A Thought on Cypress and the Euro

After having offered his church’s assets to a solidarity fund proposed by Cyprus’ government pursuant to Cyprus’ efforts to find a way out of their current economic debacle, Archbishop Chrysostomos II, Archbishop of Nova Justiniana and All Cyprus (the Greek Orthodox Church in Cyprus), has one.  The Guardian quotes him:

The euro cannot last.  I’m not saying that it will crumble tomorrow, but with the brains that they have in Brussels, it is certain that it will not last in the long term, and the best is to think about how to escape it.  It’s not easy, but we should devote as much time to this as was spent on entering the eurozone.

The Orthodox church is the island’s biggest landowner, and it has serious investments in a broad range of endeavors—from hotels and construction to a brewery, to a majority stake in Cyprus’ third largest bank, Hellenic Bank (right behind Laiki Bank (Popular Bank) and the Bank of Cyprus, the former of which would be seized by the government and reorganized under a version of Plan B, and the latter of which is just as insolvent and needs reorganization).  Chrysostomos’ opinions are worth listening to far beyond his position as Cyprus’ moral leader.

I agree with the Archbishop.  It’s a bad fit, Cyprus and the European Union, Cyprus and the euro zone, as has been written elsewhere.

The badness of fit has now been demonstrated, by a midnight deal between the eurozone Finance Ministers and Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades.  The deal, according to Spiegel Online International:

…focused on the island’s two insolvent major banks.  It will wind down the largely state-owned Popular Bank of Cyprus, also known as Laiki, and shift deposits below €100,000 [$130,000] to the Bank of Cyprus.

Deposits above €100,000 euros in both banks, which are not guaranteed under EU law, will be frozen and used to resolve Laiki’s debts and to recapitalise Bank of Cyprus through a deposit/equity conversion.

[Euro Group (the finance ministers of the eurozone acting together) President Jeroen] Dijsselbloem says that

[t]he raid [that’s exactly the right word] on uninsured Laiki depositors is expected to raise €4.2 billion [$5.5 billion].

There’s more extortion and theft to come.  The takings inflicted on large depositors—those holding deposits greater than €100,000—will be determined at a later date by the Cypriot government and the troika.  Those €4.2 billion represent the target for recapitalization and bank debt resolution; the “tax” on those deposits required to achieve the target has yet to be determined.

And, because this setup is being handled as a bank restructuring and Cyprus’ Parliament had already passed a bank restructuring law that allows it during a panicky weekend session prior to this…arrangement, the Parliament cannot now block it, as it did the original raid.

It’ll be interesting to see where the Russians put their money in the aftermath of this.  It’ll be interesting to see where any large depositor, or any other depositor with the capacity (which includes most middle class folks and small/medium businesses) puts his money, now that Cyprus has been banished from the international financial center business.  The little man—those with the small deposits—have no choice.

It’ll also be interesting to see who in the rest of the eurozone or the broader EU profits from this.

SOI suggests that in the end, Anastasiades had no option but to accept to these terms.  This, though, is to misunderstand what has happened and to misunderstand the immorality of it.  This is just government theft of private money from folks—depositors—who had nothing to do with the decisions of the bankers and government functionaries that put Cyprus in this box in the first place.

Anastasiades indeed had a choice.  He could have accepted bankruptcy and the (painful) recovery of a Cyprus then free of EU and eurozone restrictions on Cypriot sovereignty.  And free of exposure of his country’s banking system to international distrust from fear that the next time it becomes convenient to government, the next batch of deposits will be similarly confiscated.  The banks in the rest of the eurozone, if not of the EU at large, must face this distrust today, especially since the original demand by the Euro Group was to confiscate significant portions of the little man’s deposits, also.

Cyprus needs to listen to the Archbishop.

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