With fresh rumors springing late on Friday that "this" just may be the weekend Greece - with close to no funds left in either the financial or government sector - imposes capital controls, a precursor to a full-fledged Grexit, the situation in Athens is on a knife's edge. Yesterday is also when the Syriza government submitted its list of 18 proposed reforms to the Troika: a reform package which the Guardian dubs "reform-for-cash", as Greece hopes the roughly €3 billion in revenue generated from the reforms will unlock €7.2 billion in financial assistance.
Rather, make that promises of reforms to generate €3 billion in revenue. Because the question, and problem for Athens, is which comes first: does Greece implement the reforms and generate the revenue or does Europe disburse the funds. It is a problem because the reforms will be extremely unpopular if and when they pass. According to Bloomberg, which sources Greek Skai TV, among the proposed reforms is an increase on the duty paid on cigarettes and alcohol. Other proposals include:
- Lift sales tax on certain items while keeping a low rate for food products
- Combat tax evasion including fines for non-payment of tax or failing to declare income; combat black market trade of fuel
- Intensive controls of the names in Lagarde-List (more than 2,000 name suspect of tax evasion) and money transfers abroad.
- Online system connecting companies to tax offices, and electronic system for the payment of Value Added Tax
- Freeze early pensions, consolidate social security funds, create a national wealth fund
- Continue with certain privatizations
- Encourage issuance of retail sales receipts including linking collection to participation in a lottery
- Overhaul tax process for games of chance, real estate and heating oil
- Issue licenses for media companies
The 18 proposals, three times as many as put forward and dismissed by prime minister Alexis Tsipras’s government last month, anticipate GDP growth of 1.4% this year: about 1% less than where the most optimistic analysts see the US growing. The package also endorsed finance minister Yanis Varoufakis’s argument that the primary surplus demanded of Greece would have to be reduced. As such, the primary surplus was estimated to hit 1.5% in 2015 – half that in the country’s existing bailout programme. Unfortunately for Greece, considering the collapse in tax collections in recent months, Athens can kiss any hope of a positive primary surplus goodbye.
Since all of these proposals, if implemented, will lead to increased tax revenues and thus a decrease in the already low quality of Greek life, whether for everyone or just the 1%, they will be met with stern opposition, especially since they will be seen as going against Syriza's original radical pre-electoral agenda. Which is also why as the Guardian reported, "the country’s international economic affairs minister, Euclid Tsakalotos, raised the stakes, saying while Greece wanted an agreement it was prepared to go its own way “in the event of a bad scenario... We are working in the spirit of compromise, we want a solution, but if things don’t go well you have to bear the bad scenario in mind as well. That is the nature of negotiations.”
Once again Greece is unable to determine when it has lost the negotiations, and while giving with one hand, it tries to take with the other. And this is the biggest problem, because for Europe while the amount of the money transfer is modest, what it wants more than anything is to see the "radical" spirit of the Syriza government crushed.The problem for Greece is that this is not happening, especially with statements such as this:
“The government is not going to continue servicing public debt with its own funds if lenders do not immediately proceed with the disbursement of funds which have been put on hold since 2014," said government aides. “The country has not taken receipt of an aid instalment from the EU or IMF since August 2014 even though it has habitually fulfilled its obligations.”
Then there was the prime minister himself, who said in an interview with Real News that Greece won’t agree to any wage or pension cuts nor allow mass redundancies. Again: the issue is that the Troika, or whatever it is called, wants precisely this: they want real reforms, by which they mean that Greece finally has to implement some/any of the long ago promised and never delivered redundancies in the government sector.
What is surprising is just how naive Tsipras now appears with his continued populist rhetoric even after it has been revealed that he has no more leverage, with the threat of Grexit taken off the table. Some of his other soundbites:
- An agreement in June with Greece’s creditors will only concern changing debt repayment terms and debt relief measures
- Democratic Europe won’t choose a rupture regarding Greece
- One of government's priorities is beginning and completing tender for broadcasting licenses
- Won’t tolerate officials who put personal political interests above those of govt and Syriza party
And then there is the Greek energy minister, Panagiotis Lafazanis, who said in an interview with Kefalaio newspaper that the "only way for Greece to exit its crisis is through tough confrontation, if not conflict, with "German Europe."
Making sure the ongoing negotiations between (almost completely broke) Greece and the Troika take 1.4% steps forward and ten steps back, the energy minister said the Greek reform list can’t be opposed to Syriza’s radical program or be above popular will, sovereignty. As noted above, this is precisely what it would take for the Troika to release the funds.
Reuters confirmed as much earlier when it eported that as Athens battles to have a list of reforms accepted by its EU partners in order to secure much-needed funds to stave off bankruptcy, Lafazanis criticized Berlin and said the government must not roll back on its commitments.
"No list should go over the will and sovereignty of the people," he told Kefalaio newspaper in an interview on Saturday. "The Germanized European Union is literally choking our country and tightening week by week the noose around the economy," he said.
Virtually assuring Germany's fure, Lafazanis said that "if the government suspends pre-election promises, Greece will be driven over cliff’s edge" adding that "privatizations, especially in strategic areas, can’t and won’t happen." Alas, the Troika said it will, and the Troika writes the checks, so...
The punchline: "Greece is at more than breaking point; urgently needs big, bold alternatives to “German, incumbent Europe"and that "creditors behaving as unscrupulous imperialists towards distant colony, threatening submission or economic suffocation."
More importantly, Lafazanis has some ideas where to find said "big, bold alternatives." In Moscow.
Greece's Energy Minister Panagiotis Lafazanis will meet his Russian counterpart and the CEO of energy giant Gazprom in Moscow on Monday, as he hit out at the EU and Germany for tightening a 'noose' around the Greek economy.
Outspoken Lafazanis, on the left wing of Greece's co-ruling Syriza party, will meet Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak and Gazprom Chief Executive Alexei Miller as well as other senior government officials, the energy ministry said on Saturday.
Lafazanis' visit will come just over a week before Tsipras is due to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow although the Greek government has stressed it is not seeking funding from the Kremlin.
It is not seeking funding form the Kremlin yet. Because once the first week of April comes and goes and Greece officially runs out of money, it will go to anyone who can provide it with the funds needed to avoid civil war, even if that means switching its allegiance from Europe to the Eurasian Economic Union, something Russia is eagerly looking forward to, and something we predicted would be the endgame months ago.