Monday, December 15, 2014

The Time Karl Otto Pöhl Spoke Out Against the Bailout of Greece

As a follow-up to my post, Karl Otto Pöhl: An Honorable(?) Central Banker Has Died, J. Roche points me to a May 2010 interview Pöhl gave to Der Spiegel, which included this great back and forth:
SPIEGEL: The German government has said that there was no alternative to the rescue package for Greece, nor to that for other debt-laden countries.
Pöhl: I don't believe that. Of course there were alternatives. For instance, never having allowed Greece to become part of the euro zone in the first place.
SPIEGEL: That may be true. But that was a mistake made years ago.
Pöhl: All the same, it was a mistake. That much is completely clear. I would also have expected the (European) Commission and the ECB to intervene far earlier. They must have realized that a small, indeed a tiny, country like Greece, one with no industrial base, would never be in a position to pay back €300 billion worth of debt.
SPIEGEL: According to the rescue plan, it's actually €350 billion ...
Pöhl: ... which that country has even less chance of paying back. Without a "haircut," a partial debt waiver, it cannot and will not ever happen. So why not immediately? That would have been one alternative. The European Union should have declared half a year ago -- or even earlier -- that Greek debt needed restructuring.
SPIEGEL: But according to Chancellor Angela Merkel, that would have led to a domino effect, with repercussions for other European states facing debt crises of their own.
Pöhl: I do not believe that. I think it was about something altogether different.
SPIEGEL: Such as?
Pöhl: It was about protecting German banks, but especially the French banks, from debt write offs. On the day that the rescue package was agreed on, shares of French banks rose by up to 24 percent. Looking at that, you can see what this was really about -- namely, rescuing the banks and the rich Greeks.

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