Troika fixes fail: How to fix the Troika
There is no country in which the Troika could claim success. The austerity measures demanded by the EU, ECB and IMF remind me of a doctor’s prescriptions that make the patient worse. And it could get worse for us all: the Troika policies cannot be sustained without further strains in the Eurozone and the EU as a whole.
Participating in the Eurozone makes it difficult for a country to pursue discretionary policies to address a serious recession, as it has to stick to a tight deficit reduction plan. This leads to the deepening of the crisis with further cuts in public spending and increased taxes. In effect we have a situation of automatic destabilisers! These policies in conjunction with a tight monetary policy lead to a vicious deflationary cycle. For the Eurozone to function, there must be a system of fiscal support by the centre, a philosophy that is currently missing.
Take the Cypriot case. The country had a very pro-EU record: during the accession negotiations, polls had revealed a record level of pro-EU sentiment. This was related to high expectations from the EU, that accession would contribute to a solution for the Cyprus problem and that it would also help modernise social, economic and political structures.
Nevertheless, when Cyprus found itself in deep crisis, due both to endogenous and exogenous factors, its treatment was unexpected and extremely harsh. By 2012, Cyprus was facing a huge banking crisis, serious fiscal imbalances and a real estate bubble. Admittedly, Cypriot policy-makers and other stakeholders had engaged in imprudent practices with devastating results. But exogenous factors had also contributed: the global financial crisis, the Eurozone crisis and, above all, the haircut of the Greek debt in October 2011 during which Cypriot banks lost EUR 4.5 bln – about 25% of the island’s GDP.
Despite the difficult circumstances, a different approach could have been utilised. In December 2012, parliament passed fiscal rationalisation measures; salary cuts and higher taxes – a modest step in the right direction. A new President, Nicos Anastasiades, had been elected in February 2013, committed to economic rationalisation in consultation with his EU partners. It seemed at long last that it was possible to secure a rational stabilisation plan. Rumours and press references about a bail-in seemed to fade. Nevertheless, Cyprus was treated in an irrational but also brutal and punitive way in March 2013. According to the ex-Foreign Minister of Spain, Miguel Angel Moratinos, the EU acted myopically by not helping Cyprus address the crisis; on the contrary, with the dictated austerity policies it deepened the crisis.
The Eurogroup decisions were influenced by other considerations: the timing of the upcoming German elections, the objective to contain Russian presence in Cyprus, to use Cyprus as an experiment for future crises and to send particular messages to other, bigger, more troublesome countries. Cyprus did not deserve this treatment. With such attitudes and practices, the EU will not move towards deeper integration. Apart from the huge solidarity deficit there are deep institutional, structural and cultural differences between the member states. Increasingly, several countries see Germany as hegemonic, while the Troika is facing problems of legitimacy, as its economic philosophy both in theory and practice lacks reason and sensitivity. understood that the payment of private and public debt cannot take place while economic activity is receding; foreclosures will not get rid of NPLs. The implementation of the suggested policy will not worsen the fiscal situation; tax rates will be cut, but revenues will increase because of a dynamic process which will see reduced unemployment combined with a new approach of high penalties for noncompliance.
In relation to banking practices, while in the past many were imprudent, after March 2013 strict procedures have effectively limited the granting of loans. This has a negative impact. Indeed, we have passed from a state of great imprudence to that of suffocation. This should be reversed and the principle of the golden mean should be applied. Furthermore, given that the bail-in was harsh and unnecessary, the EU should find ways to a compensate Cyprus with a specific (mini) Marshall-type plan. Last but not least, rationalisation plans should also take into consideration institutional arrangements and cultural issues.