Back in August 2011, one of the most prescient European (ex) central bankers, Cyprus' very own Athanasios Orphanides was optimistic, but with a caveat: "I am optimistic that with the right actions and effort by all we will pull through this," Orphanides told reporters after a meeting with Finance Minister Kikis Kazamias. They were Orphanides' first public comments since warning authorities in a July 18, 2011 letter that Cyprus ran the risk of requiring an EU bailout unless urgent action was taken to shore up its finances."
Two years later, following endless dithering and pretense that just because the ECB has stabilized the markets, all is well, and "action was being taken" when none was (because in the New Normal the lack of market collapse is somehow supposed to represent structural changes are taking place, which never actually happen), Cyprus is beyond the bailout stage - it is now quite literally on the verge of total collapse. This is also why Orphanides, who recently (and perhaps prudently) quit as Central Banker of Cyprus following a clash with the new communist government (and was replaced by a guy named Panicos), no longer is optimistic. "The European project is crashing to earth,” Athanasios Orphanides told the Financial Times in an interview. "This is a fundamental change in the dynamics of Europe towards disintegration and I don’t see how this can be reversed.”
It can't. Which is what we have been saying all along. But it apparently takes a former Federal Reserve senior economist to say the perfectly obvious, and for reality to finally hit front and center.
More from the FT's interview with Orphanides:
This week’s events had made “a mockery” of EU treaties, he added. “It suggests that in Europe not all people are equal under the law.”
“We have seen other eurozone countries, the Netherlands, for instance, put national interests ahead of the European interest by trying to bring down the economic model of countries such as Cyprus or Luxembourg.”
He also called into question the credibility of the ECB’s threat to pull the plug on the Cypriot banking system. On Thursday, the ECB warned that if an EU-IMF rescue programme was not agreed by Monday, it would ban the use of “emergency liquidity assistance” to prop up the Cypriot banking system.
According to Mr Orphanides, about €10bn of ELA is being provided via Europe’s Target2 payments system used by its central banks. “If you say it is no longer authorised, it would force the Central Bank of Cyprus to default on its Target2 obligations. Cyprus would then have to leave the euro area.”
“The ECB will have forced Cyprus out. This is the one thing Mario Draghi doesn’t want to happen – he does not want to be the ECB president who triggers the break-up of the euro. It is painful to watch.”
So far, global financial market reaction to the Cyprus crisis has been subdued. But Mr Orphanides warned that would change. “I don’t think that the full extent of the shattering of the trust that we have seen in this case . . . has been seen fully yet.
“Banks’ funding costs in the [southern eurozone] periphery will rise further – there is no way we will avoid that. This, in turn, will make the recession in the periphery deeper, adding to the misery that the mishandling of the crisis has caused so far.”
“Financial markets are over-influenced by what happens in London or New York – there, the intricacies and processes of European politics are not very well understood.”
We couldn't agree more.
As a reminder, Mr Orphanides was governor of Cyprus’s central bank from 2008 until last year, when he was replaced after clashing with the island’s then communist government. As member of the ECB’s governing council, Mr Ophanides’ views were respected because of his background as a senior economist at the US Federal Reserve. He has since returned to academic economics in the US.
We can't wait until the world of very serious economist, some of them even with Nobel prizes, turn on one they proudly praised as their own, as recently as months ago.
In the meantime, Orphanides is absolutely correct.