7 May 2015 at the Greek parliament
18 May by Zoe Konstantopoulou , Eric Toussaint , Cephas Lumina , Maria Lucia Fattorelli , Yorgos Mitralias
- Ms. Zoe Konstantopoulou, President of the Greek Parliament and President of the Committee for the Truth on the Public Debt;
- Mr. Éric Toussaint, Scientific Coordinator of the Committee and head of the group of international experts, historian and political scientist who completed his Ph.D. at the universities of Paris VIII and Liège. He is the President of CADTM Belgium, and sits on the Scientific Council of ATTAC France. A specialist in odious and illegitimate debt, he has been analysing debts which lack legal bases for many years;
- Mr. Cephas Lumina, member of the Committee, Dr Lumina is an Extra-Ordinary Professor of Human Rights Law at the University of Pretoria. He was appointed the United Nations Independent Expert on the effects of foreign debt and other related international financial obligations of States on the full enjoyment of all human rights, particularly economic, social and cultural rights until end of May 2014. In 2013 he produced the United Nations special report on Greece and Human Rights;
- Ms. Maria Lucia Fattorelli, member of the Committee and coordinator of the Brazilian Citizens’ Debt Audit Commission;
- Mr. Giorgos Mitralias, member of this Committee and initiator of the appeal to support this Committee.
Summary of the presentation by Zoe Konstantopoulou
After presenting the participants Zoe Konstantopoulou described the progress the Committee, has made, during the meeting from the 4th to the 7th of May 2015 at the Greek parliament to organise the work, use and evaluate the results and to establish a work-sheet for the following phases.
She announced that government’s departments have been approached with requests for all the documents, memoranda and loan contracts necessary for the audit, all the documents have been made available, including those pertaining to judicial enquiries and the decisions that led up to accepting current memoranda. Some of these documents hold very important information as to how the debt developed, the signatures on the contracts the steps allegedly taken to manage it that actually caused its exponential increase.
The President of the Greek Parliament referred to two other enquiry procedures that will allow deeper insight into the questions raised by the Greek debt than the simple examination of the documents available from the Greek authorities. On the one hand the Committee will hear all persons that may have useful information or evidence concerning the debt. On the other, through the authority of the Hellenic parliament parliament the Committee will request information and answers from any clearly defined international organisation identified as having taken part in the creation or increase in the Greek public debt in order to bring to light any hidden intentions.
It was also announced that the Committee’s next plenary session will take place from 15 to 18 June 2015 and that a preliminary report will be made public. The Committee will then enquire more deeply to complete its mission and work towards a final report which may take until the end of the year or beyond. Finally Zoe Konstantopoulou announced that the civil society is already an active partner of this Committee. This was illustrated by the surprising reaction to the appeal for public support, which collected numerous prestigious signatures from international personalities even before the appeal was official.
Summary of the presentation by Eric Toussaint
Eric Toussaint presented the way the Committee started and intends to continue its work.
During this second plenary meeting of the Committee, which lasted three and a half days, 15 or more presentations were made by commission members that analysed the state of the Greek debt that is demanded by the creditors, each focusing on the specific aspects for which they have the charge.
We see that the Greek debt is characterised by unity of time, protagonists and action: during the 2010 – 2015 period, fourteen Eurozone countries, the ECB, the IMF and the EFSF took over control of 80% of the Greek debt and imposed on the debtor the measures that they had agreed on among themselves.
We have studied the main creditors’ demands to see if they present features pointing to illegitimate, illegal, odious or unsustainable debt. We have worked on the definitions of these terms and have come to a general agreement on these definitions.
We have examined the legal aspects of the debt. We have heard different points of view on this subject, particularly that of professor Giorgos Kassimatis, which has permitted us to identify proofs of transgressions of the Greek constitution and Greek laws, also transgressions of international law in the conditions imposed by creditors.
We have agreed on the form of the preliminary report that we intend to make public on 25 June 2015. We have outlined our work plan. A drafting committee has been set up and sub-committees will make specific contributions on each one of the items that appear in our report.
These drafts will be available from the end of May and the drafting committee will draw on them to produce the preliminary report that will be available on or around the 9 or 10 June so as to be discussed in the plenary session that will be held from the 15 to 17 June.
We have established a list of personalities to be heard. This group of personalities includes some who have taken part in the decisions that have been made and others who bring their expertise, on the effects of the decisions.
The Greek situation is specific: the creditors are not financial institutions or a large sector of the public but a limited number of parties that have imposed precise policies and measures on Greece. On top of the common nature of the parties involved there is a consistency in the method. Such unity of time, parties and measures makes it possible for this audit to achieve preliminary results more rapidly than it may have done in other cases.
Finally, Éric Toussaint brought attention to the fact that the Greek debt audit is already emulated abroad. On 28 April the Argentine parliament decided to do a debt audit over 180 days to show the results before the next elections. It is interesting to note that Argentina is a member of the G20. This demonstrates that the debt question is important throughout the World and the Greek debt audit initiative is exemplary.
Summary of the presentation by Cephas Lumina
Mr Lumina explained the potential incompatibility between managing a country’s public debt and human rights. Two kinds of conflict can arise: when a government has to choose between financing essential public services and repaying its debt or when a government is forced by creditors to implement heavy austerity measures that have deeply negative consequences on its citizens’ living conditions.
In his survey of the Greek situation in 2013 Mr Lumina could establish from several sources that the adjustment measures taken in Greece had a very high cost not just for the government and society but also in terms of taking its toll on the Greek population. Those measures involved breaches into such fundamental rights as the rights to housing, to health and to education. The Greek crisis is not just a financial issue, it is a humanitarian crisis.
He brought into the picture those human faces that are badly hit by the crisis and that he met personally. From his first day in Greece in 2013 he found out about the human crisis as he heard about a bankrupt contractor committing suicide. Next, as he visited a social clinic founded to meet the needs of migrants, he could see that it mainly cared for destitute Greek citizens; he met a former contractor who didn’t even have the bus fare he needed to get back home. He also came across a group of graduates who had lost their jobs and were homeless. Finally he mentioned a 91 year old holder of Greek bonds who was told to wait for another 30 years before he could sell them in order to live.
Auditing the debt is a move that shows the Parliament is facing its responsibility towards the Greek people. In his report on Greece he had recommended such an audit, as he had also done for Argentina where his advice has eventually been heeded too.
Setting up committees to audit public debts is consistent with UN recommendations on the necessary transparency governments owe their citizens during the course of managing their public debts. Such audits are actually a legal obligation for Member States in the euro area experiencing or threatened with serious difficulties with respect to their financial stability, as is the case in Greece, according to Regulation N° 472/2013 of the European Parliament on the strengthening of economic and budgetary surveillance.
Mr Lumina finally responded to a press article that presented the Committee for the Truth on the Public Debt as a bunch of militant activists. The Committee bears no relation to such a definition. It is a legal obligation that is independent of any political view. Its task is to shed light on the public debt and on the human consequences of the measures taken by technocrats that manage it with no regard for the population. Its task is to make sure that the Human Rights adopted over sixty years ago are vindicated.
Summary of the presentation by Maria-Lucia Fattorelli
Maria Lucia Fattorelli indicated that she has been working with Éric Toussaint on debt issues for over twenty years. She came to Greece to bring her experience of auditing debts to the Greek members of the Committee.
We must find out how the debt was contracted then transferred from private to public creditors.
We must also examine statistical data as well as analyse all conditions and conventions underpinning debt management. We are currently collecting documents and elements that will make it possible for us to understand how the debt was contracted and why it grew out of proportion.
We must also determine the impact of the debt on the Greek economy. To achieve this we cannot be content with a legal approach. We shall also examine the macro-economic parameters that account for the increase of the debt.
My experience in auditing debts has taught me that debts are never an isolated phenomenon but are part of a system with political, economic and legal dimensions. It is important to find out whom the debt system benefited. Has the Greek economy benefited from it, or the Greek citizens?
Answering such questions is the aim to be achieved by all debt audits and also our objective in the context of the present Committee.
Summary of the presentation by Giorgos Mitralias
We have recently launched a campaign not only to support Greece and its Committee for the Truth on the Public Debt, but also to reclaim the people’s right to audit their public debt. This campaign is European as well as international. The original appeal has already been translated into 12 languages, including Arabic, and we are planning to translate it into other languages as diverse as Urdu or Pashto.
We believe that millions of people in Europe and the world want to voice their rejection of the austerity policies and the debt system. The initial reactions to our campaign confirm this assumption.
The first 1,000 signatories include illustrious personalities such as Noam Chomsky as well as some of the World’s best known economists. What is particularly interesting is that these signatures are generally accompanied by comments demonstrating the signatories’ strong motivation. We plan to publish those comments to give you an idea of the massive interest generated by the campaign, to demonstrate that our opinions are widely shared around the world, and to wipe out the feeling of isolation and helplessness too many experience when faced with these harsh realities. For the past two days we have been collecting online signatures from the people in two countries (France and Belgium) and we have already collected 2,600 new signatures. Very soon a massive collection of signatures will commence in other countries.
We have great responsibilities. The signatories want more. They want concrete proposals for actions that could be undertaken together. We must be able to take the plunge.
Question-answer session with journalists
Antonopoulos – STAR TV Channel : During the ongoing negotiations our creditors laid down new drastic conditions. Technocrats are unaware of the sufferings of the common people. As we have signed agreements with them in the past and as there is state continuity, how can we free ourselves from our bonds?
Zoé Konstantopoulou: That is not exactly how things stand. The continuity of the state does not presuppose the continuation of illegal actions. This is particularly relevant when the agreements and the conduct of the signatories do not conform to national and international laws. It is precisely the Commission’s mission to find out whether these agreements and their conditions are compliant with the law, since there have been ample indications to suggest that several elements of these agreements do not conform to legal provisions.
Eric Toussaint mentioned two legal points discussed in the Committee, which can challenge the validity of the contracts: the State of Necessity (or Necessity) and the radical change of circumstances for which creditors are responsible.
According to the doctrine of Necessity, a country is not obliged to continue its debt repayment if that prevents it from fulfilling its basic obligations to the citizens. A country might indeed end up with suspending its debt repayments since international law prioritizes fundamental rights.
As for the Greek case we can additionally bring into play a radical change in circumstances attributable to creditors. Next to a problem of statistically manipulating the debt at the initial stages of the crisis, we have seen a radical change in the country’s economic situation, resulting from the creditors’ decisions (25% drop in GDP, soaring unemployment, humanitarian crisis…). In this case, we can pinpoint the direct responsibilities of the creditors and thus question the validity of the agreements.
M.L. Fattorelli: Also it is important to remember that for any debt to be legitimate there must be advantages for the country and the people concerned. In the Greek case, we notice that these advantages are not always clear. Even the opposite is true when we assess the damage caused by this debt both to the economy and the Greek society. On the other hand, Greece’s latest borrowings were mainly to protect the private interests that were widely exposed to the risks of this debt in 2010. The legitimacy of such a plan must also be examined.
Tomassis – Journalist: How hopeful can we be in the global context? The idea of an audit is good. However, if the findings of the audit turn out to be embarrassing what are the chances that they will be heard and have an impact? Since we know who controls the mainstream media at the national level and what the balance of power is at the international level, isn’t this audit a mere illusion?
Zoé Konstantopoulou: The people have to be optimistic when we are taking initiatives with their interests in mind. Also we have governmental and institutional support for this Commission, while independent authorities cooperating with the Commission are involved. We expect this Commission to come up with significant and tangible results and this is not just a statement for the media. For proof, we have already expanded our initial sphere of activity, including the review of TAIPED (The Hellenic Republic Asset Development Fund) in particular and the condition of the state assets and properties managed by it. The Marangopoulou Foundation will conduct this review.
Tzanetatos- NewPost: You indicated that a sub-committee to conduct hearings will interview people who have been involved or have suffered from the handling of the debt crisis. Will these hearings also concern the officials of the international institutions involved?
Zoé Konstantopoulou: Naturally the institutions and the interviewees from whom explanations and documents will be requested will include international institutions, their agents and any other persons concerned.
Antigoni Panelli – APE: What are your expectations from the Committee’s work and its possible outcome?
Zoé Konstantopoulou: The Committee aims to shed light on all the aspects of the debt. Thereafter it will become everyone’s responsibility to use the truths revealed. It is particularly the media’s responsibility to know how to deal with these results. After mentioning other reports (including that of the UN and the European Parliament’s Committee of Inquiry on the Troika’s responsibilities) so far ignored by the media, the President of the Parliament called on the media to do its job for the results to be fully effective.
Maria-Lucia Fattorelli: We must submit a report. It is an instrument, not an opinion. Once made available it is the responsibility of the government and the society to know how to use it to change the situation of the country and its relations with the creditors.
Papayanis- Avghi (daily newspaper published by Syriza): The Committee’s work is likely to extend beyond this year. How can this be used for the ongoing negotiations with creditors?
Zoé Konstantopoulou: As long as the debt exists it can be negotiated at any time. Moreover, this audit is a legal obligation and it would be somewhat surprising if the creditors, who want to invoke all of Greece’s obligations, should refute it.
Translations and adaptations by Thanos Contargys, Suchandra De Sarkar, Mike Krolikowski and Christine Pagnoulle.