Monday, July 13, 2015

Is Greece No Longer a Risk?

In the last few days, the upstart government of Greece formed by Syriza Party leader Alexis Tsipras has completely reversed itself and signed up for a bailout from the EU that requires far more austerity than Greek voters rejected in a referendum just a week ago.  By all appearances, the EU rammed the ultra austere package down the throat of the Greek left-wing party, flattening Syriza's contentions like a tractor trailer rolling over a marshmallow.  We've had months of hand-wringing and teeth-gnashing over the dangers of a Grexit, and financial markets have shuddered every time Greece appeared to be heading out of the EU.  The EU's peremptory demands at the last minute might seem to have been a high-risk roll of the dice that somehow went in the EU's favor.  Or the EU knew that Greece had no leverage and made the Greeks take everything the EU wanted.

Considering how cautious the EU has been in the past, giving Greece two earlier bailouts totaling some $250 billion, it isn't probable the EU was bluffing in this round of talks.  That would likely mean it believes it has built a shield wall around its banking system that could withstand the consequences of a Grexit.  Stated otherwise, Grexit may no longer be thought to be a major risk to the European financial system. 

Even though the EU and Greece announced a "deal" today for a bailout, it's not at all a firm agreement, but rather a process for pursuing the possibility of more European assistance to Greece.  First, Greece has to adopt a number of austerity measures dictated by the EU.  Next, the parliaments of individual EU member nations have to approve further bailout talks.  Then, Greece will get interim financing that will keep it barely afloat while it and the EU yak for more months, maybe many more, to try to reach the final terms of a third bailout. 

There are many contingencies in this process, and it's quite possible the process won't lead to another bailout.  In that case, Grexit will follow.  But will it matter?  The EU seems to believe that Grexit wouldn't be a disaster, or it wouldn't have taken such a seemingly high risk negotiating position.  If it's right, then Greece will be mired for a long time in austerity and hard times one way or another.  And if the EU is wrong, then watch out, because a European financial crisis could lead to many, many bad consequences for a lot of people.

No comments: