforms.”
A couple of weeks later, Barroso delivered a speech at the Spring meeting of the Institute of International Finance (IIF), whose membership is composed of top executives from hundreds of the world’s largest banks and financial institutions. Barroso began his speech noting that “your association has achieved a lot in the last two decades,” and continued:
“It has acted as an important market place for ideas [and] has provided a clear and influential voice for change in the fields of finance, economics and governance.” The world’s “stable financial order” was, Barroso declared, “in no small part thanks to the contribution of this institute.”
Barroso explained his understanding of the global economy to his esteemed audience, noting that the rapid growth in “emerging markets” was increasing global wealth, but also increasing competition for that wealth with countries like China and India able to better exploit cheap labor while the U.S. with its high-tech boom was leaving Europe behind.
“The status quo is no longer an option for the E.U.,” Barroso continued. The E.U. must change “in order for Europe to fully reap the benefits of ongoing globalization,” and the continent had to “increase the flexibility of markets” and strengthen its “productivity.” Translation: deregulate all markets, dismantle labor rights and protections, reduce living standards so as to create a cheaper labor force capable of competing with Asia, and increase finance for research and development to spur high-tech growth. Among the major “priorities” were making workers “more adaptable and labour markets more flexible.” No doubt, Barroso’s audience of bankers and financiers agreed with him.
It should be noted that the top leadership of the IIF are frequently Bilderberg members and participants, and that other speakers invited to the IIF’s Spring meeting included “senior government officials from Brazil, Chile, China, Slovakia, Spain and the U.K.,” as well as “leading international economists,” the managing director of the IMF, and the former president of Mexico.
In 2007, Barroso publicly commented on the unique nature of the European Union, referring to it as “the first non-imperial empire,” and explaining: “We are a very special construction unique in the history of mankind… Sometimes I like to compare the E.U. as a creation to the organization of empire. We have the dimension of empire.”
Barroso became a globally influential official in the spring of 2009, as the world grappled with the repercussions of the financial crisis and the heads of central banks, finance ministries, international organizations and leaders of the Group of 20 met to reshape the global financial and economic order. The focus at the 2009 meeting was to design “the future of financial regulation.” The Telegraph noted at the meeting that “Barroso and his team have had a quiet but immensely influential role in the whole process,” as many of the words and phrases adopted in the G20’s final communiqué were drafted in Barroso’s Commission office, which had drafted an earlier report on the subject. Barroso declared that “we need open, competitive, market economies… with effective regulation and supervision.” To accomplish this, “strong international institutions” (like his) were needed as well as “corporate governance,” a global reflection of today’s “economic culture of Europe.”
The next and final installment in the series examines Barroso’s continued role, and the role of the European Commission, from 2009 onwards.
State of Power 2014: The Transnational Institute
By: Andrew Gavin Marshall
Originally posted at the Transnational Institute, 21 January 2014
In its third annual ‘State of Power’ report, TNI uses vibrant infographics and penetrating essays to expose and analyse the principal power-brokers that have caused financial, economic, social and ecological crises worldwide.
In my contribution to the ‘State of Power’ report (and in cooperation with Occupy.com), “State of Europe: How the European Round Table of Industrialists Came to Wage Class War on Europe,” I examine the role of a major corporate interest group in shaping the policies of the European Union.
From the introduction:
“Founded in 1983, the European Round Table of Industrialists (ERT) quickly became – and today remains – one of the most influential voices of organized corporate interests in Europe. Not quite a lobby, not quite a think tank, the ERT is an action-oriented group made up of roughly 50 CEOs or Chairmen of Europe’s top industrial corporations who collectively push specific ideologies, pressure political elites, and plan objectives and programs designed to shape the European Union and the ‘common market’.
The past thirty years of the ERT’s existence has revealed it one of the most influential organizations in Europe, widely known to the EU’s political, technocratic, and financial elites, holding regular meetings, dinners, and social events with prime ministers and cabinet officials of EU member states, as well as the leadership of the European Commission itself. In the wake of the European debt crisis of the past several years, the ERT has again been at the forefront of shaping the changes within the EU, promoting austerity and structural reforms as the ‘solution’ to the debt crisis.
As through their three-decade history, the Round Table today continues to promote the ideologies and interests of corporate and financial power at the expense of the interests of labour and the population more widely. This paper aims to examine this highly influential group in order to shed some light on an organization very well known to those who make the important decisions within the EU, yet largely in the shadows to those who have to suffer the consequences of those decisions.”
To read the full essay on the ERT and the European Union, click here.
To review and access all of the reports which contributed to the TNI ‘State of Power’ report, click here.