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Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Cyprus parliament votes to accept controversial €10bn EU-IMF bailout

Officials greet result with relief as deal drafted amid calls for island to exit eurozone is passed by majority of just two votes

Cyprus moved a step closer on Tuesday to receiving much-needed aid when its parliament narrowly endorsed a bailout deal drafted amid unprecedented acrimony and calls for the island to exit the eurozone.

In a nail-biting ballot, following hours of heated debate, Nicosia's 56-member House approved the €10bn rescue package with a majority of two votes. Among officials who had warned of a "chaotic default" the result was met with visible relief.

"[We] welcome the decision to approve the loan agreement," government spokesman Christos Stylianides said in a written statement. "It would have been a paradox if European parliaments were to approve the loan of €10bn to Cyprus and for the parliament of a country whose coffers are empty to reject it without having a realistic alternative plan before it."

Highlighting the furore that the agreement has unleashed, however, the deal was wholeheartedly rejected by the island's anti-austerity opposition parties, Akel and Edek. Several lawmakers predicted that its impact on a country that until recently was better known for its robust offshore financial services, would be "far worse" than the devastating invasion it suffered at the hands of an invading Turkish army in 1974.

With the EU-IMF sponsored rescue programme forcing the government to dismantle the banking sector – and forcing depositors, for the first time, to foot the cost of recapitalising banks exposed to debt-stricken Greece – many MPs have virulently denounced the package as containing the seeds of the country's economic destruction.

Indicative of the concerns that the measure might not be passed, the beleaguered president of Cyprus, Nicos Anastasiades, issued a last-minute appeal calling on politicians to think of the island's "greater good".

With bankruptcy looming, the governing coalition warned of "chaotic scenes", with public sector salaries and pensions going unpaid if the programme was voted down.

"Our country is passing through a critical time that calls for a sense of national responsibility and conduct in a manner which is consistent with the greater good," said Anastasiades, a British-trained barrister who assumed power barely two months ago.

In a replay of the scenes that have haunted Greece, protesters demonstrated outside parliament as the vote took place. Many hurled abuse at politicians now widely blamed for the island's economic decline. The Cypriot economy, once one of the most vibrant in the EU, is set to contract by 13% over the next year.

The prospect of the island being pushed into prolonged recession has given way to mounting speculation that perhaps it would be better if it left the eurozone altogether. In the runup to the vote, Akel ratcheted up the pressure by calling for a referendum on the issue.

"We know leaving the euro is an equally painful option, but reinstating a national currency could offer prospects for growth in the future," the party's general secretary, Andros Kyprianou, said.

Increasingly, the island's business elite has embraced the idea that the country would fare better if it dumped the single currency and returned to the Cyprus pound.

Calls for the island to leave the bloc have mounted as the knowledge has also sunk in that the price of international rescue funds will now be €13bn in budget cuts. © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds


My Humble Greek Lean Easter

Greek Reporter

My Humble Greek Lean Easter
Huffington Post (blog)
Easter, 2013 in Greece: For the first time in recent memory, Greeks will celebrate Easter stripped of their annual Easter bonus which, until now, represented 50 percent of their monthly salary. The Greeks have watched in shock as their incomes are ...
Benefits of Spending Easter With FamilyGreek Reporter
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Greece suffers more misery as retails sales slump by nearly a third

With a eurozone record of 27.5% of Greeks unemployed, the country's retailers say the economy has gone into freefall

Barely a day after securing more international aid in exchange for yet more draconian reforms, Greece got a bitter taste of the price of austerity on Tuesday, when statistics showed that retail sales had shrunk by more than 30% over the past three years.

The impact of spending and budget cuts on private consumption has had a devastating effect on commerce, the engine of the Greek economy, according to the debt-stricken country's statistics agency, Elstat.

With some 27.5% of Greeks officially unemployed – a eurozone record – retail sales dropped by 14.4% year on year in February, following a slump of 16.8% in January.

"The economy is in freefall. Not since the second world war has the situation been as bad," said Prof Valia Saranitou, at the national confederation of Greek commerce (ESEE).

"An unprecedented 150,000 small and medium-sized businesses have closed in an economy that works on internal demand," she told the Guardian, adding that Greece's widely praised exports rebound had been grossly exaggerated.

Since the eruption of Europe's debt crisis in Athens in late 2009, retail sales had plummeted by more than a third – 34% – the statistics service said.

The decline in the real economy – and on the shop floor – reflects the huge drop in disposable income suffered by ordinary Greeks since the outbreak of the crisis.

Although the nation has narrowly averted bankruptcy with the help of the biggest bailout in global history – €240bn (£203bn) in rescue funds from the European Union and International Monetary Fund since May 2010 – prospects of the country returning to capital markets any time soon remain far from assured.

The Greek prime minister, Antonis Samaras, highlighted the country's plight, telling ministers on Tuesday there was not a day to lose in the nation's battle to keep bankruptcy at bay. © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds


Greece extends short-selling ban to protect bank stocks


Greece extends short-selling ban to protect bank stocks
Greece's securities regulator has extended a short-selling ban on bank shares to the end of July to protect investors while the recapitalisation of the country's cash-strapped lenders is completed. Short-selling involves investors borrowing shares to ...


Eurozone unemployment hits new high

Eurostat data released as Spain's economy shrinks for seventh consecutive quarter and Slovenia suffers ratings downgrade

Governments across the eurozone have again been left counting the human cost of the financial crisis after news that unemployment in the currency bloc reached a record high, driven by soaring youth joblessness.

Eurozone unemployment rose to 12.1% for March, an all-time high, according to Eurostat, the statistics office of the European Union. In the wider EU area of 27 countries, unemployment stood at 10.9%, as the rate increased in all but eight countries compared with a year earlier.

Economists said the figures, which coincided with the seventh consecutive quarter of contraction in Spain and a ratings downgrade for Slovenia, challenged the ECB's view that the economy will start to recover this year.

"The eurozone continues to face major growth headwinds and still has its work cut out to exit recession," said Howard Archer, economist at IHS Global Insight.

With official data showing eurozone consumer price inflation at just 1.2% in April – markedly below the ECB's target – policymakers meeting in Bratislava this week had 'scope and reason' to take interest rates lower, Archer added.

A narrow majority of economists polled by Reuters before the unemployment and inflation data, expected the ECB to cut interest rates 25 basis points to a record low of 0.5%. The minority expecting no change on Thursday argue a cut would achieve little and that policymakers may be concerned about inflation picking up again in some member countries.

Commenting on the inflation data, Herve Amourda at Societe Generale said: "Looking at the headline rates, the market could see more support for a rate cut, but we should be cautious as drivers of the slowdown will prove temporary in core countries.

"This emphasizes again the heterogeneity of the euro area which is one of the main challenges of the ECB. All in all, we retain our call for no action at Thursday's ECB meeting."

Many economists argue the ECB will have to provide more than a mere rate cut to shore up confidence.

"It will be a big disappointment if the ECB does not cut interest rates this week and announce more unconventional policies to boost bank lending," said Jennifer McKeown at Capital Economics, citing the new peak for eurozone unemployment.

The under-25s continued to be worst hit by the jobs crisis, with youth unemployment in the eurozone at 24%. The data underlined the diverging economic conditions within the bloc, with the lowest rates of young jobless in Germany and Austria – both at 7.6% – and the highest in Greece at 59.1% in January, the most recently available number.

In Italy, new prime minister Enrico Letta, embarks on the task of hauling his country out of recession with unemployment at 11.5%. Again, youth joblessness is significantly higher at 38.4%.

Letta's first mission after winning a final confidence vote on Tuesday was to head to Berlin and plead for some fiscal leeway at a meeting with German chancellor Angela Merkel, one the eurozone's strongest advocates for austerity.

Letta, who declared in his inaugural address that "Fiscal rigour alone will kill us", was told to be under no illusions. Before he had even touched down, German politicians were loudly warning him against asking Merkel to support anything other than continued belt-tightening.

"It is certainly not the moment for debt-financed growth programmes," conservative Norbert Barthle told Reuters.

Smaller eurozone member, Slovenia, suffered a downgrade to its credit rating and warnings it could become the latest in a string of countries to need a rescue package. Citing the country's ailing banking sector and deteriorating public finances, Moody's cut Slovenia to Ba1 from Baa2.

"Slovenia's vulnerability to external shocks, like those brought about by the crisis in Cyprus, could make it difficult for the sovereign to fund itself at sustainable rates, which increases the likelihood that authorities would need to request an external assistance program," the ratings agency said in a statement. © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds


Cypriot parliament backs 23 billion-euro international rescue deal


Cypriot parliament backs 23 billion-euro international rescue deal
Washington Post
NICOSIA, Cyprus — Cyprus' lawmakers approved on Tuesday a multi-billion bailout agreement with international creditors aimed at preventing the crisis-hit country from going bankrupt. The agreement was passed in the 56-seat parliament as expected with ...
Cyprus bailout scrapes through island's parliamentFox Business
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Cyprus Narrowly Approves Bailout AgreementWall Street Journal
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Trying To Explain Bank Of Cyprus And The Greek Government Bonds

We know that Bank of Cyprus invested heavily in Greek Government bonds. We also know that those bonds took a whacking great haircut which sent B of Cyprus bust. The question that remains is, well, why did they put all that money into such a risky investment? It's not as if the market wasn't already signalling that it was a risky investment after all.


Opa! The Kardashians' Greek Getaway: Check Out Their Vacation Photos

Opa! The Kardashians' Greek Getaway: Check Out Their Vacation Photos
Radar Online
Keeping Up with the Kardashians is now in its' eighth season, and in the vein of many other reality shows, the famous family has taken their cameras abroad to Greece, where crews will record all of their gold-plated, diamond-encrusted hijinks. The ...

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William K. Black: The Lethal Lemons on the Road to Bangladesh

As firms are forced by "free trade" to force lower wages on their workers if they wish to stay competitive with their competitors who manufacture goods in nations like Bangladesh, and as firms in Bangladesh engage in the same competition to constrain wages, the result can be murderous.


The Kardashians Dance (And Smash Plates!) In Greece

The Kardashians Dance (And Smash Plates!) In Greece
After going yachting, rafting and soaking up the sun, the fam took in the sights of a traditional Greek dance as they enjoyed their dinner -- and they couldn't help but join in all the fun. Kris Jenner looked the part in style wearing platforms, a ...


Modesty Concerns Prompt Qatar to Return Ancient Greek Statues of Nudes

Modesty Concerns Prompt Qatar to Return Ancient Greek Statues of Nudes
In what The Guardian has dubbed the “classic clash of cultures,” Qatari officials were worried that the male nudity would “scandalize” female visitors. However, Greek Deputy Culture Minister Costas Tzavaras, who visited the exhibition last month ...

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EU releases $3.7b in loans to Greece

EU releases $3.7b in loans to Greece
Boston Globe
ATHENS — Eurozone officials on Monday approved the release of $3.7 billion in loans to Greece, the country's Finance Ministry said, paving the way for the approval of an additional $7.9 billion installment at a meeting of the currency union's finance ...
Greece to cut 15000 jobs for bailoutCNN
Greece parliament approves job
Greece set to cut 'bloated' public sectorBBC News
Wall Street Journal -Financial Times
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Forget Mykonos, Try Syros, Your Friendly Neighborhood Greek Island

Forget Mykonos, Try Syros, Your Friendly Neighborhood Greek Island
ermoupolis syros greece I arrived on the Greek island of Syros on the night ferry from Samos at 2:30 a.m., bleary-eyed and in need of coffee or a bed, maybe both. My sons, then 2 and 4, were still half-asleep, wondering why the hell we'd hustled them ...

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Kim Kardashian Whisked to Paris by Kanye West After Greece Trip

Us Magazine

Kim Kardashian Whisked to Paris by Kanye West After Greece Trip
Us Magazine
The A-list couple "had a quick meal in Greece with her family," a source reveals. Shortly after, the pair chartered a private plane to Paris, France, where the 35-year-old rapper is currently working on his next album. Kardashian's famous family ...
Kendall Jenner Shows Off Bikini Bod in
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Greek Goddess! Kendall Strikes Her Best Victoria's Secret Pose During ...


Greek Goddess! Kendall Strikes Her Best Victoria's Secret Pose During ...
A little self-promotion never hurt anyone - and if you were born a Kardashian then you most probably would have realised those keys words from knee high as Kendall Jenner clearly has. The Keeping Up With The Kardashian star looked like she was a ...
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European Central Bank must heed eurozone warning signs

It is time for the ECB to show its independence and act in the interests of all eurozone citizens – not just Angela Merkel's

The warning signs are flashing red for the eurozone. Inflation is plunging, unemployment is rising and activity is weakening across the board. Unless Europe wants to become the next Japan, mired in permanent deflation and depression, action is needed now.

Stage one of the process should be a cut in interest rates from the European Central Bank (ECB) when it meets in Bratislava on Thursday. The latest inflation figures show the annual increase in the cost of living across the 17-nation single-currency area fell from 1.7% to 1.2%, its lowest in three years and well below the ECB's 2% ceiling. Even Jens Weidmann, the ultra-hawkish president of Germany's Bundesbank, would be hard pressed to say there is a threat to price stability.

It's not hard to see why inflationary pressure is abating: the eurozone economy has been flat on its back for the past 18 months. Unemployment rose by 62,000 in March, taking the eurozone jobless rate to yet another record high of 12.1%. Spain and Greece remain the weak spots, but even in Germany labour market conditions are becoming more difficult. Across the eurozone, almost one in four young people are out of work.

Why is unemployment rising? Again, you don't have to be John Maynard Keynes to figure it out. Europe's banking system is bust, there is a shortage of credit, real incomes are under pressure and the deficiency of demand is being exacerbated by austerity overkill. Retail sales figures from Greece show that in February spending was more than 14% lower than a year earlier.

The malaise is spreading from the eurozone's periphery to its core. It will be mid-May before the official growth data for the first quarter of 2013 is published, but the early evidence from Spain, where GDP fell by 0.5%, is not encouraging. Judging by the grim forward-looking surveys of business and consumer confidence, the second quarter will suffer more of the same.

Monetary policy works only with a lag, so whatever the ECB does on Thursday will be too late to prevent the recession deepening. Angela Merkel has made it clear that she does not want to see a cut in the cost of borrowing, but it is time for the ECB to show its independence and act in the interests of all eurozone citizens, not just the one seeking re-election in the German polls this autumn.

In itself, a quarter-point cut in interest rates to 0.5% would do little to revive demand, ease the credit crunch or create jobs. Instead, it should be part of a three-pronged approach to boost growth. The cut in rates should be accompanied by an ECB announcement that it is willing to embrace the unconventional methods deployed by the Federal Reserve, the Bank of England and Japan to underpin activity. It should also be the catalyst for a less aggressive approach to cutting budget deficits, with countries given more time to bring their deficits below the eurozone ceiling of 3% of GDP.

For the past three years, macroeconomic policy in the eurozone has been run on sadomasochistic principles: that only regular doses of pain will ensure countries stick to strict reform programmes.

The upshot of this policy is clear for all to see. Businesses that are starved of credit are mothballing investment and cutting their workforce. Weaker growth means higher-than-expected budget deficits. Permanent austerity has bred social dislocation and political extremism. A different approach is needed to save the eurozone from catastrophe – starting on Thursday. © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds



Sensing upswing in rates, Greek shipping firms order most iron-ore carriers ...


Sensing upswing in rates, Greek shipping firms order most iron-ore carriers ...
Greek shipping companies, the owners of one in six merchant vessels, are ordering the most new iron-ore carriers since 2008, betting the five-year rout in charter rates may be nearing an end. The companies ordered 12 Capesizes last quarter, the most ...

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Greek Cyprus parliament decides on bailout

Greek Cyprus parliament decides on bailout
Greek Cyprus's parliament decides on Tuesday whether to back a bailout imposed by its EU partners, with approval likely from a thin majority against mounting calls for the island to exit the euro. Lawmakers were due to meet in an extraordinary session ...
“When It Becomes Serious, You Have To Lie”: The Cyprus Crisis and the ...Hellenic News of America

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Greece tops EU unemployment rate list


Greece tops EU unemployment rate list
The unemployment rate in Greece was the highest among European Union countries in January 2013 according to data released by Eurostat on Tuesday. The Eurostat figures pointed to 27.2 percent of Greece's workforce being unemployed, with 59.1 ...


Small-town France is fast being choked by red tape and growing bureaucracy

Businesses and local government officials feel rules, regulations and directives hinder economic recovery and impinge on daily life

Although he is rich with 25 years of experience as mayor of Albaret-Sainte-Marie, a little town in the wooded hills of central-southern France, Michel Therond gets advice from the bureaucrats in Paris almost every time he opens the mail.

One day's delivery brings a directive stipulating that the sidewalks must be widened to permit two wheelchairs to cross paths easily. Another says the school cafeteria must be made accessible by elevator. Trees must be trimmed of branches two metres up their trunks, and only government-certified technicians can change a lightbulb on city property.

"We are being strangled," Therond complained, sifting through a pile of rules and regulations on his desk that he largely ignores – and many of which he does not even understand.

France and its southern European neighbours, such as Italy and Greece, are increasingly being buried in such norms, rules and directives. In the past two decades, the number of legal do's and don'ts has become so great that businessmen and economists warn that it is smothering growth just as the continent tries to dig out of its worst slump in a generation.

Comparisons are difficult, but among other advanced economies, the United States, Britain and the Scandinavian countries, which have more hands-off traditions of government, generally suffer less from such excessive regulation, according to the OECD.

The regulations almost always flow from a desire to meet recent and broadly accepted social goals, such as environmental protection, accident prevention or access for the disabled. But as lawmakers pass more legislation and bureaucrats scribble more implementation orders, specialists say, the result looks like a vast straitjacket holding back economic activity at a time when Europe needs it most.

A report last month estimated that France is squirming under 400,000 directives, ranging from the amount of boiled egg a kindergartner can eat at lunch – half an egg – to precise requirements on how far mailboxes can stick out from the wall. The directives have cost little towns, such as Albaret-Sainte-Marie, more than €1.9bn ($2.5bn) over the past four years, the report estimated.

Applied to business with equal bureaucratic fastidiousness, such rules and regulations prove even more expensive in the private sector. They cost the 27 European Union countries an average 3.7% of their gross domestic product a year, more than €7.5bn ($10bn) in the case of France, and hold back an incalculable amount of new investment, according to the OECD.

"The country is in danger of paralysis," warned Alain Lambert, head of the French government's Consultative Commission on Evaluation of Norms.

Therond said the problem has grown acute because France increasingly has a mindset in which all risks must be eliminated, what is called "the principle of precaution". "But you just can't do that," he objected.

Lambert agreed. "We must temper the principle of precaution to restore to French people their right to risk," he said on delivering his report.

Christophe Brunel, who runs the Hotel du Rocher Blanc across the road from city hall, said new regulations for wheelchair access, sanitation and fire prevention that come into effect in 2015 would cost him about €1m to carry out, more than the century-old hotel is worth. The rules, he said, would require him to enlarge corridors and stairways, put in elevators, change doors, update rooms and remodel the kitchen, destroying the charm – and the budget.

"Eighty per cent of small independent hotels in France cannot meet these requirements," he said, suggesting that airport-style chain hotels will be the only lodgings left if such norms are applied.

Reacting to expressions of concern, President Fran├žois Hollande has promised that his government would carry out a "simplification shock" to reduce the overload of rules and regulations. His prime minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, called in ministers, formed a committee and pledged a purge. But most French people only smiled, recalling that similar promises have come from all of Hollande's predecessors since Charles de Gaulle.

A big part of the problem is public demand. After revelations last month that some meat labelled beef in prepared dishes was actually horsemeat, for instance, Hollande's government was called on the carpet for inadequate regulation of the wholesale meat market. The consumer protection minister, Benoit Hamon, responded with promises of more regulations and tighter inspections.

Another source of overregulation is the "mille-feuille" of government, the layers that start with municipalities, then cantons, and on to inter-communal bodies, departments, regions, parliamentary representation and ministries. Each level plays a role in imposing norms, sometimes contradictory. But with various government bodies providing 23% of the jobs in France, talk of reducing the overlap is largely ignored.

The OECD has recommended that just abolishing departments would produce substantial savings. But in addition to raising unemployment, such a move would rob the central government of its major channel for exercising authority throughout the country since Napoleon's time, anathema in a highly centralised system.

"We have a territory that is layered like lasagna," said Maurice Leroy, a rightist legislator who has joined the call for abolishing departements, "which is not an Italian speciality but a French speciality".

Towns and villages such as Albaret-Sainte-Marie were encouraged in recent legislation to form inter-communal committees to pool resources on such matters as water purification or recreational facilities. Despite the logic, all the new law did was add another bureaucratic layer, according to Herve Boulhol, who heads the OECD's French desk.

Therond said the most outrageous directive to hit his desk recently was a 28 March explanation from the departmental prefecture, 20 pages replete with colour-co-ordinated graphics, of how the area's inter-communal towns and villages are to organise local elections scheduled for next year. The prescriptions are so detailed and arcane, he protested, that he would have to be a constitutional lawyer to understand what the prefecture was driving at.

"Look at this," he said, fingering the thick sheaf of papers. "I defy you to understand what they mean. Nobody could possibly understand it."

The directive joined a pile of papers filed away without action by the city hall secretary, Alain Chastang.

Perhaps more seriously, recently revised rules for building permits have imposed so many additional requirements that construction has been slowed to a trickle since the beginning of the year just as authorities are trying desperately to find jobs for the unemployed, Therond said.

The town's activities centre, for instance, is in need of renovation. But Therond is unable to fix it up because it is on a slope and wheelchair access – with the grade level minutely regulated – would be impossible without a ramp stretching out into neighbouring property.

The second-floor cafeteria for Albaret-Sainte-Marie's 70 students will have to be moved to the ground floor, he said, because the cost of an elevator would be prohibitive for a community of 600 residents with an operating budget of just over €380,000.

Another regulation that brings a rueful smile to Therond's face has to do with water.

The community, high in the Massif Central hills, is blessed with natural spring water. But inspectors found recently that the town's main spring had absorbed too much salt from anti-snow treatment on a nearby highway.

No problem, Therond said, we'll just dig another spring. But wait, the bureaucrats said, experts have to test the new spring for a year before it can be used.

Result: the salty spring water still flows into residents' homes, and Therond has taken to drinking bottled mineral water to prevent hypertension.

• This story appeared in Guardian Weekly, which incorporates material from the Washington Post © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds