Greece is stumbling inexorably towards fresh elections which polls suggest will give the anti-bailout far left a stronger grip on power. Last ditch talks aimed at creating a unity government will continue under the aegis of the president today but the leader of the radical leftist SYRIZA has said he will not turn up. Alexis Tsipras says he wants Greece to stay in the euro but will rip up the bailout agreement. Go figure.
This morning the more moderate left party has said it won’t take part in a government lacking SYRIZA.
A big question is whether the mainstream parties can mount a convincing campaign second time around, playing on the glaring contradiction in SYRIZA’s position and essentially turning the vote into a referendum on euro membership, which the overwhelming majority of Greeks still support. Don’t count on that.
Two ECB policymakers – Honohan and Coene – were out over the weekend talking about the possibility of a Greek euro exit: there goes another taboo. Policymakers must be running through the hard default and exit scenarios now. We need to be asking.
As we’ve said before, Greece has some leverage. The IMF, ECB and euro zone governments are holding a lot of Greek debt so have an incentive to keep the show on the road or face heavy losses if there is a hard default. Of Greece’s 250 billion-plus euros of debt, nearly 200 billion is now held by those public bodies. It is also hard to see how Europe could avoid propping Greece up even if it did leave the currency club. The calculation for euro zone leaders is whether pouring good money after bad into Greece is more or less palatable than taking a big hit on their Greek debt holdings.
Greece will obviously loom large over this evening’s meeting of euro zone finance ministers in Brussels. But so will Spain. There is talk of Madrid getting some leeway on its deficit-cutting targets after the European Commission predicted on Friday they would be missed. But first it will have to present a more credible 3-4 year plan on how it will get there. So don’t expect anything definitive today.
Spain is grappling with its bad bank debt problem but the 84 billion euros it has told banks to put aside still looks shy of what’s needed. Either government or euro zone money is likely to have to come to the rescue at some point. So far banks have responded with plans that do not require state aid, apart from Bankia which was essentially nationalized last week.