Economy

Cyprus Bailout Has Strings Attached - Well, It's About Time

It's the failure of an entire business model, not just a few banks. Who might be next?

Larnaca, Cyprus
Larnaca, Cyprus
Claus Hulverscheidt

-Analysis-

MUNICH - One thing is clear with regard to Cyprus: Chancellor Angela Merkel and Germany’s Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble would do best to lay low for a while. It is at their urging that the country’s bank account holders are being asked to bear part of the cost of an international bailout.

One could also put it this way: money would be partially expropriated from these account holders, and even in Germany, the question is now being asked -- where does this end, and how much of Merkel’s 2008 guarantee with regard to German savings still stands? On Monday, one radio listener called in and asked how he could be sure that the government wouldn’t next be expropriating money from German account holders like him.

"Why would they do that?" the moderator asked. "Because they can!" the man replied.

Yes, they can -- and in the case of Cyprus the move is fundamentally right. Euro bailouts so far have enabled many of those bearing part of the responsibility for the crisis to get off scot-free. Take the case of Ireland, for example. What the country basically did was bail out foreign banks that Irish banks owed money to, and Irish taxpayers were left with a tab they’re still paying – and the Emerald Isle was subsequently left to stew in its own juices as many who should have shared the burden were absolved of all responsibility, and promptly turned their backs on it.

Such course was only corrected on the second Greek bailout package, when foreign creditors were also predicting apocalypse if they got a haircut – yet the apocalypse failed to materialize.

In Cyprus, the euro countries are going one step further: instead of just handing over the billions, they’re asking what the country, and its own and foreign financiers, are bringing to the table to help solve the problem. It only makes sense, because the collapsed business model with its tax dumping, lax financial controls and enticing incentives to foreign millionaires wasn’t devised in Berlin or Paris, but in Nicosia.

Angela Merkel and Nikos Anastasiadis in 2012 - Photo: European People's Party

Now that the euro countries have a permanent bailout fund, they are no longer helpless in the face of blackmail attempts by the financial markets.

That said, however: as right as it is for the holders of large accounts to bear part of the cost, it is equally clear that small account-holders need to be protected. It is hard to understand Cypriot President Nikos Anastasiadis’s claim that they have to share in costs because without them the requisite amount of money can’t be raised, which only serves to fuel opposition to the plan and divert attention away from the fact that the government is not moving on crucial points.

Raising corporate tax from 10% to 12.5%? Laughable. There’s still no financial transaction tax, and the question as to whether -- over and above savings accounts -- securities custody accounts, villas and “mailbox” companies will also be subject to the planned wealth tax remains unanswered. Anastasiadis must respond.

In Cyprus, it’s not just a question of a couple of banks having overreached: it’s an entire economic model that has failed. That’s the difference between this situation and Germany – and that’s also the reason why savings there are in danger and not here.

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Geopolitics

Iran-Saudi Arabia Rivalry May Be Set To Ease, Or Get Much Worse

The Saudis may be awaiting the outcome of Iran's nuclear talks with the West, to see whether Tehran will moderate its regional policies, or lash out like never before.

Military parade in Tehran, Iran, on Oct. 3

-Analysis-

LONDON — The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said earlier this month that Iranian and Saudi negotiators had so far had four rounds of "continuous" talks, though both sides had agreed to keep them private. The talks are to ease fraught relations between Iran's radical Shia regime and the Saudi kingdom, a key Western ally in the Middle East.

Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian has said that the talks were going in the right direction, while an Iranian trade official was recently hopeful these might even allow trade opportunities for Iranian businessmen in Saudi Arabia. As the broadcaster France 24 observed separately, it will take more than positive signals to heal a five-year-rift and decades of mutual suspicions.


Agence France-Presse news agency, meanwhile, has cited an unnamed French diplomat as saying that Saudi Arabia wants to end its costly discord with Tehran. The sides may already have agreed to reopen consular offices. For Saudi Arabia, the costs include its war on Iran-backed Houthis rebels fighting an UN-recognized government in next-door Yemen.

The role of the nuclear pact

Bilateral relations were severed in January 2016, after regime militiamen stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Amirabdollahian was then the deputy foreign minister for Arab affairs. In 2019, he told the website Iranian Diplomacy that Saudi Arabia had taken measures vis-a-vis Iran's nuclear pact with the world powers.

It's unlikely Ali Khamenei will tolerate the Saudi kingdom's rising power in the region.

He said "the Saudis' insane conduct toward [the pact] led them to conclude that they must prevent [its implementation] in a peaceful environment ... I think the Saudis are quite deluded, and their delusion consists in thinking that Trump is an opportunity for them to place themselves on the path of conflict with the Islamic Republic while relying on Trump." He meant the administration led by the U.S. President Donald J.Trump, which was hostile to Iran's regime. This, he said, "is not how we view Saudi Arabia. I think Yemen should have been a big lesson for the Saudis."

The minister was effectively admitting the Houthis were the Islamic Republic's tool for getting back at Saudi Arabia.

Yet in the past two years, both sides have taken steps to improve relations, without firm results as yet. Nor is the situation likely to change this time.

Photo of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

commons.wikimedia.org

Riyadh's warming relations with Israel

Iran's former ambassador in Lebanon, Ahmad Dastmalchian, told the ILNA news agency in Tehran that Saudi Arabia is doing Israel's bidding in the region, and has "entrusted its national security, and life and death to Tel Aviv." Riyadh, he said, had been financing a good many "security and political projects in the region," or acting as a "logistical supplier."

The United States, said Dastmalchian, has "in turn tried to provide intelligence and security backing, while Israel has simply followed its own interests in all this."

Furthermore, it seems unlikely Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will tolerate, even in this weak period of his leadership, the kingdom's rising power in the region and beyond, and especially its financial clout. He is usually disparaging when he speaks of Riyadh's princely rulers. In 2017, he compared them to "dairy cows," saying, "the idiots think that by giving money and aid, they can attract the goodwill of Islam's enemies."

Iranian regime officials are hopeful of moving toward better diplomatic ties and a reopening of embassies. Yet the balance of power between the sides began to change in Riyadh's favor years ago. For the kingdom's power has shifted from relying mostly on arms, to economic and political clout. The countries might have had peaceful relations before in considerably quieter, and more equitable, conditions than today's acute clash of interests.

If nuclear talks break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive.

Beyond this, the Abraham Accord or reconciliation of Arab states and Israel has been possible thanks to the green light that the Saudis gave their regional partners, and it is a considerable political and ideological defeat for the Islamic Republic.

Assuming all Houthis follow Tehran's instructions — and they may not — improved ties may curb attacks on Saudi interests and aid its economy. Tehran will also benefit from no longer having to support them. Unlike Iran's regime, the Saudis are not pressed for cash or resources and could even offer the Houthis a better deal. Presently, they may consider it more convenient to keep the softer approach toward Tehran.

For if nuclear talks with the West break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive, and as experience has shown, tensions often prompt a renewal of missile or drone attacks on the Saudis, on tankers and on foreign shipping. Riyadh must have a way of keeping the Tehran regime quiet, in a distinctly unquiet time.

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