August 9, 2022

Puncturing Greece’s Dream for Sharing Its Pain

It would be a “restructuring without a haircut,” in the view of the plan’s proponents, who enthusiastically described it to Mr. Papandreou in a series of secret meetings earlier this year. The result, ideally, would be to ease the weight of the Greek debt on the economy, clearing the way for renewed growth, while keeping the bankers and credit ratings agencies on board.

In many ways, the plan was a dreamy alternative to the grim calculus of Europe’s demands for more austerity from Greece in return for more loans. And Mr. Papandreou went so far as to ask a political ally and the plan’s two proponents, a British and a Greek economist, to lobby Europeans in its favor.

But, according to economists who participated in the discussions, the Greek finance minister, George Papaconstantinou, was opposed, arguing that Germany, to say nothing of the E.C.B., would never go for it. And while a number of economists contend that Europe will ultimately have to develop some sort of plan for restructuring Greece’s debt, Athens has shelved any such notion for now as it moves toward another bailout to keep the country out of bankruptcy.

“It was a nice idea, but not defensible in current circumstances,” said Daniel Gros, the head of the Center for European Policy Studies in Brussels, who took part in one of the meetings with the prime minister to discuss the plan’s merits. “If there is one person who can not propose something like this it is the Greek prime minister — it would have to be a German.”

This week, Mr. Papandreou is struggling to persuade his increasingly disruptive party members that Greece must agree to another round of austerity measures to qualify for a second portion of loans from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund, including closing down public-sector enterprises, selling more assets and ramping up the tax take. The new package will be submitted to Parliament on Thursday and a vote is expected before the end of the month.

Signs are growing, however, that the patience of the long-suffering Greek public is wearing thin. Mr. Papandreou’s approval ratings are below 30 percent and, as uncertainty builds, Greeks continue to take money out of the banking system.

Mr. Papandreou’s interest in a plan to transfer much of its debt to the rest of Europe may well have been a passing fancy. And Mr. Papandreou’s chances of persuading Jean-Claude Trichet, the president of the E.C.B, to take on even more debt on top of the nearly €200 billion, or $292 billion, it already is exposed to were always going to be a long shot.

“The prime minister is in favor of the proposal,” said Vasso Papandreou, a former top financial advisor to the prime minister and an influential member of Parliament within the governing Socialist party, known as Pasok, who has been openly critical of the government’s austerity plan. “This is not a Greek problem any more — it’s a European problem.”

Ms. Papandreou is not related to the prime minister.

A spokesman for the Prime Minister said that Mr. Papandreou and other European officials had long supported a euro bond as one policy option, but that his current priority was to make the Greek economy competitive again.

“In search of the best solutions to effectively and permanently exit the crisis, the Prime Minister will continue to exchange views with his counterparts around the world as well as leading economists and academics,” he said.

The two architects of the idea have longstanding ties to Mr. Papandreou. They have characterized their sweeping plan, with a bit of cheek, a modest proposal.

Yanis Varoufakis, a political economist and blogger at the University of Athens, was a speechwriter and advisor to Mr. Papandreou from 2004 to 2006. Stuart Holland is a Europe expert and former high-ranking official in Britain’s Labour Party who was a longtime advisor to Andreas Papandreou, Mr. Papandreou’s father, who was once prime minister himself.

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