EMU plot curdles as creditors seize Cyprus gold reserves

By Ambrose Evans-Pritchard Economics Last updated:  April 11th, 2013


Cyprus has agreed to sell gold reserves to raise around €400m

Cyprus has agreed to sell gold reserves to raise around €400m. (Photo: Alamy)

First they purloin the savings and bank deposits in Laiki and the Bank of Cyprus, including the working funds of the University of Cyprus, and thousands of small firms hanging on by their fingertips.

Then they seize three quarters of the country’s gold reserves, making it ever harder for Cyprus to extricate itself from EMU at a later date.

The people of Cyprus first learned about this from a Reuters leak of the working documents for the Eurogroup meeting on Friday.

It is tucked away in clause 29. “Sale of excess gold reserves: The Cypriot authorities have committed to sell the excess amount of gold reserves owned by the Republic. This is estimated to generate one-off revenues to the state of €400m via an extraordinary payout of central bank profits.”

This seemed to catch the central bank by surprise. Officials said they knew nothing about it. So who in fact made this decision?

Cypriots are learning what it means to be a member of monetary union when things go badly wrong. The crisis costs have suddenly jumped from €17bn to €23bn, and the burden of finding an extra €6bn will fall on Cyprus alone.

The government expects the economy to contract 13pc this year as full austerity bites. Megan Greene from Maverick Intelligence fears it could be a lot worse.

She says the crisis has reached the point where it would be “less painful” for Cyprus to seek an “amicable divorce” from the eurozone and break free.

Quite so, and while we’re at it, lets seek an amicable divorce for everybody, for Portugal, for Ireland, for Spain, for Italy, and above all for Germany, since they are all being damaged in different ways by the infernal Project. All are victims of their elites.

It is an interesting question why Cyprus has been treated more harshly than Greece, given that the eurozone itself set off the downward spiral by imposing de facto losses of 75pc on Greek sovereign debt held by Cypriot banks.

And, furthermore, given that these banks were pressured into buying many of those Greek bonds in the first place by the EU authorities, when it suited the Eurogroup.

You could say that this is condign punishment for the failure of Cyprus to deliver on its side of the bargain on the 2004 Annan Plan to reunite the island, divided by the Attila Line since the Turkish invasion in 1974.

Greek Cypriots gained admission to the EU on the basis of a gentleman’s agreement, then resiled from the accord. President Tassos Papadopoulis later deployed the resources of the state to secure a “No” in the referendum on the Greek side of the island. No wonder the EU is disgusted.

But there again, Greece behaved just as badly. It threatened to block Polish accession to the EU unless a still-divided Cyprus was admitted, much to the fury of Berlin.

The workhouse treatment of Cyprus is nevertheless remarkable. The creditor powers walked away from their fresh pledges for an EMU banking union by whipping up largely bogus allegations of Russian money-laundering in Nicosia. A Council of Europe by a British prosecutor has failed to validate the claims.

The EU authorities have gone to great lengths to insist that Cyprus is a “special case”, but I fail to see what is special about it. There is far more Russian money – laundered or otherwise – in the Netherlands. The banking centres of Ireland and Malta are just as large as a share of GDP. Luxembourg’s banking centre is at least four times more leveraged to the economy.

It should be clear by now that the solemn pledges of EMU leaders are expendable. They change their mind whenever its suits them, and whenever the internal politics of their own countries demands.

Cyprus may not be a “template” but it is clearly a warning to any other EMU country that needs help from now on. The creditor powers will go to extraordinary lengths to avoid sharing the costs.

We now learn that one of those lengths is to seize gold reserves. So what will happen as Portugal’s economy slides deeper into its contractionary vortex, and its deficits remain stubbornly stuck near 6pc of GDP despite the fiscal cuts, and its public debt hits 124pc of GDP this year?

Portugal holds 382 tonnes of gold, the 14th largest holding in the world, and more than either Britain or Spain. For the sake of delicacy, I will skip over the methods by which Salazar acquired that gold.

So will the Troika order Portugal to hand over these reserves if the country requires a second bail-out, as deemed likely by a great number of analysts in the City?

Will they impose savage haircuts on anybody with savings or operational funds above €100,000 in Portuguese banks? Portugal’s banks may be healthy, but that is no protection.

The original plan in Cyprus – approved by the Eurogroup, but rejected by the Cypriot parliament – was to steal the money from any bank regardless of its health, and from small depositors regardless of the €100,000 guarantee. They have shown their character. The Eurogroup don’t give a damn about moral hazard. They are thieves.

Furthermore, the northern powers skip lightly over their own responsibility for what has happened. They seem not to recognise that EMU was a joint venture. The creditor states were entirely complicit. They flooded the South with cheap debt. They failed to understand the ruinous implications of monetary union just as badly as the southern states.

Eurozone citizens still have a touching faith in the euro and the EMU Project. They blame their own leaders, their own bankers, even the head of statistics office in Greece. But most still refuse to blame monetary union itself.

This is understandable. Even Nobel laureate Robert Mundell seems to have trouble understanding his own theory of “optimal currency areas”.

Yet this escalating assault on bank savings and on the state assets of victim nations is gradually taking its toll. Throw gold into the mix and you touch an atavistic nerve. The Cypriot gold confiscation of April 2013 may matter more than first meets the eye.

On a side note, Greek unemployment reached a fresh record of 27.2pc in January. Youth unemployment reached 59.3pc. Ah, but, recovery is surely round the corner.

Greece’s foreign minister is digging himself deeper into a hole on the issue of war reparations against Germany. He told his parliament that Greece “reserves the right” to seek damages at the International Court of Justice in The Hague.

Germany’s Wolfgang Schauble dismissed the demarche as irresponsible. Time has resolved the matter, he said. They won’t get one bent Pfennig.

Nor will Germany when Greece defaults on its rescue loans.

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