Merryn's Blog

Is Greece the most powerful country in the world?

Until now, Germany held all the best cards to a solution to the Greek debt crisis. But has Greece's promised referendum on the eurozone bail-out package turned the tables?

The idea that Greece should have a referendum to decide on whether or not to accept the bail-out package from the rest of us has clearly come as a bit of a shock to the politicians who like to think they run the eurozone. So far, absolutely no democracy whatsoever has been introduced to the bail-out process and that, I daresay, is how they expected things to carry on. But the bail-out package comes with nasty conditions- public sector pay cuts, tax rises, lower pensions and the like that it is hard to see any nation accepting without something of a fight.

So it makes sense for the Greek government to give the people the final say on the deal. If they don't, they are bound to lose power soon anyway this just gives them something of a chance of hanging on. You can't have severe austerity without consent of some kind from your electorate. As John Redwood puts it: "In reality, there was no ability to deliver their preferred policy without some means like a referendum of getting people to accept the chosen course of action." The fact that the Greek government seemingly alone among Europe's governments is prepared to recognise that big events of this sort need discussion with their populations as well as with the euro elite is actually rather heartening.

But the fact that markets are diving this morning should tell us one more thing. Greece has all the power. The talk around the bail-outs is usually about what Germany is prepared to do rather than what Greece is prepared to accept. Germany is assumed to have the power. But Greece has now shown the markets that it just isn't so. If the Greeks decide they don't fancy the terms much and announce a disorderly exit, it is game over for the euro, for Europe's economy and for Germany's weak-currency driven export boom.

Time for everyone to start being a bit more polite to Greece. A senior member of Angela Merkel's government has noted that he is irritated: ""Other countries are making considerable sacrifices for decades of mismanagement and poor leadership in Greece," he says. I suspect that if they don'twant to have tostart staving off the next banking crisis, they might have to make a few more.

Recommended

The charts that matter: more pain for goldbugs
Economy

The charts that matter: more pain for goldbugs

Gold investors saw more disappointment this week as the yellow metal took a tumble. Here’s what’s happened to the charts that matter most to the globa…
18 Sep 2021
With the right political will, inflation can be defeated
Inflation

With the right political will, inflation can be defeated

Governments and central banks can easily control inflation, says Merryn Somerset Webb – they just need the will.
17 Sep 2021
Why are energy prices going up so much?
Energy

Why are energy prices going up so much?

UK energy prices are going through the roof, with electricity the most expensive in Europe and gas at its highest for 13 years. Saloni Sardana explain…
16 Sep 2021
What really causes inflation? Here’s what prices since 1970 tell us
Inflation

What really causes inflation? Here’s what prices since 1970 tell us

As UK inflation hits 3.2%, Dominic Frisby compares the cost of living 50 years ago with that of today, and explains how debt drives prices higher.
15 Sep 2021

Most Popular

The times may be changing, but don’t change how you invest
Small cap stocks

The times may be changing, but don’t change how you invest

We are living in strange times. But the basics of investing remain the same: buy fairly-priced stocks that can provide an income. And there are few be…
13 Sep 2021
Two shipping funds to buy for steady income
Investment trusts

Two shipping funds to buy for steady income

Returns from owning ships are volatile, but these two investment trusts are trying to make the sector less risky.
7 Sep 2021
Should investors be worried about stagflation?
US Economy

Should investors be worried about stagflation?

The latest US employment data has raised the ugly spectre of “stagflation” – weak growth and high inflation. John Stepek looks at what’s going on and …
6 Sep 2021