Economy

The Time Has Come To Embrace The Grexit, For Both Greece And Europe

Politically speaking, Greece's return to the drachma currency would be a defeat. But economically speaking, it doesn't threaten European stability, and could offer the Greeks a chance at redemption.

Dancing at Monastiraki Square, Athens
Dancing at Monastiraki Square, Athens
Markus Zydra

-OpEd-

MUNICH â€" The European Monetary Union was designed to last forever. It logically follows that there is no script for what to do if one of its members leaves. Given such strong European economic ties, a Greek exit would be historically singular and would of course entail risk. No one can predict exactly how governments, companies and citizens would handle a so-called "Grexit."

But if the Greek government doesn't see any other way out, then we'll simply have to accept a new reality. The idea of a politically unified Europe would take a serious battering because suddenly the Eurozone would appear like a club where countries can leave whenever they wish.

Still, it seems unlikely that other European states would follow the Athens example, which is one of the key reasons we know that Europe’s economy would survive a Grexit.

It's even possible to imagine positive aspects of such a scenario. A Eurozone with only 18 members would be more stable and therefore better suited to survival. Since the inception of the European Monetary Union, Greece has always been an exception. Joining the Eurozone in 2001 was more of a political wish than an economically justifiable development.

It became obvious in May 2010 that Greece was bankrupt. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the European Central Bank (ECB) tried to prevent spread of the Greek debt disease to the rest of the EU with two "care packages." And the danger has been contained.

So it's hardly imaginable that Spanish bank customers would stampede financial institutions in panic if Greece leaves the Eurozone. Greece is even considered to be a financial exception in countries such as Italy, Ireland and Portugal. Athens refuses to implement the tough economic reforms that others have obediently adopted.

Drachma days?

Europe's banking sector is also more stable than it was five years ago. The ECB's decentralization and the recapitalization of banking institutions have served as a fire wall. In addition to this, Europe's banks have long lost faith in Greece, and factored a potential Grexit into their calculations when dealing with the country's financial institutions. Panic would only reign if something unexpected were to happen, and a Grexit would be anything but unexpected.

Stock prices would initially take a dive, no doubt. And it's also possible that interest rates in Portugal, Italy and Spain would rise. But right now, these rates are at historical lows, so there's room to maneuver. What's more, the ECB and the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) are always ready to nip potential financial crises in the bud. On top of that, stock brokers are eternal opportunists and would realize that Greece's return to their currency is the best solution for both sides.

Resurrection of the drachma could also offer Greece a real chance at redemption. A cheap currency would lend itself to providing aid for growth even though the transition wouldn't be easy. Imports would become more expensive, while medication and other vital goods could become scarce. But Europe should and would help. Greece would still be a part of the EU, after all, if not a part of the same monetary and economic union.

The euro would have to be removed from Greece altogether. That process would entail everything from reconfiguring simple vending machines to rewriting entire financial software systems. These are not trivial tasks, but importantly, they don't pose a threat to Europe.

What would be worse is if everything continued the way it has, more endless negotiations between creditors and Athens over economic policies and reforms. Delays. Postponements.

Though the taxpayer costs for a Grexit would be high â€" Germany alone has issued 50 billion euros in loans to Greece â€" perhaps it's just the price for political naivety, for having gotten Greece on board in the first place. And who knows, maybe Greece will reapply to become part of the Eurozone again in a decade, when it is stronger. And even if it doesn't, it seems that the UK and Denmark are managing well without the euro, so why not Greece too?

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Geopolitics

How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.


But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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